By Ko-Chi Wai

Monday, April 23, 2007

My little walkabout in Ijok

Sunday (22 Apr) came and I was feeling pretty restless. So, decided to suit up in my riding jacket, put on my helmet, and ride off towards the current hotspot where all the media limelight is shining upon. Where else but in the small towns of Ijok and Batang Berjuntai! Took me an hour or so because I made the wrong turn on the Sg Buloh-Ijok road (I was heading towards Kuang and Kundang instead), called up some people I know and I had to backtrack. Finally, arrived when I start seeing posters everywhere (mostly BN punya lah).

By the time I ply the road close to Ijok town, whatever resurfacing job has been done. Only a certain section of the winding (nice!) road through oil palm estates is resurfaced. The rest of the road seem reasonable enough a condition. But the cynic in me was wondering if the resurfacing was called off due to major complaints of traffic congestion by people traveling around the area. Maybe they're worried the complaints may turn into lost votes...heheh! Anyway, the road from Ijok to Batang Berjuntai seems to see heavier traffic than usual. One can see humongous black SUVs with dark tinted glasses, and most of the time with expensive vehicle number plates, thundering down that stretch to and fro. No prizes for guessing which side of the political fence these guys are on. Once in a while you'll hear siren blasting about when "Mini-stars" such as Najib and Samy decides to ply the roads themselves (of course, with at least 3-4 other cars filled with menacing looking bodyguards, plus 2 police cars, plus 3-4 police outriders, plus 2 UTK outriders (these are the ones dressed up all in black, and riding black bikes). Looks like the rude and arrogant behaviour of forcing people off the road (even when there is a huge jam caused by closing off a certain section of the Ijok-Batang Berjuntai road to...what else but resurface!) is not unique to the bustling city of KL.

Anyway, the sheer number of BN posters and baloons and banners makes one wonder how many millions are being poured into this constituency, and we're not talking about the RM36mil announced earlier by Selangor MB Khir Toyo, who incidentally has said he will adopt Ijok as his own if they win. I wonder what his own constituency in Sungai Panjang will think. Well, at least he didn't follow Samy's declaration of staying in Lunas should the BN loses (and they did lose to PKR) during a by-election there in 2000. Back to banners and posters...every umno state seem to have their own action center (or Bilik Gerakan), and it seems every 500 meters or so there will be at least one BN Bilik Gerakan regardless run by umno or one of the other parties. Surprisingly MCA seems to be playing a very minor role in this by-election. I could hardly see their presence anywhere save for a little night "concert" which they're organizing in Batang Berjuntai town itself (MCA seems fond of asking singers, artistes, and badminton players to help them campaign). By and large 90% of the Bilik Gerakan I see in the area are umno run. I am not the least surprised since Ijok is predominantly Malay (51.8%) and that is where PKR is targeting the votes.

Do remember that in 2004 PKR won the Malay votes quite handsomely, and there is no clear indication that pattern would change. The kingmakers would be the Chinese votes, concentrated mainly around the Ijok township as well as Batang Berjuntai township. My feeling after walking about the pasar petang, and noticing the number of cars flooding out of Ijok at night, is that PKR's chance could be slightly more than 50-50. The identification of Ijok as a semi-urban seat could not be far off as it takes only 30 minutes to reach Shah Alam using the Guthrie Corridor Expressway, as well as perhaps 45 minutes to Sg Buloh and Kepong. The stream of cars I followed on my way back from Ijok seem to indicate (at least anecdotal) that quite a number of people there work in the Klang Valley, but returns to the area during the weekend. Hopefully the groundswell of dissatisfaction that is growing in the urban areas will permeate into the ballot box this Saturday through these people.

Back to my walkabout in Ijok...for the first time I have to agree with the servations of people in which the BN workers look most intimidating. I am not talking about the older folks (I saw a lot of senior Indian uncles who are BN supporters and they look gentlemanly enough), but the younger ones who in their BN uniforms, tshirts, or bush jackets, really look like some samseng gang ready to beat the daylights out of anyone they like. In fact, other than the incident of bottle (thank God they were plastic) and stick throwing during the nomination, none other than Tan Sri Khalid (the PKR candidate) and 2 other photographers (one is Jeff Ooi, and the other not named) were threatened and almost assaulted full scale by young BN workers. In fact, the un-named photographer did get injured when his glasses were smashed by using a plastic bottle. More interesting stories, including the forced overnight closure of two PKR operation centers can be read at Jeff Ooi's blog. Ronnie Liu speaking during a night ceramah that same day alluded to a case where a group of students who were going into estates to seek voter views were openly threatened by the MIC MP for Cameron Highlands S. K. Devamani to leave. Hearing and seeing all this confirms in my mind on why KJ and his Putera Umno seem so intent in recruiting the Mat Rempits. It is clear they will have no problem playing the "goons" role very well when ordered to do so. No wonder why KJ sees it fit to behave like one as well, complete with gesturing, during the by-election nomination (click here to see the pics). Violence and physical intimidation seem to be the preferred tool of the ruling party when facing by-elections (anyone wanna bet it's the same for general elections as well?). The question for Malaysians really is whether they see this culture of violence (from none other than the ruling party) as acceptable, never mind the fact it is an intensely contested seat. If we Malaysians are supposed to pride ourselves as courteous and friendly, we really have to examine if this kind of political culture is something we want to see and allow continuing.

I had the good fortune of meeting up with a group of Bandar Mahkota Cheras residents-turned-activists who are fighting hard to get the ready-built interchange linking their township with the Grand Saga Cheras-Kajang Highway. You can read more about their effort here and here. Oh yeah, they managed to get Parthiban, the MIC candidate, to endorse their appeal to remove the barriers on the interchange. In fact, he even said in a loud voice that if it was in Ijok he would have already opened it up! Anyway, we went around Batang Berjuntai town and noticed the deplorable housing that our fellow Indian Malaysians have to live in. The wood in most cases were almost rotting, with holes visible everywhere. Ironically you would see that it is these houses which would have BN posters plastered all over their walls. Seeing the abject poverty makes you realize why to these desperate and marginalized groups a simple gesture of vote-buying like RM100 or RM200 would have been a windfall. I realize they really can't be faulted for continuing to vote for BN as a token of appreciation for the small sum really is, in a way, a life saver to them, never mind that it only happens during election times. The more cruel thing is that the ruling party seems to see it fit keeping these poor people in their desperate position because they have the most to gain at the ballot boxes if they could continue to falsely convince them only BN can give them goodies.

Which brings me to the night ceramah. There was quite a number of speakers in the chinese restaurant directly across the Ijok bus station. Anwar was the first speaker and I admit that was the first time I've heard him talk. I didn't catch the first part of his speech I was having dinner elsewhere, but towards the end he was talking about the need to stop thinking that only Malays can help Malays, Chinese helps Chinese, Indians help Indians, Iban helps Iban, etc. Something he has consistently been talking about ever since the PKR policy themes start to take a more concrete form. The other speakers from PKR such Sivarasa Rasiah, Fuziah Salleh, Cheah Kah Peng all talk on common themes which are economics, education, and healthcare. Perhaps that is a prelude to what PKR's platform will be in the very near future, and hopefully, moving forward. Ronnie Liu and Ng Suee Lin (DAP state assemblyman for Sekinchan) were there speaking, as well as Dr Wan Azizah who made a short speech after presenting a donation to some Chinese education fund (the Lim Lian Geok Foundation), represented by Chinese educationist Loot Ting Yee (known fondly among people as Cikgu Loot). Dr Lim Teck Ghee of ex-ASLI who was embroiled in the research result of bumiputera equity figure of 45% fiasco was there as well (I don't know if he was speaking as I left during Cheah Kah Peng's hokkien speech). The crowd in ceramahs are usually quite a responsive lot, but, as Anwar pleaded towards the end of his speech, we have heard enough claps, we have heard enough cheers, we have heard enough shouts of approval. It is time to translate these favourable responses to the one thing that counts - votes!

Finally, decided to ride back home (taking the Guthrie Corridor Expressway took me about 30 minutes only!). My take away from my short walkabout? As I've mentioned above, this by-election is going to be very close. I would reckon a slightly better than 50-50 chance for a PKR win based on the general feeling of dissatisfaction among the Chinese voters who will be king makers. The Malays areas, if remains unchanged from 2004, would again see a 50-50 split, with slight advantage going to PKR. One PKR member was alluding to a 70% target, which will be very interesting indeed, and augurs well for the future of PKR among Malay voters, if they can achieve it. The Indians remain a big challenge. Not so much because they're unable to understand the concerns of the nation, but I guess abject poverty dictates that survival concerns is the top priority. Coupled with the ugly tactics of MIC using goons to "defend" the Indian areas from campaign workers from PKR and DAP, one could understand the difficulty our fellow Indian Malaysians have in getting the other side of the story which would at least help them make a much more informed choice than the current quandary they're in. Plenty of hardwork remains to work among them, but I believe this will make the greatest impact in terms votes if they could get true assistance from the opposition and NGOs rather than the false hopes being rained on them all this time by BN. Make no mistake, Ijok at the end of the day is really about the war between Anwar and Pak Lah/Najib (Pak Lah is nowhere to be seen...maybe he's busy dozing off), between the multi-racial politics of PKR and the racial politics of Umno (and its subordinate parties in the illusionary coalition called the Barisan Nasional). It will be most interesting to see if the Ijok voters will dare make a stand that perhaps after 50 years of dominant racial politics, a new and fresh approach needs to be taken...for the future wellbeing of this nation.

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