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Battle between ‘familiarity’ and ‘change’

 | September 20, 2012

Can PKR's Rafizi Ramli persuade loyal Pandan voters to veer away from their hardworking two-term Barisan Nasional MP Ong Tee Keat in the coming polls?

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It will be a battle of many titans in the coming 13th general election. Perhaps, one of the most watched and hotly contested seats in Selangor will be the Pandan parliamentary constituency.

To date, speculation is rife that PKR’s Rafizi Ramli, 35, will likely challenge MCA’s incumbent Ong Tee Keat, 56, provided the latter is still slotted to re-contest in the Pandan seat. Ong is currently serving his second term.

Unperturbed by his uncertain political career and resolutely serving his constituents, Ong is also playing his card close to his chest.

Since Ong lost his party presidential post – in a three-cornered contest at an extraordinary MCA-AGM election in 2010 – to his arch nemesis Dr Chua Soi Lek, he has been sidelined by his party.

However, close supporters in Pandan claimed that Ong has been constantly facing internal sabotages carried out by hidden hands from the higher-ups in his party.

His detractors have deliberately spun endless rumours and speculations to discredit his loyalty to his coalition partner, Barisan Nasional. But Ong took it all in his stride, kept his silence and continued his focus on his constituency services.

Kelvin Ang, 48, founding publisher of the Malaysia Book of Records (Chinese edition), in commenting on Ong’s track record, said: “Since the 2008 [electoral] tsunami, Tee Keat has never stop serving the constituents.

“He never bad-mouthed his party predecessors or his critics.”

Recalling an incident which indicated Ong’s commitment to his constituency, Ang said: “I remember on one occasion, Tee Keat had a bleeding nose for having had to walk under the hot weather visiting the constituents.

“The next day, he had a plaster across his nose but he still showed up for another event,” Ong told FMT.

It is this trait in Ong that Rafizi has found “challenging” in the latter’s quest for the Pandan seat.

Ong admired

Rafizi said Ong’s success in the previous general election was due to voters’ “familiarity” with him, but was doubtful if a similar feat can be achieved in the next general election.

According to Rafizi, the next tsunami will drown out Ong’s performance record as the majority of the voters want a complete change of national government.

What will voters from Pandan want? Will they overwhelmingly vote for “change” hence, rejecting a “familiar” member of parliament who has served them with a personal touch for the past years?

As a staunch Buddhist, Ong has many admirers in his constituency.

“Tee Keat is straightforward. His distaste for corruption is known within his circle of supporters. That’s why those opportunists and pretentious people from his own party do not speak highly of him because they do not get any benefits from any organised charity events,” said a local NGO leader CL Liew, 61, who has known Ong for the past 23 years.

“Tee Keat is particularly concerned with public safety and his strong, generous support for Rukun Tetangga – providing uniforms and transport logistic vehicles like battery-driven bicycles – was much appreciated. Buddhist organisations and mosques also received much assistance from him during cultural and religious celebrations,” Liew said.

There are many areas of concern (in Pandan), Ong told FMT.

“Pandan’s constituency profile comprises middle-income and poor residents. Hence, the large numbers of apartments, low-cost flats and pockets of squatters in the area.”

“This led to the problem of stratified property management for the medium-cost apartments and condominiums. I think the situation is rather bad.

“Problems like flooding and soil erosion are also emerging. For example, Taman Putra, Bukit Permai and Cheras Baru were hit with soil erosion recently, which had never happened before,” Ong said, adding that there is a need for more expert management to cope with these concerns.

He said that was one reason he had set up a “special squad” to identify areas of neglect to tackle the various problems like garbage collection, road repairs, clogged drains besides upgrading the quality of life of the residents like providing more recreational facilities in green lung areas and children’s playground.

“The high residential density has also given rise to the need for regular free medical check-ups for the elderly. Mobile clinics, acupuncture services, specialised health screening sessions [ultra sonic screening of digestive tracts] for the poor income group are organised by networking with the various local NGOs, which have been very successful. A haemodialysis centre is also ready to provide services at Taman Maju Jaya in the constituency,” he added.

Will it be a referendum?

For education, Ong said the list of services included free tuition classes for students sitting for the SPM and UPSR examinations.

Many long-serving supporters like Ang and Liew acknowledged that Ong is an MP who walked the talk.

“For more than 20 years, Tee Keat had served his constituency well and we hope he will be given another chance to re-contest in Pandan,” Liew said.

Will the fight in Pandan be a referendum for “change” or “personalised services” between Rafizi and Ong?

Ong first entered MCA politics in 1989 and made his debut contesting under BN in the Ampang Jaya parliamentary seat. He defeated then Semangat 46 candidate and former Selangor menteri besar Harun Idris by a majority of 4,500 votes in 1989.

Ong served as Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker in the 1990s and transport minister before he was dropped after he was defeated in the MCA party presidential election.

His likely opponent, Rafizi, is a certified accountant and a former Petronas scholar.

Rafizi recently moved to the forefront of the opposition coalition when he exposed the RM250-million National Feedlot Corporation (NFCorp) scandal. He is also facing four charges under the Banking and Financial Institutions Act (Bafia) relating to the NFCorp exposé.

Pandan constituency, which is close to Kuala Lumpur city, is regarded as both an urban and semi-urban racially mixed constituency. It comprises an almost equal numbers of Malay and Chinese voters, according to the latest electoral figures.

This constituency was carved out from the old Ampang Jaya constituency following the re-delineation exercise in 2004.

Ong held the Ampang Jaya parliamentary seat for four terms before contesting in Pandan in 2008 and he was the only MCA candidate who captured a parliamentary seat out of seven contested by his party.

Come polling day, the decision will rest on the Pandan electorate. Will they vote in a sincere, hardworking MP who keeps his promises on delivering constituency services or a MP who wants to be a voice for greater democracy in Parliament?

There is no answer now but one thing is for sure. It will be a battle between “familiarity” and the banner for “change”.

Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit. He is a FMT columnist.


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