Mission to regain lost ground


ANY casual observer going through the statistics of the 2008 general election could be pardoned for concluding that the Chinese community, which made up 5,549 voters (38.24 per cent) in Tenang at that time, were generally supportive of Pas and its allies.

Four out of the 12 polling areas in the state constituency are considered as Chinese areas and in 2008, Pas won in three of them — Bandar Labis Timor, Bandar Labis Tengah and Labis.

Since then, the number of Tenang voters has risen marginally from 14,511 to 14,753.

The number of Chinese voters has increased to 5,766 or 39.08 per cent of the electorate.

Naturally, there has been a concentration of ceramah held by the predominantly Chinese DAP leaders in Tenang even weeks before the campaigning period started.

All the top DAP leaders, including stalwart Lim Kit Siang and his son Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, have been going around giving fiery speeches at new villages and Labis town, extolling the virtues of voting for Pas and how DAP cooperation with the Islamist party will be good for the Chinese community.

Their speeches were, nonetheless, noted for their focus on national issues such as the current higher prices of goods and allegations of corrupt practices by BN national leaders. The lack of local issues aired by them was notably similar to the contents of speeches by Pas and PKR leaders on the campaign trail in Tenang.

MCA leaders, the key players for BN in the drive for the Chinese community’s support, were mainly going house to house and organising dialogue sessions.

On MCA’s campaign tactics being seen as less aggressive than those of DAP and Chinese PKR leaders, MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek nonchalantly brushed aside those concerns.

“Rest assured, we (MCA) know what we are doing,” he said when asked on the matter at a press conference on Tuesday.

Umno has on its part embarked on efforts to win over the Chinese voters with Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman, who is also the BN campaign director, getting the cooperation of local Chinese community leaders and non-governmental organisations in organising several well-attended gatherings with the Chinese constituents.

One such event was the gathering at SJKC Labis on Monday, organised with the help of the Johor Federation of Chinese Associations, where BN candidate Mohd Azahar Ibrahim impressed the packed hall with his rendition of a Chinese song.

A source within Johor BN, which is in charge of the coalition’s campaign machinery, said the chances of winning more votes from the Chinese community was good despite sceptics predicting that Pas would get as high as 95 per cent of the Chinese votes.

“Those who make such a negative prediction for BN are mostly pundits who come here for a day or two before going back to their base in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere.

“Admittedly, we are still working to achieve our target of securing at least 50 per cent of the Chinese votes.

“We are, nonetheless, confident that we can get more than the estimated 32 per cent of votes that we received from the community in 2008.”

The optimism of the BN source is not without basis as Pas and its allies are campaigning virtually without local issues to exploit.

Life in Tenang is generally good. Chinese rubber smallholders such as in Kampung Sawah Baru near Tenang station, for instance, are enjoying a boom with the high price of the commodity. Complaints about the lack of employment opportunities for Chinese youth in the constituency are also quite far-fetched as many are doing well with jobs in bigger towns such as Segamat, Muar, Batu Pahat and Kluang, which are all less than two hours’ drive away.

This could be seen by the simple fact that there are virtually no homeless people or anyone who is unemployed not by choice in Tenang.

The only plausible reason to explain the support of Chinese voters for Pas and its allies is the harping by these parties on issues which touch on the sentiments of the community such as the Teoh Beng Hock issue and the alleged discriminatory practices of BN. The same tactic employed on a large scale in the last general election was seen by many observers as the reason for the sudden swing in votes, particularly in Chinese areas nationwide at that time.

During the previous general election in 2004, BN had won at all polling areas in Tenang, including the three Chinese-majority areas, which it lost almost three years ago.

In the 2004 general election which BN won with a landslide, the coalition took 829 votes (68.40 per cent) in Bandar Labis Timor, 865 votes (56.83 per cent) in Bandar Labis Tengah, and 553 votes (73.83 per cent) in Labis.

These figures indicate that it is not impossible for BN to win back its lost ground in the Chinese community, as what the coalition really lost in 2008 were votes of those in the middle ground.

With BN now heavily promoting the 1Malaysia concept and making a genuine effort to counter the opposition’s racially chauvinistic tactics, masked by an illusion of liberalism and transparency, the coalition should be making some headway, and this could be proven on polling day in Tenang on Sunday.