By Jahabar Sadiq
GEORGE TOWN, Jan 30 ― The conventional wisdom is that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will keep Penang in Election 2013 but Teng Chang Yeow is not a conventional man. He aims to regain the key manufacturing and tourism hub for Barisan Nasional (BN) in this year’s general election.
The Penang BN chief and his colleagues aim to expand the state economy by embracing both higher-end manufacturing and services ― especially tourism, financing and transportation links ― while saying he can do better than the current government headed by Lim Guan Eng.
Teng is also focussing on the needs of the youth in Penang, who form a significant demographic in the coming general election. Some 25 per cent of the 13.3 million voters nationwide are first-time voters, mainly youths.
“We want to offer ourselves to the people of Penang and say look, we are prepared to lead Penang again,” said Teng, who was appointed to lead Penang BN last year, three years after the coalition lost the state to PR in Election 2008.
In the shock defeat, BN only won 11 of the 40 seats in the Penang state assembly through Umno while the other component parties ― Teng’s Gerakan, MCA and MIC ― lost their seats.
Most voters appear set to keep the PR government to rule the island, famous for its areca palm and nutmeg trees that line the boulevards and factories that employ the majority of the people since the 1970s.
But Teng is optimistic about the coalition’s chances, saying morale ahead of Election 2013 is now higher as the BN component parties are united under him to win the polls.
“We have to go to the battle to win, how to win is a matter of strategy; yes, the sentiments is not with us but we have to see how to turn the sentiments around,” he told The Malaysian Insider in an interview over the weekend.
The straight-talking Gerakan secretary-general is different from the gentle and consensus-building party president, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, who was the Penang chief minister from 1990 to 2008.
Political observers say Koh, who is now a senator and a federal Cabinet minister, appeared to be docile and bullied by Gerakan’s allies in BN, namely Umno and MCA, during his administration.
“Different situation requires different leadership. My style of leadership suits this current environment. That kind of scenario when Koh Tsu Koon was there was different.” he said.
Vowing to be different, Teng said he has told his Umno colleagues that the dominant Malay party needs Gerakan and other allies to form the state government and not the other way around.
“Why must the minority bow down to the majority all the time? You, the majority, must be worried more about the minority as we can shift any time. We are the kingmaker ... we must know how to exercise [our] minority rights. That wasn’t shown previously” he said.
“If I move... you don’t get the majority,” he added, noting that Penang Umno has been co-operating with him and getting him to chair some of their campaign meetings in the state.
“By and large, Umno Penang has learnt the painful path. They have realised they cannot behave like the past. If you behave like in the past, even the Malays will discard you, not just the non-Malays.
“When we were in power, we allowed all these things to come and chip away at our support. Every time that we don’t handle it well, and we don’t say it loud for fear of offending the other party, that part is wrong,” Teng said.
While declining to give away the coalition’s strategy, Teng said BN will put up more fresh faces in Election 2013 and emphasise on the economy, especially linking with the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT).
He said Penang’s advantages, which included developed finance and logistical services, would benefit from trading with their neighbours rather than just focusing on the state’s economy.
“I won’t compromise on the vision that has been set.. I want to go to the battle to win,” Teng said.