The Asian Voice

Chinese 'dragons' to slug it out in Malaysia's general election: The Star columnist

Three specific seats in the upcoming Malaysian elections will be key battlegrounds between the MCA and the DAP: Teluk Intan in Perak, Bentong in Pahang and Ayer Hitam in Johor.
Three specific seats in the upcoming Malaysian elections will be key battlegrounds between the MCA and the DAP: Teluk Intan in Perak, Bentong in Pahang and Ayer Hitam in Johor.PHOTOS: ST FILE

In her commentary, the writer says that Malaysia's Democratic Action Party (DAP) will be making a comeback in the next general election to eliminate the competition, but must aim to do it well.

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There is a Chinese saying that there is no room for two dragons in one den.

How apt given the moves now underway by one dragon to conquer the den of a rival dragon in the coming general election.

Three specific dens or seats are set to be the battlegrounds for Chinese dominance. They are Teluk Intan in Perak, Bentong in Pahang and Ayer Hitam in Johor.

And what do they have in common? These seats, which are held by top Gerakan and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) leaders, are now prime targets of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) in the general election.

DAP has been the Chinese favourite in the last two general elections, securing more than 80 per cent of the Chinese vote in urban west coast seats.

With its confidence inflated by this kind of support, the party now wants to wipe out whatever competition standing in their way to becoming the sole proprietor of the Chinese voters.

To do this, they have to bring down the general, or as another Chinese saying goes, chop off the head of the dragon.

DAP aims to take down Gerakan president Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong in Teluk Intan.

In Bentong, their swords are aimed at MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai who has held the seat since 1999.

Further south, DAP is already preparing to take on MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong in Ayer Hitam.

The stage is set for what might be three of the biggest Chinese fights in election history.

It is still hard to predict how things will turn out because DAP has yet to confirm who their candidates are. You need a dragon to take on another dragon, you cannot put a lizard to fight a dragon.

Teluk Intan looks toughest for Barisan Nasional, with 42 per cent Chinese, 38 per cent Malays and 20 per cent Indians and others. Moreover, it is the hinterland of a rather hostile Chinese population around Kinta Valley.

Mah, whose family is said to be the wealthiest in Teluk Intan, lost the seat in 2008 and 2013, but he pulled off some sort of miracle in the 2014 by-election.

He reversed DAP's previous majority of 7,313 votes and won narrowly with 238 votes.

Every by-election since 2013 has seen the incumbent parties retaining their seats.

Teluk Intan was the only by-election where the incumbent party lost to the challenger.

It was a blow for DAP and some of their campaign workers cried when the results were announced.

Mah, 56, was promoted to a full minister after that and has made a great effort to fulfil his campaign promises - the flood mitigation project is completed and the ground-breaking for the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris took place last month.

"He has done his work, I believe people can see that," said Mah's political secretary Ivanpal S. Grewal.

But who from DAP will go against Mah?

The party's fiercest dragon in Perak is the controversial Nga Kor Ming, who is Taiping MP and Pantai Remis assemblyman.

Nga and his elder cousin Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham are superstars in Perak. He has a solid Chinese fan base but is seen as a Chinese extremist among Malays.

Logically speaking, Nga should be the one to enter the dragon's den but will he?

Nga, 45, is often said to be secretary-general material in his party and if he wins, he could be in line for the top party post.

But DAP politics is not a level playing field and you cannot go very far if you are not in the good books of the Lim Dynasty.

Another potential candidate is Pasir Bedamar assemblyman Terence Naidu, who was born and bred in Teluk Intan where he has his law practice.

"My party has not said anything, they just tell me to go on doing my work," said Terence.

Pasir Bedamar is one of two state seats in Teluk Intan and Terence is a true-blue hometown boy, with pleasant manners.

His mother is a Hokkien from Penang. He has even had a stint in the Territorial Army. But he is not exactly dragon material.

In Bentong, the expectation is that it may be another round of Liow versus Wong Tack, the environmentalist who made the Lynas rare earth plant his campaign issue in 2013.

Wong caused a sensation when he led a green march from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur but he has since dropped off the radar, resulting in critics calling him a fly-by-night greenie.

A DAP source said Wong may be relegated to a state seat and that Leong Ngah Ngah may be fielded against Liow.

Leong, 62, is DAP's longest serving assemblyman. He had wanted to retire after suffering from nose cancer and in 2013, his daughter returned from Australia to contest and win the Triang seat which he had held for many years.

He was moved to Tanah Rata where he thought he would lose but he won again and had to forget about retiring. Does this seasoned dragon still have the fire to take on the MCA president?

Bentong looks rather vulnerable on paper.

Three of the four state seats in Bentong fell to DAP and Liow made it through with a majority of only 379 votes. It was a close shave similar to what Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak experienced in Pekan in 1999 following the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Like Najib, Liow has thrown his heart and soul into Bentong to win back the people's support. There has been a dizzying string of programmes and projects that have helped stir the sleepy agricultural town to life.

People tend to underestimate Liow. He is not quarrelsome or a fire-breathing dragon. But he has qualities that have carried him through his years in politics - humility and sincerity.

He has put Bentong on the tourism map and it is possible that many China tourists who tasted Malaysian durian ate it in Bentong.

There were rumours that he may relocate to Jasin, Malacca, where he was born. But his entire political career has been invested in Bentong. Liow is not running away, he is staying put in Bentong.

DAP seems most obsessed about Ayer Hitam given the noise level. Some say DAP is trying to squeeze out Dr Wee who has been vocal about the controversial Penang undersea tunnel.

The seat was initially allocated to Amanah but DAP renegotiated the seat because it wants to go head-on with the MCA deputy president.

Ayer Hitam is arguably the most challenging of the three seats for DAP because it is Malay majority - 56 per cent Malay, 38 per cent Chinese and 4 per cent Indians.

DAP's standing among Malays has tanked since 2013 and a Singapore think-tank survey found that only 5 per cent of Johor Malays accept DAP.

In the event of a three-corner fight involving Barisan Nasional, DAP and PAS, the result might actually favour Dr Wee.

In 2013, PAS and DAP supporters voted for Hu Pang Chaw of PAS who garnered 14,735 votes against Dr Wee who got 22,045 votes.

This time around, the opposition votes will be spilt, with PAS supporters going one way and DAP/Pakatan Harapan supporters the other way.

DAP is relying on Amanah and Parti Pribumi to deliver the Malay vote but can they get many Malays to mark the rocket symbol on the ballot?

"I trust my constituents, they know my track record. It will not be easy but this is a democracy, you have to be ready to face any opponent.

"The resistance is not like in 2013 because when I go around, people tell me that they used to support the opposition but they are now disappointed," said Dr Wee.

DAP rising star and Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong and Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching are some of the names floated in the Chinese newspapers to stand in Ayer Hitam.

But Teo got off to a bad start when she made what the Chinese media found to be a rather arrogant statement that, "to achieve our historical mission, we must wipe out MCA and make the change of government come true".

The Chinese media pointed out that she was not being rational because anyone can see that even if MCA lost every single seat, Pakatan would still be unable to form the government because the Malays are not with them.

DAP also mocked Dr Wee for contesting in a Malay-majority seat instead of a Chinese seat. But that is also hypocritical because DAP, which claims to be multiracial is contesting mostly Chinese-majority seats.

However, Ayer Hitam may be the chance to prove critics wrong. Lim Kit Siang's name has also cropped up but the old dragon has not dropped any hint except to say that Gelang Patah is his first option, which means he is open to other options.

It is quite possible that Lim, 77, may take on Dr Wee, 49, in Ayer Hitam to repeat the do or die sense of siege that he created in Gelang Patah five years ago and which brought the Chinese rushing out to save his party. Gelang Patah became the staging point for DAP to make incredible inroads in Johor.

But things may backfire if the momentum this time cannot measure up to that of 2013.

Moreover, this habit of finishing off any other Chinese party that is a threat to DAP's supremacy is starting to smack of arrogance and racial superiority.

Ivanpal calls it "hitman-style politics", which goes against the notion of politics as a contest of ideas, issues and policies.

Lim would want to evaluate the situation further before deciding.

The mood on the ground is quite different. His comeback ceramah in Gelang Patah a fortnight ago was far from the ecstatic welcome back that he had hoped for. People started to leave even before he started speaking at about 11pm.

But this old dragon is a risk-taker and this could be his greatest risk ever - standing in a Malay-majority seat.

The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.