Can Gerakan rock Batu?

Dr Dominic Lau seems all set to lock horns with PKR’s ‘street fighter’ Tian Chua in the Batu parliamentary seat

Teoh El Sen, FMT

The Batu parliamentary constituency has been described as a “hot seat” in the largely opposition-controlled Federal Territory – even its current MP admits to that.

Tian Chua, who is also the PKR vice-president, told FMT in a recent interview that he was “sure it’s going to be a hot seat” though in the same beat he expressed confidence that PKR will retain the urban seat in “lesser” Kuala Lumpur.

“PKR’s machinery is solid. Gerakan is no match for us, they are dependent on Umno. But even if I’m faced with an Umno candidate, I stand a good chance,” said Tian Chua.

Despite his bravado, his opponents are not resting on their laurels either. The BN candidate most likely to go up against Tian Chua is Gerakan’s Dr Dominic Lau.

While admitting that he was going into a tough battle, Lau was nevertheless certain that his perseverance in the past couple of years is guaranteed to make inroads for the ruling coalition.

“I always look at the big picture and I know this coming election is going to be very tough, but I’m confident we are using the right strategy,” said Lau.

Batu has 80,000 voters consisting of 43% Malays, 38% Chinese and 16% Indians. It is regarded as a “Malay mix” seat.

It encompasses the boundaries of areas such as Jalan Ipoh up to Taman Beringin Kepong, Taman Samurdra Batu Muda, Batu Caves, Jalan Gombak, Jalan Setapak, Bandar Baru Sentul Jalan Pahang, and Kampung Selayang Lama.

Absentee MP

Earlier in May, an article in The Star quoted residents and BN campaigners as saying that Tian Chua was widely regarded as an “absentee MP”, someone who is often overseas and not working on the ground.

The article said that the less affluent Batu is plagued by problems of congestion, pollution, petty crime and gangsterism. Issues of development in urban areas such as Sentul, Kampung Railway, Jalan Ipoh, Kampung Chubedak also remain unresolved.

Dismissing these attacks against PKR as baseless BN propaganda is Tian Chua’s aide and PKR Youth deputy information chief Rozan Azen Mat Rasip.

“The allegation that Tian Chua does not meet the people is not true; almost every day he is in the office for five to six hours. It’s non-stop,” he said.

Rozan said that despite the “psychological warfare” by BN, he was sure that there are two big issues that people in Batu won’t forget.

“One is the unfulfilled promise by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to build Sekolah Kebangsaan Sri Perak, at Bandar Baru Sentul, in 2010. Until today, it has not materialised.

“Two is the Malay Reserve land in Kampung Padang Balang where Tian Chua is fighting for the people’s rights not to have development.”

He said that PKR’s fight this time around was for the Malay votes and that is also a reason why Umno was lobbying hard to take over the seat from Gerakan previously. However, Rozan said that “the majority of Malays boycott Umno” now.

“In Batu, MIC is dead. MCA is dead. Umno is now proxy for Gerakan. Gerakan only has this doctor while Lim Si Pin (former Batu candidate) is out,” said Rozan.

He added that the only weakness Tian Chua faces is addressing and solving issues when dealing with officials who are mostly aligned to the government.

“Tian Chua is not invited to DBKL [City Hall] events and he is not allowed to sit with the VIPs, it’s just dirty politics. That’s why for some programmes, he shows up and gatecrashes it.”

Different priorities

On the other end of the fence, Lau said he preferred not to directly attack his opponent but simply let his work do the talking.

“We want to utilise the ‘blue ocean strategy’. Simply by doing good work and focus on values. We don’t need to criticise or kill our competitors… then it would turn into a bloody red ocean,” quipped Lau.

However, when pressed on the differences between BN and Pakatan Rakyat, Lau said BN follows through on issues and solves problems.

“Different MPs have different priorities. Tian Chua has his own approach. His thinking is that an MP should not be too involved in local issues, but I feel that we from BN should go in and should always follow through.”

Citing an example of a fire in 2011, Lau said that Tian Chua was there on the first day, but was not spotted subsequently while Gerakan helped the victims until they were relocated.

He said that it was unfair for critics to say that BN component parties have an advantage when solving local authority issues.

“We also write in, liaise with DBKL, follow up, and keep disturbing them. People think we have the privilege, but it’s not true. In fact, I don’t have the priviledge of an MP who can talk directly to the Datuk Bandar [mayor],” he said.

On Gerakan’s preparations, Lau said that BN has already put in place its machinery and has set up 25 district polling centres with different component party leaders in charge of them.

“Everybody is preparing for the general election together in BN. We are still focused on the local issues, on the local problems.”

On the frontline

One local issue that Lau was proud about was solving the drainage problem in the Chinese market in Jinjang Selatan. “Residents complained for five to 10 years but nothing was done. Then we pushed DBKL and engaged everyone and recently we got it cleaned up,” he said.

Lau said that eventhough he believed that as an MP in the Federal Territories (which does not have state assemblymen), he has to focus on local issues, he promised that he would not neglect national issues.

“We are always in the frontline such as in the Lynas issue; we went down to the ground. We were the ones who campaigned against the ISA, we also voiced our stand during Bersih and on the scholarship issue,” he said.

Asked if he was open to debating Tian Chua, Lau said that he would if an independent party organises it. However, he said that he’d rather focus on serving the people, noting that he had debated Tian Chua before in Malacca.

“My main challenge is still Chinese support. I’m trying very hard to gain their confidence for BN; the Malays and Indians are coming back and are quite positive,” said Lau.

In the meantime, Tian Chua said that Batu, as an urban seat, is facing a “very bad” problem of poverty. He said that it was not something that he could solve overnight.

“It’s a major issue and the government does not even have urban poverty in its agenda. Nobody bothers about the livelihood [of the urban dwellers].

“All the statistics show that it is a serious issue,” he said, adding that about half of the families in Sentul have the combined income of less than RM3,000.

He said the financial situation coupled with housing and facilities problem in PPR flats, and rapid urbanisation is phasing out the poor and destroying the livelihood of the people.

“Squatter settlements are being replaced with high-rise condominiums. People have no place to go. This is a national issue; when BN gave land to YTL, they did not have social welfare in their minds,” he said, citing the Kampung Railway case.