Bukit Gantang By-Election: Chinese vote can make a difference
The BN candidate for the Bukit Gantang parliamentary seat Ismail Saffian (second from left) and Perak MCA chief Datuk Kong Cho Ha (third from left) who is also deputy finance minister visiting a fish processing centre at Kampung Kuala Sepetang yesterday.
TAIPING: Kuala Sepetang, an idyllic fishing town in Bukit Gantang and famous for its fresh seafood, steamed pau and mee udang, has become the hottest place in the run-up to the April 7 by-election.
It has probably, the highest concentration of BN and opposition flags, banners and posters dotting the straight two-lane road leading to the town.
This sleepy hamlet is dotted with two-storey wooden shophouses and mostly single-storey homes, where its Teochew and Hokkien speaking residents go about their daily business in bicycles and motorbikes.
Considered an opposition stronghold, this Chinese-majority town with some 4,000 Chinese voters see the BN and Pakatan Rakyat representatives converging there day and night to woo them.
First to step foot into the area was MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat who dropped by to meet with voters immediately after nominations last Sunday.
Others who made a beeline there included Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, former Bukit Gantang MP Datuk Tan Lian Hoe, Pas spiritual advisor Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, PKR de-facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.
The three candidates, BN’s Ismail Saffian, Pas’ Datuk Seri Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin and independent Kamarul Ramizu Idris had all descended on this quiet town — with their entourage and media in tow — to cajole the locals to vote for them.
Besides the normal house-to-house visits, BN held dinners for the locals, with entertainment provided by dancing girls to Chinese music, while the opposition “imported” their leaders and held the locals enthralled with their lively speeches.
Residents, resigned to their town being besieged by outsiders until April 7, are stoic over the sudden interest but maintained that it will not sway their decision on their choice.
“We’ve already made up our minds, so leaders coming to our village won’t make much of a difference,” said housewife Ng Gaik See.
Observers noted there was a fierce battle for the Chinese votes as the Malay votes are said to be split and the Chinese could be the deciding vote in the battle for this by-election.
Gerakan Bukit Gantang division chief See Tean Seng said because Kuala Sepetang was considered an opposition stronghold, BN was intensifying its efforts to woo the residents here.
The current assessment is that the opposition still have a slight edge over the BN, although the gap is narrowing.
“We cannot deny that Nizar is popular with the people here but we have told the residents that this time, we mean business. We are committed to solving their problems and not just give mere empty promises.”
Perak PKR deputy chief Chang Lih Kang said the opposition coalition was confident of securing the bulk of the votes from Kuala Sepetang.
“In the last general election, the BN lost Kuala Sepetang. We are sure this scenario will be repeated again,” he said.
DAP’s Bukit Gantang campaign machinery head Nga Kor Ming was aware of this and took pains to emphasise this issue during his nightly ceramah rounds.
“Ask your children to come back for Qing Ming (Chinese All Souls’ Day, which falls on April 5) and ask them to stay for two more days,” he urged.