In Ipoh, a lingering loyalty for Pakatan among the ChineseIPOH, April 11 — The city’s traditionally pro-opposition Chinese appear unlikely to budge this May 5 when they face the ballot box again, many still strong in their conviction that a Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government will care for their rights better than Barisan Nasional (BN).
Last weekend’s luncheon with Perak’s Chinese guilds and associations and Datuk Seri Najib Razak seemed to reflect this trend as even though the crowd appeared in droves at the Tow Boo Keong Taoist temple here, many still expressed disdain at the ruling pact.
When approached by The Malaysian Insider, some were very generous with their criticisms and even openly admitted that they were only there because they were invited and wanted the free food.
“We are just here to eat,” a 36-year-old civil engineer who prefers to be known only as Kevin told The Malaysian Insider.
He glanced over at his friend, a 42-year-old civil contractor who prefers to go by the name Tiger, and an elderly retiree they had just met, who both nodded and laughed.
“It’s bullshit,” Kevin said, referring to Najib’s speech, where the latter had called for the support of the Chinese community by pointing out the benefits the BN caretaker government had brought to the state of Perak in the past four years.
In his speech, Najib had also pointed out the significance of the Tow Boo Keong temple to him, noting it had been officiated in 1968 by his father, Malaysia’s second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak.
He expressed his gratitude and wonder at the “meriah” crowd that had he said had clearly come out to show BN their support.
Pointing to the people spilling from the main hall to more round tables upstairs and even outside the temple, Najib said: “Who says the Chinese in Perak don’t support BN?”
“Sokong BN?” he asked.
“Sokong!” the crowd cheered back.
And again. And again.
However, although Najib’s efforts seemed to be a resounding success inside the temple, the Chinese voters outside, who couldn’t see but could hear all the goings-on in the hall via blaring speakers, painted a different picture.
“Let’s put it this way lah. If they feel they sure win, they won’t have this lunch right?” Kevin scoffed.
“Whatever he said is not the actual thing we want. We want a clean and fair country, with no corruption or cronyism. That is the most important.
“Corruption and cronyism have caused inflation, higher petrol prices. It is unfair to education and development. And the crime rate has increased, even here in Ipoh. I’m living in a gated residential area, but still I was robbed. Just here on this table already, two of us have been victims of crime just in the past six months,” he said, pointing to the elderly man.
“What they said about helping Chinese education is also all just bullshit. I’m actually part of one primary school committee and we suffer. We don’t get subsidies. We have to depend on the community for donations,” he added.
All three men told The Malaysian Insider that they had voted in the 2008 elections in favour of the opposition, and will do the same this year.
Kevin and Tiger are voters in the parliamentary constituency of Ipoh Timor, while the retired elderly man is registered in Kuala Kangsar.
“I think the government has to change. Let other people try, see how. It’s like an old car right? When it’s old you need to change it,” the elderly man said.
He told The Malaysian Insider that he used to live and work in Singapore as a salesman and driver and that he only came back to Malaysia to retire as it was, in the end, his home.
“I tell you, Malaysia is rich in resources but is second grade compared to Singapore, from public services to the crime rate and salaries,” the elderly man said.
Perak’s fall to opposition parties DAP, PKR and PAS in Election 2008 was largely due to a massive swing in votes from the Indian community and the Chinese, at least 70 per cent of whom had voted against BN.
But in the famous 2009 power putsch sparked by the defections of three PR assemblymen, the state returned to BN’s hands, angering many voters in the Kinta Valley, where BN was nearly wiped out by the DAP.
Speaking to The Malaysian Insider, Perak DAP chief Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham (picture) said PR’s estimates for Election 2013 indicate that the pact can recapture the silver state by sweeping between 33 and 38 seats in the 59-seat assembly.
“Last round, we won 11 parliamentary seats... this round we are counting on 15. Seventy-per cent of the Chinese vote should not be a problem,” he said, but stressed that the DAP’s campaign would not be Chinese-centric as together with PKR and PAS, the party would be wooing voters across racial lines.
At the luncheon, these predictions appeared to ring very possible.
After a whispered consultation, Kevin and Tiger showed The Malaysian Insider their blue Police Diraja Perak identity cards — they are both part of the state’s police volunteer reserve.
“Look, we are part of the police force, and even we don’t want the current government,” Tiger said.
“We are not blind voters. We make our own judgment. We see that the country is getting worse. I speak to my friends and family, and even those from overseas have the concern to come back and vote,” he added.
Other Chinese voters The Malaysian Insider approached at the luncheon, including a table of four housewives and another of elderly retirees, firmly declined to say which political coalition they favoured, saying it was a “secret”.
“How can we tell you this? It’s a secret, isn’t it? Can you even ask me this question?” one housewife said.
She said they were part of a group called Praise Dance, and that Sungai Rapat state assemblyman Datuk Hamidah Osman had asked them to attend the luncheon, to which about 30 of them had shown up.
When asked what the Praise Dance Group does and their purpose in attending the event, she declined to elaborate, saying simply: “I don’t know. We just come.”
Another housewife said jauntily: “I just came here to eat,” before adding, “I’m just joking ah.”
When Najib and his entourage, which included former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, had left the temple and all that remained on the abandoned tables were scraps of food, one 75-year-old woman sat waiting alone at the gates of the temple in a plastic red chair.
Clutching a walking stick in her hand, she told The Malaysian Insider that she had come to the luncheon alone and that she was waiting for her ride.
With quivering fingers, she took a round BN sticker from her shirt pocket, saying that she had come because BN had invited her.
However, she refused to say which coalition she supported, though she admitted to voting in 2008 and said she would vote again this year in her constituency of Ipoh Timor.
When asked, the elderly woman said she had not been paid to attend the luncheon.
But when prodded further to say who she would prefer to see win the coming polls, she clammed up until her ride, a taxi, arrived and she hobbled laboriously to the vehicle.