PETALING JAYA: It was always going to be a challenge for Barisan Nasional (BN) to remain in power in Perak, considering that the coalition wrested the state from Pakatan Rakyat in 2009 through crossovers and not the ballot box.
But it proved naysayers wrong in the 2013 general election, where people’s initial anger over the toppling of the Pakatan Rakyat state government did not translate into another opposition victory.
For Batu Gajah MCA Youth chief Leong Chee Wai, one of the main reasons for this was the leadership of Perak Menteri Besar Zambry Abdul Kadir.
Zambry, the Pangkor assemblyman, has led Perak since he replaced PAS’ Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as menteri besar seven years ago.
Now, Leong believes that the “Zambry factor” will help MCA put up a stronger fight in Chinese-majority Batu Gajah, where the party was trashed by DAP in 2013 following its earlier loss in 2008.
Of the estimated 80,000 voters in the constituency, Chinese account for 74%, Malays 11%, Indians 15% and others 1%.
In the 13th general election (GE13), DAP retained the Batu Gajah parliamentary seat, as well as the Jelapang, Menglembu and Tronoh state seats, with handsome margins.
Leong acknowledged that it would be tough going for BN in the DAP stronghold. However, he believes BN has done well in serving the people and resolving their issues.
“DAP has a long history in Batu Gajah. For nearly 20 years, they have been elected here, but what have they done?
“Zambry has performed very well. He looks after all races and has introduced many policies and projects which benefit the people, like building affordable homes.
“He has also got the local councils performing better than before. Now, the local councils really look after the infrastructure and facilities, so I believe this will help sway votes to BN.”
Leong, who is an Ipoh city councillor, added that the government had done a lot for Batu Gajah despite it being under the opposition.
He cited as an example the RM4 million spent on road projects in Menglembu.
He also acknowledged that when it came to voting, the Chinese would focus more on national issues. However, he said many were jaded with Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the numerous issues the coalition faced in Penang and Selangor.
“Also, the Chinese don’t really like Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Many of them feel that the problems in the country today, particularly in the area of education, were created by him.”
But V Sivakumar, DAP’s Batu Gajah MP, dismissed the notion that Mahathir, PH’s prime ministerial candidate for GE14, would cause the pact to lose the support of Chinese and Indian votes.
“When Mahathir was in power for 22 years, MCA and MIC won many seats, despite our criticism of his administration then.
“It was only after Mahathir retired that the Chinese and Indians turned their backs on MCA and MIC. So there must be something about Mahathir which the Chinese and Indians like.
“I believe it is how he manages the economy, creates business opportunities, keeps the cost of living down and ensures taxes remain low.”
In fact, Sivakumar said, the rising cost of living was perhaps one of the most common complaints among the people in Batu Gajah.
“A bowl of vegetarian curry mee here used to cost around RM5 in 2012. Now it costs RM6.80 to RM7.
“This is a semi-urban area. Most of the people here are from the middle and lower-income group. Their salaries aren’t high, so they really feel the pinch.”
Sivakumar said DAP had served the area well and raised the issues of the people at the state and national level despite not being in power.
“There are issues which are beyond our control like flooding and land matters, but we can only resolve these if we come to power.”
Sivakumar remained confident that BN would not be able to capture Batu Gajah in the coming polls.