Stakes are high for all this time around

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 09 Nov 2019

PONTIAN: He is known as Risheng – the Mandarin name for Jeck Seng – and if there is one factor that has set the Barisan Nasional candidate Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng ahead of his contenders is that he is already a familiar face in Tanjung Piai.

He has a track record of serving two terms as the Member of Parliament (2008-2018) and a one-term assemblyman for Pekan Nenas (under Tanjung Piai) before that.

Pakatan Harapan’s Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik defeated Wee by a 524-vote majority in GE14.

But Wee’s supporters are downplaying his edge over the others, saying Barisan had to face the might of Pakatan and the ruling coalition had already announced millions of ringgit of projects for the constituency in the run-up to the nomination.

MCA central committee member Datuk Chew Kok Woh, who is campaigning for Barisan, said: “We are working very hard to convince the locals the need for Wee to win so that he can be their voice and do check and balance on the government.”

While Wee and his voters share a strong bond spanning 25 years – with him serving them in different capacities – his supporters still think both Wee and Pakatan’s Karmaine Sardini stand an equal chance of winning.

This six-cornered fight for the Tanjung Piai seat is essentially a race between the 66-year-old Karmaine and 55-year-old Wee.

Joining the fray are Gerakan’s Wendy Subramaniam, 38, Berjasa’s Dr Badrulhisham Abdul Aziz, 56, and independent candidates Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar, 43, and Dr Ang Chuan Lock, 49.

Tanjung Piai is a predominantly agricultural community, comprising mostly oil palm smallholders, labourers, fishermen, fish breeders and small time businessmen.

The 53,000-plus voters comprised 57% Malays, Chinese (42%) and Indians (1%).

The high cost of living is a major concern for the community and the situation has been compounded by the prolonged low palm oil price since a year ago.

With no reprieve in sight and Pakatan’s incessant blame on the previous administration for the people’s suffering has also put the 18-month-old government under scrutiny.

DAP, which is supposed to bring in the Chinese votes for Karmaine, also found itself under the spotlight following its failure to get recognition for the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) as stated in Pakatan’s GE14 manifesto.

Its secretary-general and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng who had, for two Budgets (2019 and 2020), denied Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC) its annual matching grants of RM30mil or a total of RM60mil had also drawn flak from the Chinese community, simply because the grants are meant to keep the tuition fees affordable for the low and middle income people.

“Many Chinese felt betrayed, if not conned, by DAP for their support of up to 95% in GE14 and sending the party to Putrajaya, ” said a political observer, adding that even its hardcore supporters were unable to defend the party these days.

Prior to GE14, DAP was the biggest critic of MCA, chiding the Barisan component party for not doing enough for the Chinese.

While voters are more critical of Pakatan, there are those who reckoned that it should be given time to prove its worth.

“It is not even half-time, ” argued a voter at a coffeeshop in Pekan Nenas.

But the locals appeared to miss Wee.

A hawker was humming the late Teresa Teng’s Mandarin hit song wo zhi zhaihu ni (I only care about you) along a five-foot way fronting the main road in Pekan Nenas town on Tuesday.

Donning a T-shirt with Wee’s face, he kept repeating certain parts of the song “If I never met you, who would I be. How would the days go by. So I beg you not to let me leave you.”

The use of videos via WhatsApp and Facebook has also intensified for all candidates.

Videos of Wee in Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese, meeting his constituents and what he had done during his tenure, were uploaded.

On the ground, locals are also sharing how Wee had featured in their lives in times of need, using a Chinese analogy to describe it, “bringing burning coal during winter”.

In Kampung Belokok, the Malay fishermen remembered how Wee came to their aid after several of them had their boat engines stolen.

He replaced the engines for them.

“One engine cost about RM8,000. The fishermen who were already struggling for their daily living had no savings, ” said the villager.

For the very poor, Wee sent basic food supplies like rice and cooking oil to 5,400 families every three months, worth RM1.2mil a year.

With more than a week of campaigning left before polling on Nov 16, there are concerns that Barisan needed to sustain the momentum.

And it must never underestimate the power of a ruling coalition to get things done that can sway voter sentiment.

The upgrading of basic amenities in semi-rural constituencies like Tanjung Piai, from street lighting, better roads to community halls, can only be delivered by the government.

Pakatan will also be bringing top gun Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to campaign in Tanjung Piai, and this could stir excitement on the ground as the Prime Minister rarely campaigns in a by-election.

Obviously, other heavy weights will join and no one will be surprised if more goodies are announced.

Apart from the string of projects announced by Pakatan, Karmaine also pledged to meet the constituents if he won as he believes different people have different problems.

But Karmaine, who is an architect, had sent many voters reeling in shock when he kicked off his campaign a day after nomination, telling villagers to be grateful over the palm oil price of RM270 per tonne.He was quoted questioning the types of expenses they incurred apart from fuel, saying they can grow their own vegetables.

With the people already struggling to make ends meet, Karmaine certainly has hit a raw nerve when he downplayed their plight.

As the campaign enters the final phase next week, all the candidates and their operations team continue to fine tune their game because there is just no room for mistakes which can tip the odds in this high stakes by-election.

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Tanjung Piai By-election


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