As GE13 looms, parties get down to knocking on doors

The next general election is expected to be the closest fight to form the new Malaysian government. The Malaysian Insider takes a look at what happens on the campaign trail to give a sense of the battleground.

Zurairi AR and Leannza Chia, The Malaysian Insider

As the 13th general election grows closer and the public grows restless over its uncertain date, political parties are picking up their pace in the hectic race to reach out to voters by going back to the oldest tactic in the playbook — knocking on doors.

PKR’s Wajah team members make a housecall in rural Perak. — Picture courtesy of Perak Wanita PKR

While the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) had reportedly spent close to RM3.6 million a year in recruiting around 10,000 bloggers to increase its online presence and lure in support from young voters, some of the grassroots politicians feel that meeting their constituents face-to-face is the way to go.

“People still need to see the credibility of their leaders,” said the MCA’s Liew Ching Hoong, secretary to Kampar MP and Deputy Home Minister Datuk Lee Chee Leong.

Lee, who won the Kampar parliamentary seat in 2008, is a familiar face in the area, serving in the Malim Nawar state assembly seat since 1995 and Tanjong Tualang before that.

PKR Wajah team members check their voters’ list during a house call in rural Perak rural. — Picture courtesy of Perak Wanita PKR

In 2008, Lee had beat the DAP’s Keong Meng Sing with a majority of 2,697 votes. The constituency was previously served by the MCA’s Tan Sri Hew See Tong, who had won with a bigger majority of 9,474 votes.

Kampar is an old mining town, situated a little more than 30km south of Ipoh, Perak. It is a Chinese-majority area, with 62.58 per cent of them, while Malays make up 26.87 per cent and Indians 10.47 per cent.

A significant portion of its 98,534 population consists of pensioners who, according to Liew, insist on meeting their elected representative in person rather than online.

Since 1995, Lee had assembled a team of five helpers, whom he had tasked with checking on his constituents daily to better spread the message of reliability and familiarity which comes with MCA.

Driving an old Mitsubishi Pajero, which the team dubbed the Mobile Service Vehicle (MSV), a pair from the team visits two villages a day — taking down the concerns of the village heads, registering voters, and helping villagers apply for the Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) cash aid.

The other three in the team keep in contact from the office, processing the various requests received by the MSV crew, including helping to pay electricity, water and phone bills for villagers who live too far from a post office.

This constant attention given by Lee has endeared him to Kampar residents, who visit him regularly at the booth he sets up opposite the town food court nearly every Friday.

“Sometimes we even get those coming from Tapah,” Liew told The Malaysian Insider, referring to the neighbouring town some 20 minutes away, which falls under a different parliamentary seat and is currently served by the MCA’s BN partner, Datuk M. Saravanan from the MIC.

But Lee faces stiff competition from political foe PKR’s Wanita’s Wajah team, which was set up in July.

Wajah (face) is an acronym for Wanita Keadilan Jelajah Kampung (PKR Wanita Village Tour), which was formed to spread the opposition party’s message of change and reform to women in the rural areas.

A PAS team meets people in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur as part of its voter outreach programme even after the death of its Titiwangsa MP. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

“We even employ a different logo so we look more like an NGO rather than a political party. We look more approachable that way,” PKR Wanita secretary Juwairiya Zulkifli said. 

Wajah’s logo, like its name, is shaped like a face and meant to convey a caring persona, a far cry from the impersonal blue and white PKR logo which is not  too popular with the rural women, Juwairiya admitted.

Among the many state branches, the Perak chapter of Wajah is regarded as the most active and successful by the PKR central leadership.

While The Malaysian Insider was speaking to Liew in Kampar during a recent sojourn there, the Perak Wajah team had just met with voters in Lee’s old state seat of Malim Nawar, an area which is predominantly Chinese, and which had fallen to the DAP in the last national elections four years ago.

The bulk of Malim Nawar’s voters — 73.49 per cent of them — are Chinese, while 17.51 per cent are Malays and only 8.95 per cent are Indian. 

The DAP’s Keshvinder Singh had won in Election 2008 against Dr Chai Song Poh of the MCA with a 1,362-vote majority.

“We mainly target villages and estates in the state assembly seats contested by PKR,” Perak PKR Wanita chief Fathmawaty Salim intimated, outlining the party’s strategy on reaching out to voters in a rural setting.

She gave the example of the Bukit Chandan seat, which comes under the bigger Kuala Kangsar parliamentary seat and which PKR’s Zulkifli Ibrahim lost to Umno’s Datuk Wan Khairil Anuar Wan Ahmad at the 12th general election.

However, with limited resources and manpower, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lynchpin party also helps out regularly in areas won by its political allies as in the case of Malim Nawar in order to cover more ground in preparation for the next polls that must be called by next April when the ruling BN government’s mandate expires.

There are 24 Wanita divisions in Perak, and each division volunteers on average three workers who will be divided into two teams of between 12 and 20 volunteers each.