Young Turks hungry to move up

The upcoming Penang DAP election will feature three factions – powerful warlords, ambitious young professionals and loyal old guards who are not ready to ride off into the sunset. 

DAP’s “lone wolf” assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu (pic) is definitely in the bad books of his party boss.

The Tanjung Bunga assemblyman is waiting for the axe to fall after supporting an Umno motion on land reclamation project during the recent state assembly sitting. In party politics, one cannot abandon the party line to support the other side and hope to get off scot-free.

Teh is down but he is apparently not out. Party insiders said that despite committing the cardinal sin, he is likely to win a seat in the Penang DAP election taking place this Saturday.

The pro-environment politician beat better known people to come in sixth out of 15 in the 2012 state party polls.

“He is getting my vote,” said a DAP delegate.

Teh is well-known for his stand on the environment and the DAP crowd knows that his support for the Umno motion was about his green beliefs and not about politics.

Moreover, when he supported the Umno motion, he had quoted the late Karpal Singh: There are no permanent friends or enemies but there must be permanent principles. That resonated with many of his party colleagues and he could possibly end up in the top 10 again.

A total of 48 candidates are vying for 15 seats in the Penang DAP election. It will be a tight race and there are strong undercurrents because it is only another two years to the general election. Getting into the state leadership line-up means being a step closer to being picked as an election candidate.

The last two state elections was a fight between the “importees” and the “locals” but it has become an old story and the contest is now between local factions and warlords.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has abstained from contesting since setting foot in Penang.

The official argument is that he does not need the post since he is already the secretary-general and Chief Minister. The unofficial version is that Lim has learnt well from his experience in Malacca where he and his wife suffered humiliating defeats.

Anyway, he is already powerful even without a party post in Penang. He is expected to be made party chairman when his secretary-general post expires later this year and the joke is that he will be the first DAP chairman with real power.

Another big name who is not contesting is national Wanita DAP chief Chong Eng who is also a state executive councillor. Chong was defeat in the last election and has decided to stay out because the inside talk is that she will lose again as a result of warlord politics.

There are apparently three rival factions. The most organised faction is aligned to the silver fox Phee Boon Poh or Peh Mor (white hair), as he is known.

Those aligned to Phee did well in the last election thanks to the Penang Voluntary Patrol Unit (PSS) under his control. But the PPS has since been banned under a cloud of bad publicity, and that has affected his outreach.

But his roots in Penang DAP go very deep, he knows everyone and more important, everybody knows him. Moreover, his brother Boon Chee is the division chief of Bagan, the parliamentary seat held by Lim.

Bagan which has 35 branches will send the most number of delegates to the state convention. Power in DAP starts at the branch each of which come with seven delegates or votes. Whoever sets up more branches will have an advantage and the Phee brothers have been quite active in this respect.

But the warlord brothers are said to control only half the Bagan branches with Lim controlling the other half.

The second faction belongs to state DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow. Chow has an understated style, some call him “lau chua” or old snake in the sense that he knows his way around and should not be under-estimated.

He is a really nice guy, has few enemies and won the top spot in the last election. Chow does not really campaign and he tells people, “if you like me, vote for me” and it actually works.

His name has often come up for the Chief Minister post and Lim will feel the pressure if Chow comes out tops against.

The third faction is that of Kepala Batas division chief Lai Kok Ping who is also chairman of the DAP Veterans Club. Lai is a loyalist of Lim Kit Siang and his group helps look after the interests of the younger Lim in Penang.

But factions and warlords aside, a Penang lawyer pointed out that the election is also about the generation of younger leaders impatient to move up whereas the old guards are not ready to be put out to pasture.

“It is a phenomenon seen in every political party but more so in DAP which has attracted many young professionals because of its electoral success,” said the lawyer.

The grassroots group who lack qualification but have the political network resent the professionals who have qualification but no grassroots.

In the Penang Dapsy or youth wing contest last month, the grassroots group wiped out the professionals group who included YBs and councillors. It was a signal of the resentment against the young professionals who parachuted in and are fond of using their connection with the Chief Minister.

The Dapsy delegates to Saturday’s election are the ones to watch. They could make the difference in the three-faction fight for votes.

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