PENANG Barisan Nasional leaders felt numb from shock when the results of the 13th General Election tightened Pakatan Rakyat’s grip on Penang.
They may have not expected to wrest control of the state but seeing Pakatan Rakyat returned with more than two-thirds majority to form the state government for another term was still very hard for them to swallow.
DAP triumphed a convincing take-all in the 19 state seats it contested, Parti Keadilan Rakyat collecting 10, and PAS one, in the 40-seat state legislative assembly.
Pakatan also won 10 out of 13 parliamentary seats in the state, of which DAP won 7 and PAS, 3.
Then Penang BN chief Teng Chang Yeow, whose leadership people in the BN circle believed would see BN making inroads into some of Pakatan’s strongholds in the state, also lost to PKR’s Ong Chin Wen in the Bukit Tengah state constituency.
The 49-year-old, then national Gerakan secretary-general, had conceded that the people of Penang had rejected BN, took responsibility for the coalition’s poor performance and resigned as Penang BN chief.
Teng has since returned with renewed vigour, all ready to swing into action after his re-appointment as the Penang BN chief.
Work for Teng, had in fact started much earlier, when he was entrusted with the mandate to lead Penang Gerakan in September last year, taking over from Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan, who did not seek re-election.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s decision to re-appoint Teng meant that the prime minister, who is also BN chairman, is confident Teng is in a better position now than before to lead the BN charge in GE14.
Najib appears to have high hopes that under Teng, BN would become an effective opposition in Penang. The coalition should now have better understanding of the aspirations of Penangites since the state is into its 6th year under the DAP-led Pakatan Rakyat government.
Wong Mun Hoe, head of Penang Gerakan Election Task Force, believed Teng
would be able to take the challenge and improve past shortcomings, with the co-operation of the head of other BN parties.
“It’s not the best time to be the BN head though,” said Wong, the former Pantai Jerejak state assemblyman.
Time was not on Teng’s side when he was first appointed to the post in April 2012, succeeding former Penang Chief Minister and former Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.
He has all the right credentials to mount a challenge. He was a three-term assemblyman for the Padang Kota seat and had served as Tsu Koon’s political secretary, but having just over a year before BN had to face the voters again on May 5, 2013, is certainly is too short a time.
Given the anti-BN sentiment that was still strong among the majority of Chinese voters in Penang, it was really too much to expect BN to be returned to power.
Now he can continue to execute his plans from an early stage,” said Penang-based political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian.
Still, some political watchers think that Najib should have reappointed Teng much earlier to give the latter more time to prepare for the next national poll, due in 2018.
Analysts familiar with the Penang political scene think Teng  was a wise choice and they do not regard him as a recycle leader. They also believe Teng, an aggressive fighter, who can give BN a fighting chance in Penang, will act as a uniting force for demoralised BN leaders and members to counter their common political enemy.
It is common knowledge that some Penang Umno leader are keen to see Umno leading the state BN since the party won seats and Gerakan, as well as MCA and MIC, have no voice at all in the state legislative assembly.
Furthermore, Gerakan had “failed to lead BN” not once, but twice into victory.
“Teng is the best candidate. Umno cannot take the post, otherwise the party will be seen as greedy,” Prof James Chin of Monash University Malaysia, Selangor.
Sivamurugan also believed that Najib’s choice in Teng was to avoid a power tussle within BN component parties.
”That’s the last thing BN want to face now in Penang,” said the Universiti Sains Malaysia lecturer.
Trying to win the hearts of Penang voters is not an easy task. Penangites, generally, are happy with the present DAP-led state government.
They see chief minister Lim Guan Eng as having little baggage, practising good governance, thus having no good reason to return support to BN until now.
There are grouses over the usual housing shortage, traffic woes and business opportunities among the people, but all these are still not enough to change the present state government.
For BN, it has to offer something new and different to see a change in peoples’ mindset, and this is a big challenge.
Zubaidah Abu Bakar
Zubaidah Abu Bakar
*Seasoned journalist Zubaidah Abu Bakar takes a keen interest in Malaysia’s vibrant, and sometimes, dramatic political landscape.