Battle royal for six seats in the Valley of Death
Thu, Feb 21, 2008
The Star

WITH nomination day just around the corner, the political scene in Perak is still in a rather fluid state.

The Barisan Nasional and the opposition are still grappling for solutions to some of the issues plaguing them.

While the Rocket has been stumped by the bombshell withdrawal of incumbent Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan, the Barisan is facing a major headache over the Taiping seat.

Incumbent Taiping MP Datuk M. Kayveas is bent on defending the seat although the voters there want the PPP president booted out of the parliamentary constituency.

However, all eyes will be on the Kinta Valley where the opposition is expected to put up a keen fight.

The Barisan leaders, who initially called themselves the underdogs in the Kinta Valley fight, heaved a sigh of relief when Fong, dubbed cili padi because of her fiery performance in Parliament, announced that she was pulling out of the contest.

Currently, the six parliamentary constituencies in Kinta Valley, known among political observers as the "Valley of Death," is split down the middle between the DAP and Barisan.

The DAP has its hold on Ipoh Barat, Ipoh Timor and Batu Gajah while Barisan controls Tambun, Gopeng and Kampar.

Only Tambun is a Malay-majority area while the rest are Chinese-majority seats.

The 34-year-old Fong has named incumbent Pasir Pinji assemblyman Thomas Su to succeed her and it remains to be seen if her wish will be fulfilled.

The battle for control over Kinta Valley will be intense as the six parliamentary seats will most likely be straight fights.

The DAP will be fielding candidates in Ipoh Timor, Ipoh Barat, Batu Gajah and Kampar while Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) will take on the ruling party in Tambun and Gopeng.

Although the fight in Kinta Valley will be a show of the political leanings of the Chinese and Indian communities, the choice of candidates will also determine the outcome.

A political observer said: "It is not entirely true that the voters only look at the party symbol before voting. They also look at who the candidate is."

One old-time voter noted: "We don't have much choice but to vote for the Barisan if the opposition keeps fielding candidates who are not credible in the eyes of the locals.

"Give us credible candidates and the Barisan will be in for a tough fight," added the voter.

The same argument goes for the Barisan and the voters are also watching closely who its candidates will be.

For instance, if DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang decides to move from Ipoh Timor to a seat in Penang this round, the battle may swing to Barisan's favour.

As a DAP politician said: "Kit Siang is still a personality to watch out for in Kinta Valley."

"If Kit Siang goes to Penang, it may be easier for the Barisan to re-capture the seat," he said.

In 1999, the Barisan's Datuk Thong Fah Chong beat DAP?s Ngeh Koo Ham and Malaysia Democratic Party's Mohd Yusoff Omar in a three-way contest.

Lim trounced Thong in the 2004 general election by a majority of 9,774 votes.

Ipoh Barat will see a close fight between DAP's incumbent M. Kulasegaran and Barisan's three-term Buntong assemblyman Datuk Yik Phooi Hong.

It will be a re-contest between these two men, who were in a face-off for the Buntong state seat in 1999.

Kulasegaran lost in the 1999 general election to Yik, who is popularly known as the defender of Indians in Buntong.

Yik's popularity among the Indians will see him in good stead in the Ipoh Barat fight this round.

However, it remains to be seen if the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) issue will affect seats that have a high percentage of Indian voters.

For example, in Buntong, which is under Ipoh Barat, Indians make up about 52% of the voters.

Another seat that has captured the attention of the people in terms of the Hindraf issue is the Teluk Intan and Sungai Siput parliamentary constituencies.

It looks set to be a straight fight between MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu and yet-to-register Parti Sosialis Malaysia?s Dr D. Jeyakumar, but it remains to be seen if a third candidate will stand there.

In 2004, Samy Vellu retained the seat in a three-cornered fight with Dr Jeyakumar and the DAP's S. Pommugam Ponnan.

Other parliamentary seats to watch outside the Kinta Valley are Beruas and Parit Buntar, while state constituencies like Jalong, Pasir Panjang, Sungkai, Behrang, Bota and Changkat Jong deserve close attention.

These seats have a high percentage of Indian and Chinese voters and the candidates to be fielded by Barisan may just tip the balance for the opposition, particularly when it involves "parachute candidates."

The rest of the Malay-majority constituencies in Perak will see Barisan regaining control over those seats, except for the Gunung Semanggol state seat, which is under the Bagan Serai parliamentary constituency.

In 2004, PAS lost by 94 votes to the Barisan in Gunung Semanggol. This round, Perak PAS commissioner Ahmad Awang is tipped to contest in that seat.

Although the Kinta Valley may be the centre of attention, leaders of the ruling coalition will also be watching out if Perak Barisan chief Datuk Seri Mohamad Tajol Rosli Ghazali will seek re-election.

According to an Umno political observer, Tajol Rosli will not want to move to a parliamentary seat because he has done his time at the federal level.

"He will most likely defend his (Pengkalan Hulu) state seat and if he wins, he will continue in his post as mentri besar," the observer said.

After all, Tajol Rosli has only served two terms as mentri besar - a much shorter stint than his predecessor, Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib, who was mentri besar for five terms, the observer added.


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