By Opalyn Mok
The next general election is expected to be the closest fight to form the new government. And several seats across the nation are likely to see heated battles with the victor winning by 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.
NIBONG TEBAL, Oct 26 — Located on the southern part of Seberang Perai, this small township of about 50,000 people is almost like the last frontier of mainland Penang.
That’s because there is a spot in this quiet little town where you just need to take one step forward and you would have left Penang and stepped right into Perak.
Perhaps it is due to its distance from the busy city of George Town but not many Penang folk would venture here except for foodies intent on trying out the town’s famed Teochew crab porridge, boiled baby octopus and curried freshwater prawns.
Far from the sea, it may seem strange that this mainland township’s fame is tied to “seafood” but considering the Krian River runs through it, the mud crabs and freshwater prawns are obviously local catches.
Jawi is the busiest part of the whole constituency where there is a concentration of shoplots, food courts, wet markets, restaurants, supermarkets and government offices.
Nibong Tebal is spread out over three state constituencies — Jawi, Sungai Acheh and Sungai Bakap — with different racial groups in different villages.
The whole of Nibong Tebal is made up of about 55 per cent non-Malays and about 45 per cent Malays, with a majority of the Malays located in the Sungai Acheh area where agriculture is the main industry.
That’s why choosing a candidate to contest the parliamentary seat can be tricky as the contesting parties will need to satisfy the needs of both the Malays and non-Malays.
Previously, the Nibong Tebal parliamentary seat and its three state seats, Sungai Acheh, Sungai Bakap and Jawi, were all Barisan Nasional (BN) seats.
In the 2004 general election, Umno (BN) newcomer Datuk Zainal Abidin Osman won the parliamentary seat with a 6,005-vote majority while the three state seats also saw BN winning with huge majorities but in 2008, BN only managed to retain the Sungai Acheh state seat with a slim majority of 250 votes and lost the rest.
This coming election, Zainal Abidin is tipped to be the one to try to win the seat back for BN even though the current MP, Tan Tee Beng, who won the seat on the PKR ticket, is now an independent MP.
Zainal Abidin was previously a parliamentary secretary in the Foreign Ministry when he was the Nibong Tebal MP in 2004.
A local boy, Zainal Abidin’s family home is located in one of the villages here but other than to his fellow villagers, he is not that well-known in the non-Malay community.
Instead, he often appears at BN functions with Nibong Tebal BN co-ordinator Tan Cheng Liang, who is also former Jawi state assemblyman and tipped to contest the Jawi state seat, purportedly to show a united BN front.
It is obvious that Nibong Tebal has been “under attack” by BN which is intent on winning the two state seats and the parliamentary one back this time around.
This year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced a RM8.5 million allocation for Nibong Tebal for development projects such as construction of a multi-purpose hall in Nibong Tebal (RM3 million), repainting of apartments (RM2 million), repairing of houses in Indian and Chinese villages (RM2 million) and rebuilding of Sekolah Agama Rakyat Al-Amin (RM1.8 million).
A few months ago, Tan handed out cooking utensils and equipment worth about RM160,000 to single mothers and low-income families under the 1Azam programme.
There was also a “promotional blitz” of sorts when the MCA launched its Jom Masuk Kampung (Let’s Enter The Villages) roadshow in Penang at Nibong Tebal with all of the top MCA leadership spending the day at various villages in the constituency.
More recently, BN allocated a further RM3 million, on top of the RM1 million it had earlier allocated, to the building fund of SMJK Jit Sin II which is located in the constituency. The school is in the midst of raising RM30 million for its building fund.
But all this attention by BN does not seem to impress many of the constituents. “We are not small children who can be pleased by offerings of sweets and candies. Do they think us stupid?” a resident said when asked if they feel indebted to BN for all the goodies it has been handing out to the constituency.
After speaking to the villagers, it is clear that the general sentiment seems to be one of disgust, disappointment and even hatred for BN and its leaders.
“They think we are slow-thinking villagers who do not know how to access the Internet to get the real story behind their corruption and excesses? There they are spending our money like their own and then when elections come, they pretend to give us little titbits as if it is from their own pocket,” one Jawi resident said.
Many of them said they would not give BN another chance to “cheat” and “lie” to them. “If I see any of them, I turn around and walk away. I feel it is really time that we changed the whole federal government, not only change our state assemblymen and MP,” said an elderly resident who’s been following the political scene closely through the news and the Internet.
He said it was not really about the individual component parties any more but more about BN versus Pakatan Rakyat (PR). “Even if PR were to put a PAS candidate for the parliamentary seat, I am certain PR will still win the seat,” he said.
He added that the scare tactics by BN about hudud did not turn the non-Malays off PR but instead make them even more disgusted with BN. “Again, they seem to think we are fools. We all know hudud is only for Muslims so why should we even be afraid of something that has nothing to do with us?”
Zainal Abidin is expected to go head to head with Deputy Chief Minister I Datuk Mansor Othman, the Penang PKR chief. Mansor is the incumbent Penanti state assemblyman and it seems he’s destined for bigger things, such as a Cabinet position if PR succeeds in its bid to win Putrajaya.
A PKR member said voters in Nibong Tebal were not in the least bit angry with PKR over Tan Tee Beng leaving the party and becoming a BN-friendly independent MP. “In fact, voters may construe this as another dirty trick by BN and this may just anger them more so this could mean more votes for PKR,” he said.
He said this may be why Mansor may be chosen to contest this seat as he is the PKR state chief and the current deputy chief minister. “Having someone more ‘established’ and experienced will be an advantage to PKR,” he said.
Earlier there was talk that Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wanted to take this seat but he has confirmed that he will continue to stand in Permatang Pauh. There is also talk of Anwar’s second daughter, Nurul Nuha, being proposed as a candidate for Nibong Tebal.
Mansor also reportedly confirmed that Nurul Nuha’s name was listed as a possible candidate for Nibong Tebal.
So, will it be the relatively new Nurul Nuha or will it be Mansor? According to a voter, it doesn’t really matter.
“As long as it is Pakatan Rakyat, we will vote for the candidate but we do not want another frog so the party better put someone reliable there,” said the PKR member. Despite the positive reactions PR has been getting from voters there, a grassroots member said it would still be a tough fight.
“We are not so worried about the non-Malay votes but winning the Malay votes can be tough so it will be a close call,” he predicted.