GEORGE TOWN, Oct 17 ― Tanjong is the smallest parliamentary constituency in Penang, with only 53,188 voters in the area, but it is also one of the “hottest” in any election.
From the busy urban heart of George Town down to the historical clan jetties, this federal seat is made up of both modern city dwellers and villagers still very much entrenched in old customs, traditions and beliefs.
Ever since the abolition of the Rent Control Act in 2000, the grand old city saw a substantial exodus of residents who could not afford the hike in rent, especially those inhabiting pre-war houses all over the city.
Even in the timeless clan jetties, many of the young and able have moved to “better” living conditions at high-end condominiums and residential areas in the suburbs, far from the madding crowd of the city.
What is left is a generation that has seen all the changes the city has undergone through the years; an ageing generation that still votes according to their hearts and deeply-held beliefs.
The current MP, Chow Kon Yeow (right), has served the constituency since 1999, this term being his third. Chow, who is the Penang DAP chairman, is also the incumbent Padang Kota state assemblyman and a state executive councillor.
The constituency is majority ethnic Chinese, 85.26 per cent to be exact, and it is well-known the Chinese in this area vote according to their sentiments.
“The residents here are diehard DAP supporters, most of them believe in voting for a DAP MP so that he can fight for their rights in Parliament,” said a Barisan Nasional (BN) party insider.
There has been talk that Chow will no longer be contesting for the parliamentary seat due to a possible one candidate-one seat policy by the party.
The state DAP leader has said that if the party were to implement such a policy, he would give up his parliamentary seat and concentrate on his state constituency.
On the BN side, tipped to be the one to try and wrest the seat from DAP is the vocal Gerakan Youth vice-chief Tan Kah Leong.
Tan has openly criticised the current state government and, more recently, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng over allegations regarding the latter’s rented residence.
He had alleged that Lim’s tenancy agreement was doctored, earning the ire of the latter and the threat of a possible lawsuit.
Tan’s prominence in the media can be seen as a calculated move for publicity as he is still relatively new and this is one of the easiest ways to “introduce” him to the public.
However, there is also talk that BN Tanjong Youth chief H’ng Khoon Leng may be a contender for the seat.
H’ng (left) has been equally vocal in his criticisms against the state government and Lim, if not more.
Though not a new face, H’ng has never been up for candidacy before and his recent prominence could signal that he may finally get his chance in Tanjong.
“This is a make-or-break seat so not many are keen to take it but it’s good for new faces to make a break for it or to use it as ‘training’ ground,” said a Gerakan insider.
He admitted that the seat is a DAP stronghold and hard to penetrate, but “one never knows with the capricious voters here as they could change their minds when the time comes.”
“That’s why this seat can either make or break the future of the BN candidate who contests in it. If the ‘winds’ were to change, the candidate will be the first to break into a DAP stronghold, and if not, he would have at least gained some exposure in the election process,” he said.
In 2008, Chow won against a relatively unknown Khaw Veon Szu by a landslide of 18,489 votes.
It will be an uphill battle for the BN candidate even though sentiments against Gerakan and BN in general have mellowed since 2008.
It should also be noted that Tanjong is the centre of DAP’s infamous “Tanjong Battle” back in 1986, when Lim Kit Siang led DAP to try and capture Penang from BN, winning six out of the 11 parliamentary seats in Penang including Tanjong.
DAP, under Kit Siang, went on to launch “Tanjong Battle II” and “Tanjong Battle III” in 1990 and 1995, respectively.
In each “Tanjong Battle”, the party failed to capture Penang, and in 1995, the party suffered a terrible defeat when it only won three out of the eight Parliamentary seats it contested in, Tanjong being one of the seats won.
Today, on the ground, sentiments remain unchanged although an optimistic BN member disagreed.
“The people are not so angry with Gerakan or BN anymore. In 2008, they had voted based on sentiments so now that they have ‘cooled’ down, it is possible that they could decide to give BN a chance again,” he said.
A DAP source laughed at the optimistic comment, calling it unrealistic and a “dream BN will never be able to turn into reality.”
“Tanjong is probably DAP’s strongest and safest seat so it is a ‘hot’ seat within the party as everyone wants to contest in it knowing full well they will win it easily. It is the sure-fire way to Parliament,” he said.
Sure enough, four names, all new faces, have been submitted to the top leadership to be considered as a candidate for the seat if Chow were to give up the seat.
Those proposed are municipal councillors Tay Leong Seong and Teh Lai Heng, DAP Tanjong liaison committee organising secretary Chee Chong Chew, and DAP Tanjong liaison committee member Adreena Ng.
Of the four, Tay and Teh have better chances of being selected but an observer noted that it may be none of the four but someone else entirely.
“The top leadership may just decide to put Komtar assemblyman Ng Wei Aik there and remove him from the state seat due to recent bad publicity surrounding him,” he said.
He said Ng’s public outbursts ― from calling BN members names to uttering distasteful comments ― is giving the party a bad name.
“They can’t keep him in a state seat as he is becoming unpopular amongst the people so the best bet is to put him in the party’s safest seat where the people will vote for the party instead of voting for the candidate,” he said.
There may not be a need for a “Tanjong Battle” by DAP anymore now that the Pakatan Rakyat coalition has already managed to capture Penang in 2008, but this seat will remain significant and important to the party that it will defend it to the end.
“This is what we call the ‘kingmakers’ seat as it is because of the Tanjong Battle that DAP gained the much needed mileage and attention from voters back in the 1980s so we will have to retain it at all costs,” said a party insider.
The current voters’ sentiments do favour DAP, especially in Tanjong where voters greet Guan Eng with much enthusiasm and a sense of awe.
But as an independent observer said, one can never guess what the voters will decide in the end.
“They may like Guan Eng and DAP but that doesn’t mean they will still give PR the landslide victory it garnered in 2008,” he said.
So, will DAP still prevail in Tanjong? Chances are high on their side but the end result depends entirely on the sentiments of the people there when the general election is called.