By Clara Chooi
KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — Penang Barisan Nasional (BN) chief Teng Chang Yeow has insisted that Umno “needs” Gerakan and MCA to wrest the state from Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the coming polls, although the Malay party was the only one among the three that won seats in Election 2008.
The Gerakan secretary-general pointed out that BN’s political landscape in the industrialised state is different from elsewhere, disputing repeated claims from critics that the multiracial Gerakan and Chinese-based MCA are both “subservient” to Umno.
He told The Malaysian Insider that Umno and its non-Malay coalition partners are still on “equal footing” as 25 of the 40 state seats in Penang are either mixed or Chinese-majority seats.
“It’s just an issue of perception that we are subservient to Umno. I do not think that throughout our engagement with Umno, we are of anything lesser than their influence... particularly in Penang.
“The fact is that they need us. We must also leverage on the fact that they need us to move forward,” the newly-appointed Penang BN chief said in recent interview.
Umno successfully clinched 11 of the 15 seats it had contested during Election 2008 while its partners Gerakan, MCA and MIC all failed to secure a single seat.
This dealt a drastic blow to BN, particularly to Gerakan, which had previously helmed the successful state for nearly 40 years since 1969. Shortly after polls closed on the night of March 8, 2008, Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon conceded defeat to the loose pact of DAP, PKR and PAS.
Since then, Gerakan entered its weakest state with many members losing confidence in the party’s direction. To make matters worse, the party’s Penang base was rocked by faction-fighting, which even resulted in a failed ouster attempt against Penang Gerakan chairman Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan in 2010.
But with Teng’s (Chang Yeow) appointment to the helm of Penang BN, things are expected to improve as warring factions now appear willing to put aside their hostilities and prepare themselves for the coming 13th general election.
Teng told The Malaysian Insider that even if Umno decides to take some non-Malay seats from Gerakan or MCA, the “reality of the situation” would likely kick in.
“Go ahead. But they know the reality of politics. They need us,” he said.
Teng explained that his greatest worry today is in repairing the confidence factor, particularly among members in Gerakan and MCA, which he admitted had hit an extreme low following the dismal results of Election 2008.
“In order to walk tall today, we need to work together to say — look, we are proud to be members of MCA or Gerakan. The confidence level was greatly shaken after Election 2008.
“Gerakan and MCA members were even not willing to identify themselves with the party,” he said.
Teng noted that most observers have predicted that DAP and PR would prevail in Penang in the coming polls, but insisted that despite entering the battlefield as the underdog, “BN still has a chance”.
“I think differently. Everyone has a chance in every battle,” he said.
Gerakan was wiped out of Penang when it failed to secure a single seat in Election 2008.
Its BN partner, Umno, secured 11 seats in the 40-seat assembly while the PR parties of DAP, PKR and PAS each took 19, nine and one seat, respectively.
Despite Umno’s success with Penang’s Malay voters, the ruling party still needs a strong Gerakan and MCA to woo the Chinese electorate. Of the 40 state seats, 22 are said to be Chinese-majority.
In the coming polls, Umno will contest in 15 state seats, Gerakan in 13, MCA in 10 and MIC in two.