The Penang DAP polls this Sunday, while not as keenly-fought as the ones in Selangor and Perak, will feature three big names.
THE Penang DAP election on Sunday is a crowded affair with over 80 contestants vying for 15 posts in the state DAP committee.
There is keen expectation that in this frontline DAP-ruled state, victory would later be rewarded with posts in the state government and in government-linked companies (GLCs).
Nearly 140 contestants, mostly unknowns and others better known because they were assemblymen, had filed nomination papers to contest but many withdrew.
The contest is keen also because contenders believe if they win, they will automatically be selected to stand in the coming general election.
“Many contestants believe getting into the magic 15 is the passport to a better life,” said a Penang DAP leader who is also contesting.
“You become an YB, councillor or even a director in a GLC and people will line up to deal with you.”
“This kind of expectation explains why so many are contesting to be one of the 15,” the leader said explaining the party’s election method where delegates elect 15 state committee members and the 15 elect all the office bearers among themselves, from chairman down.
Although the contest among many ordinary members will be close, three big names are staking their stature and prestige hoping to become the state DAP chairman.
But behind them all is the shadow of DAP secretary-general and Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng who is backing a team of loyalists for the 15 posts, led by Deputy Chief Minister and former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia lecturer Dr P. Ramasamy.
If elected, he is expected to be the chairman replacing incumbent veteran Chow Kon Yeow.
Party insiders said Chow, the Tanjung MP, is backing a line-up of supporters for the posts but being an amiable leader he is not openly pushing his line-up as happened in the Perak and Selangor state elections recently.
In Selangor, speaker Teng Chan Kim and senior exco Teresa Kok fielded rival line-ups and openly supported them just like Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham and rival M. Kulasegaran in Perak.
A third serious contender, besides Dr Ramasamy and Chow for the chairman’s post, is Batu Lanchang assemblyman Danny Law Heng Kiang.
Some popular leaders are claimed by all camps like deputy chairman and Penang DAP veteran Lim Hock Seng, Jagdeep Singh Deo and Lim Hui Ying, both vice-chairmen.
Party insiders said secretary and Pulau Tikus assemblyman Koay Teng Hai and Treasurer Tan Hung Wooi are similarly in the line-ups of several camps.
A key member in Chow’s team is DAP national Wanita chief and Bukit Mertajam MP Chong Eng who was previously deputy chairman but is now sidelined and is hoping to make a comeback into the mainstream leadership.
Party insiders said Chong Eng is too outspoken and is no longer treated as a member of the DAP “inner circle” that include hardcore DAP leaders who unquestioningly accept and endorse party supremo Lim Kit Siang and his son and successor Guan Eng.
Guan Eng, who is not contesting along with several others like Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi and party strategist Liew Chin Tong, had indicated that Chow, if he wins, would be Penang chairman but party insiders said he also privately backs Dr Ramasamy.
“He is betting on two horses,” DAP insiders said.
Campaign issues also centre around the “outside-insider” as in local-born and non-local like Dr Ramasamy who is from Kajang, and also around “island proper” versus mainlanders, i.e leaders from Prai.
Dr Ramasamy’s other handicap is he is not popular among the DAP Indian veterans over a number of issues including his alleged failure to form an Indian bureau in the DAP, associating with ex-MIC members at the expense of DAP veterans and openly saying he is leader for all Penangites not just Indians.
“He is deputy chief minister because of the Indian quota so he should speak up mainly for the Indians,” said an Indian DAP leader campaigning against Dr Ramasamy.
Although he had explained his rationale several times, the issue refuses to die down with veteran Indians in the DAP and outside.
Party insiders said a line-up of mainly Chinese DAP veterans is also trying their chance but is unlikely to make headway among the 700 delegates in Sunday’s convention and election. About 200 observers are also attending.
As elsewhere, in Penang too party membership has nearly tripled from just about 40 branches before 2008.
The newcomers are impatient, ambitious and clash openly with veterans for posts.
“The campaign is as intense as in Selangor or Perak but it is mostly underground.
“The big campaign weapon here is text messages,” a party veteran said.
DAP insiders however said, like in Selangor last month, Penang delegates are also expected to return a mixed team of veterans and newcomers for the 15 posts but it is still unclear, 24 hours before polling, how the big three – Chow, Dr Ramasamy and Chong – would fare.