Monday 8 October 2012

Beyond the fight to be Lembah Pantai MP

October 08, 2012
The next general election is expected to be the closest fight to form the new Malaysian government. And several seats across the nation are likely to be heated battles with the slimmest of majorities. The Malaysian Insider takes a look at some of these hot seats in what will be an intense election for control of Malaysia. 

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — Bangsar Baru with its leafy affluent neighbourhoods and trendy cafes serving artisanal coffee is a far cry from Kampung Kerinchi and Pantai Dalam where the residents are more accustomed to teh tarik and sup ekor. Yet these two areas are part of the federal constituency of Lembah Pantai, one of the next general election’s hot seats.

The incumbent is PKR’s Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. She is touted to be the future opposition leader so there is much talk in Barisan Nasional (BN) circles that it is important she be “taken down.” To be denied re-election to the seat she won as a rank novice back in 2008.

Her opponent — even though it is still unofficial — is Raja Datuk Nong Chik Zainal Abidin, who is the federal territories and urban well-being minister. Although Raja Nong Chik, 59, an accountant, is more well-known in the corporate scene than the political arena, he has taken to his role as Lembah Pantai challenger rather well with a mix of on-the-ground events and social media.

There is the perennial accusation of phantom voters and a suspicion that some 14,000 Umno members have been relocated to Lembah Pantai from bordering seats of course. All this will purportedly bump up the number of votes the BN candidate — whoever it is — will receive of course.

Nurul Izzah has found it a tough to carry out events and hold ceramahs within her own constituency.
After all, Nurul Izzah only won by a 2,895-vote majority in 2008 against the then-incumbent BN’s Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who won previously with a huge majority of 15,288 votes.

Still, Nurul Izzah, 31, has found it a hard slog trying to carry out events and hold ceramahs within her own constituency. “Yes, it is practically impossible for the current Lembah Pantai MP to use any Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) facilities,” said one of her aides, referring to Kuala Lumpur City Hall. “We are stonewalled.”

Getting permits for her events has been particularly difficult in the Kampung Kerinchi and Pantai Dalam areas. Very often Nurul Izzah has had to cancel ceramahs planned for the People’s Housing Project flats neighbourhood and hold them in private homes, using their compounds, instead.

“Yes, her programmes have been blocked many times. Sometimes directly, others indirectly,” said another aide. “We’ve been told that those who host her programmes — especially those in the low-cost housing area — are often harassed by DBKL or other agencies afterwards.”

The stonewalling takes on various forms: she has been blocked from presenting aid to students at a school in Pantai Dalam; not permitted to distribute dates and her MP newsletter at the Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As Siddiq in Bangsar during Ramadan (she had to retreat to a nearby carpark) and so on.

The more affluent middle-class component of Lembah Pantai — Bangsar, Bukit Travers and Pantai Baru — is home to the chattering masses. These are well-educated, highly opinionated Malaysians who used to be content to just chatter and complain. But in the past two years, many of them have walked their talk... attending both Coalition for Free and Fair Election (Bersih) rallies, for example.

Raja Datuk Nong Chik is expected to be the BN candidate for Lembah Pantai.
At the last Bersih rally, the Orchid Room at Lake Club — that bastion of senior civil servants, lawyers and corporate heads — was filled with yellow T-shirt-wearing members who were having a refreshing drink after a hot and thirsty outing at the rally. Many of these people are residents of the previously mentioned Bangsar, Bukit Travers and Pantai Baru areas. They will very likely vote for the incumbent but across at the land of low-cost flats and blue-collar workers, the largesse a BN candidate will very likely bring may just be too tempting.

But Nurul Izzah remains optimistic even though her face-to-face encounters with Raja Nong Chik have been less than cordial. At a recent Hari Raya open house in Bangsar attended by both of them, Raja Nong Chik was overheard referring to her as a “major destroyer.”

Those funding kindergartens in the area under her initiative have been harassed to stop giving money. PKR volunteers who carried out surveys for her office in Lembah Pantai have been harassed and some even arrested and, of course, there was the very high-profile incident earlier this year when a PKR ceramah was stoned, resulting in some people being injured.

“The latest incident happened past midnight on the day of her open house in Pantai Permai... some 50 thugs came and threatened to take down our tents,” said a PKR volunteer.

So who will win this election hot seat? “Izzah thinks she may actually get an increased majority if it was a level playing field... but she is still confident despite all the obstacles,” said someone close to the always-cheerful Lembah Pantai MP.

For now, her sheer magnetism and unflagging energy seem to give her just that little bit of an edge — in fact, some people think her being so easy on the eyes is also a plus — but this hot seat is a little too close to call. For now.

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