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Friday April 26, 2013

GE13: A valley divided

There are two clear sections in the Lembah Pantai parliamentary constituency where the approach taken by the candidates can either be appealing or inconsequential.

WARUNG Nasi Ayam Pak Ayub is a well-known stall at the Kampung Kerinchi low-cost flats. It is here that many of the flat dwellers, mostly working-class Malays, come to have their meals, especially at night.

The conversation these days is all about elections. In urban settings, it is generally acknowledged that the voters are more likely to side the Pakatan Rakyat.

But here at these low-cost flats, which are but a short distance from many high-end apartments that have come up over the years, Barisan Nasional candidate Datuk Seri Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin is the hero to the lower income group.

Kampung Kerinchi is the poor section of Lembah Pantai while the urbane, affluent and fashionable is on the other side of the constituency, Bangsar.

Many speak fondly of how the Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Minister has been able to help them buy the low-cost flats at only RM35,000 per unit.

In the past, many had to rent the units from the City Hall but through a rental-ownership scheme, the poor have now become proud owners.

Despatch clerk Mohamed Yusuf made it clear he would vote Barisan Nasional, saying that Raja Nong Chik had cleaned up the flats, tarred the roads, made the lifts work, and has a well-run service centre to help the people.

Puffing on a kretek cigarette, he said it was not easy to survive in Kuala Lumpur with its high cost of living, and he never imagined he could own a flat.

“Raja Nong Chik made it possible, so he is the hero. My friends ask me why I won’t vote Nurul Izzah. Yes, she can speak well but I have never seen her face here once ... except her face on the big billboard along the Federal Highway,” he said.

Ironically, Raja Nong Chik, in fact, is ridiculed by his opponent as the “Lembah Pantai MP” for spending his time in this constituency.

PKR supporters claimed that his high-handed supporters had stopped Nurul Izzah, the incumbent MP, from entering the flats.

“There is no level playing field here. The flats are filled with BN flags because many of us cannot even get past the gates,” said a worker.

There are 72,533 voters in Lembah Pantai with the Malays in the majority at 55.3%. The Chinese (22.8%), Indians (20%) and others make up the rest.

This is one constituency that has shown a sharp increase of voters – in the 2008 polls, the number of voters was 56,650, and Nurul Izzah won with a 2,895-vote majority, beating Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

In an interview with Malaysian Insider, political analyst Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said bread-and-butter issues were more important to the working class than “hot air” issues like human rights, freedom and democracy that only appealed to middle-class and affluent Bangsar voters.

“It is the working and lower middle-class of Lembah Pantai who shall deliver him the seat,” Dr Shamsul Amri told the portal.

“In the last five years, Nurul Izzah has been a fantastic good listener, but can’t give or deliver anything. Raja Nong Chik wasn’t the MP, but minister; he doesn’t need to make any promise, just deliver. He has delivered,” added the founding director of Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

It will be in this part of town, where the bulk of the votes reside, that the outcome of this hotly-contested constituency will be decided. Raja Nong Chik is now seen as a serious challenger and many think that an upset could take place here.

It will be a tough fight and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has been making regular appearances at ceramah to help his eldest daughter shore up support.

But over at the upmarket eateries and pubs in Jalan Telawi, Bangsar, it is a different story altogether with BN-bashing being the order of the day.

Paul Michael, who lives in the vicinity, said he does not even need to ponder who he shall vote for come May 5.

He said his mind had been made up long ago, and that he just wanted to see the present government changed.

“Nurul Izzah is pleasant, clever and articulate. It helps that she looks good, so my choice is clear,” he said, over a mug of cold beer.

His friends, all professionals including lawyers and accountants, said they were eager to punish BN for what they termed as all the wrongs in this country.

Asked if he was bothered by PAS pushing for hudud law, Michael said he did not care as he was staying in Kuala Lumpur.

“I don’t care what PAS wants to do in Kelantan but over here in KL, I am just going to party and have my beer here,” the 35-year-old bachelor said.

His concerns are issues like corruption, human rights, democracy, justice and freedom, which he is passionate about.

His businessman friend, however, was more guarded, saying he was worried about the outcome of the polls.

“Look, I am a businessman. I need the economy to be smooth, I don’t want to see people out in the streets after polling day because some people are not happy with the results.

“If this happens, my cash flow will be hit and I will need to use my savings to pay for the wages and bills,” he said.

But his friends think it is a small price to pay for change.

Lembah Pantai is a valley divided, just like the nation, as we begin the countdown to the big day. The fight is close and intense, and this is best illustrated at Kampung Kerinchi where the operations centres of both sides are just next to each other.

For more election stories, please visit The Star’s GE13 site

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