Battleground Lembah Pantai

Incumbent Nurul Izzah Anwar is expected to face a stiff challenge from Federal Territories and Urban Well-being Minister Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin. The registration of about 15,000 new voters in the Lembah Pantai constituency by both sides has made the outcome even more difficult to predict.

Baradan Kuppusamy (The Star)

LEMBAH Pantai, a mixed and urban parliamentary constituency won by Nurul Izzah Anwar as a precocious 28-year-old newcomer in 2008, is shaping up into one of the hottest and most keenly-watched battles of the upcoming general election.

Last week’s fracas at the Pantai Permai Apartments between rival groups of Pakatan Rakyat and Bari-san Nasional supporters showed the tense situation in the constituency.

Police had to rush in to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. At the height of the disturbance, water bottles, stones and other materials were thrown.

Rival factions from both coalitions continue to trade barbs days later with each denying their roles and accusing the other of provoking the fracas on Thursday night that police say erupted largely because rival Umno and PKR ceramah were being held within 100m of each other.

The reality is that Lembah Pantai is a hot seat and one that PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is campaigning to win at any cost for his now 32-year-old daughter Nurul.

His involvement in the Lembah Pantai constituency indicates the significance he is giving to the big election battle there which in 2008 had a mixed electorate of 56,000 but is now about 70,000, with the addition of new voters.

In the 2008 general election, over 53% of voters were Malays followed by 26% Chinese and Indians at 19% but this has changed slightly with the registration of more new voters.

Nurul had wrested the seat from Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil who had won it in 2004 with a huge majority of 25,000 but lost it to Nurul by 2,895 votes.

The battle was one of the hardest fought and Nurul, then a young, rising star in PKR, was aided by a political tsunami that swept the country and delivered Pakatan Rakyat 82 parliamentary seats, just 30 seats shy of a simple majority in parliament.

But this time around Nurul has a tough fight on her hands to retain this urban seat that has a mix of voters – urban poor, middle-of-the-road civil servants and the urban rich.

Shahrizat, who was expected to re-contest the seat that she had held for three terms, was removed from the political scene by the “Cowgate” scandal, leaving Pantai Dalam Umno chief and Federal Territories and Urban Well-being Minister Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin and or RNC, for short, as the undisputed challenger.

An approachable leader, Raja Nong Chik is seen to be humble and outgoing and easily mixes with all races. In fact, he has a Chinese wife.

He has made the constituency his second home spending a huge amount of time, effort and plenty of aid, to win the hearts and minds of the electorate, especially the poorer sections with numerous self-help programmes and people-centre projects.

Raja Nong Chik has been providing the electorate help and loans to purchase flats, to start small businesses, for the painting of flats and apartments, aid for temples, mosques and churches and generally trying to help out, especially to single mothers.

Nurul on the other hand has a famous father and an illustrious pedigree to help her retain the seat.

An electrical and electronics engineering graduate from Universiti Tenaga Nasional, she was thrown into the political arena following Anwar’s arrest and jailing on sodomy charges in 1999.

Some of her more ardent supporters want her to leave Pantai Dalam and instead contest in Permatang Pauh, the “safer” seat vacated by her mother and won by Anwar in a by-election in 2008, and have another PKR leader take on RNC.

They worry for her if she stays and fights Raja Nong Chik.

“Instead of fighting and falling here she should consider moving out,” said one supporter who is campaigning heavily for Nurul in Lembah Pantai. “She is young and has a bright future.”

Nurul herself has shot down the idea of moving out. “I will contest where the party fields me,” she said.

By most counts, Nurul has the backing of the majority of voters of the affluent part of Pantai Dalam – the Bangsar suburb – while the support of voters in the poorer sections of the constituency is another matter.

It is here that the shift in voter support is happening. Raja Nong Chik has been active in cultivating voters at the PPR flats and the numerous crowded urban housing schemes in Kampung Kerinchi, Pantai Dalam and Brickfields.

Raja Nong Chik is seen by working-class voters to be service-oriented and readily available to solve their problems.

The constituency also has a strong PAS presence among the rich and poorer sections and they are expected to back Nurul as they did in 2008.

But many of the electorate are also taken up with the transformation programmes introduced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Grassroots workers are seeing a shift in voter perception for Barisan Nasional among the poorer sections of the electorate.

Nurul’s campaign workers are the first to admit the shift but while they have strategies to counter this, they worry about the new voters and where their loyalties lie.

Rhetoric alone is not enough.

Both sides have registered voters in large numbers in this Malay-majority constituency that they hope would tip the balance in their favour.

Whatever the outcome, the battle for Lembah Pantai will be one of the hottest in the upcoming general election.