Much attention has been given to Johor, Sarawak and Sabah, but what about Pahang? I have been checking out Kuantan over the last two days to see if I can find out more.
In 2008, opposition parties won only two of the 14 parliamentary seats from Pahang. How will Pakatan fare this time?
In the 2008 general election, PKR won in Kuantan (1826-vote majority) and Indera Mahkota (1027-vote majority), reversing large BN majorities in 2004. According to a Pahang-based activist, this time, Pakatan could pick up another three more seats – Temerloh, Jerantut, and Raub – for a total of five out of the 14 seats. In 2004, Umno won at Jerantut and Temerloh by majorities of 1946 votes and 2441 votes respectively. The MCA won at Raub with a majority of 2752 votes.
The parliamentary seat of Bera, won by Umno with a 3821-vote majority in 2008, is fifty-fifty, said the activist.
Last night, I spoke to a a group of men above the age of fifty in a Punjabi restaurant along Jalan Besar, the Kuantan main street, who were a bit coy about their leanings. Speaking in Bahasa, they said they had tasted salt (were seasoned in life), and were confident BN could recapture its two thirds majority. “The younger generation who support opposition parties are easily influenced to agitate for change. But we have seen it all,” one of them said.
The other chipped in, “If PKR thinks it can field candidates based in KL in rural areas in Pahang, they have another thing coming. The locals are not likely to be impressed. They prefer locals.”
When they found out I was from Penang, they criticised the tunnel project and said it would affect the port and then they complained about how many of the lower-income group in Penang are unable to afford housing on the island.
Earlier a television in the restaurant was showing the TV3 news at 8.00pm – the usual BN propaganda trying to pass off as news, but the volume was barely audible. I looked around the restaurant: no one was watching; they were busy focussed on whatever they were eating or chatting with friends.
Half an hour later, further along the street at an Indian Muslim restaurant I spotted a small crowd of diners actually watching the telly at the restaurant. It was a Manchester City ‘live’ football game!
The previous day, I had spoken to a taxi driver, a senior citizen. He conceded that this time around, the contest was “lebih hebat” (more hotly contested). But when asked about the performance of the MB, he was not saying much except “Okay”.
The town itself was draped in BN banners and flags, though Kuantan MP Fuziah Salleh had her banners and party flags prominently displayed. The anti-Lynas incumbent MP is up against Umno’s Mohamed Suffian Awang in the battle for Kuantan.
The Pahang-based activist I spoke to said there were three major issues in Pahang: concerns over the environmental impact of the Lynas rare earth refinery, the use of cyanide in gold mining in Raub, and the water disruptions in the state.
Earlier this evening, I caught a bit of a PKR ceramah, mainly in Chinese, outside one of their offices along Jalan Haji Ahmad. About a hundred people had gathered along the slip road. On stage, a speaker was complaining about three projects in Kuantan which he said cost the state some RM120m in all – the over RM30m in renovations at the old bus terminal (Terminal Makmur) to turn it into a one-step centre for government offices and private agenices, a new bus terminal project, and multi-million ringgit repairs to a public swimming pool, “which still won’t work because of an engineering defect”, he claimed.
“And to think the Pahang water company doesn’t have enough allocations to have a spare water pump in case its water pump is faulty and causes a water supply disruption,” he said. The water sector was privatised from the Pahang Water Supply Department to PAIP, the water concessionaire.
There is also suspicion among some quarters that a large chunk of the water supply in the area has had to be channelled to the Lynas refinery.
One retired teacher in Kuantan said they had experienced water disruptions until about two months ago when Najib came and sorted out the problem. Since then, water supply has been strong. But she spoke too soon as her household experienced a brief water supply disruption earlier this evening. “I wonder if the disruptions will resume once the elections are over.”
At the ceramah, several young and older activists could be seen wearing T-shirts for various causes: the yellow of Bersih, the green of Himpunan Hijau, and anti-Lynas slogans.
Another ex-teacher raised questions as to how Umno plans to finance its plan to rebuild its local party office. Fire destroyed the top floor of the six-storey Umno building in 2002.
Finally, I met a retired headmaster, who was once an admirer of Mahathir in the early 1990s. I asked him why he had changed his mind.
“You can usually tell what is good and what is bad by observation.” These days the retiree tries to convince anyone he meets why he or she has to vote for change. “Ini kalilah!” he gushed enthusiastically.