Change a byword for Kedah Chinese, but to whom?

By Sheridan Mahavera
The Malaysian Insider
May 22, 2011

ALOR SETAR, May 22 — About a month after he was put in charge of Kedah Barisan Nasional (BN), Datuk Paduka Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah declared the state’s Chinese community was returning to the national coalition.

Ahmad Bashah, who made this claim after a Chinese New Year dinner in February, was confident this was happening because of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia concept.

He is not far from the truth. The Malaysian Insider conducted a straw poll of Kedah Chinese residents and found that a significant number of respondents wanted to change the Pakatan Rakyat state government.

However, this did not mean they liked BN either. In fact, the poll showed that only 12 per cent of all Chinese respondents found the 1 Malaysia concept exciting or attractive. The rest were lukewarm, totally uninterested or unclear about it.

Also, though there were more Chinese respondents who wanted to change the state government, this was not reflected in their feelings about the PR administration. More than half of respondents felt satisfied with how PR was running things.

These layers of sentiments, of wanting change in Kedah yet being satisfied with how things currently are is one reason why Ahmad Bashah is only partly right.

For the PR, it is a sign that residents are confident of the state’s administration despite the restrictions placed on it by the BN-controlled federal government.

Thirty-six per cent of Kedah Chinese respondents to the poll said they wanted to change the state government. While 28 per cent would retain the PR government “if a general election was called tomorrow”.

The rest either “did not know” who they’d vote for (20 per cent) or did not want to comment (16 per cent).

Yet there were more respondents who were satisfied with how the PR was running things (44 per cent) compared to those who were not (40 per cent). The remaining 16 per cent were ambivalent.

Some of those who said they were satisfied with PR did not hesitate to say they wanted a change because the coalition was not bringing enough economic growth to the state.

The lacklustre local economy was the most oft-mentioned problem in Kedah (24 per cent of respondents) followed by inefficient garbage collection (20 per cent). Another major problem was a rise in crime (12 per cent).

Other reasons respondents gave include, the difficulty of finding labour, an incompetent state administration, corruption and the unfair distribution of flood relief aid.

Not bringing in new money

Derga assemblyman Dr Cheah Soon Hai believes that the slip in support among the Chinese business-class is mainly due to the lack of new development in Kedah.

As Ahmad Bashah said in a separate interview, this is something the PR administration has been unable to provide because it does not control Putrajaya.

“Much of the economy consists of small traders who make money from support services and down-line activities,” said Dr Cheah, who is one of only two non-Malay BN state reps.

“The non-Malays had hoped that PR would give them a better deal (than the BN). But now, they have seen that PR policies are not in their favour”, said Dr Cheah who is from Gerakan.

Among the issues he said have turned the Chinese away from PR include the tearing down of a pig abattoir in Alor Star and the 50 per cent Bumiputera housing quota.

Though it sounds petty, the state administration’s failure to find a new site for the abattoir has driven up pork prices and hit consumers in the wallet.

“Most of the pork now has to be brought in from Penang,” claimed an official with a local trade association.

Another member of the association claimed the housing quota had hurt local property developers as it was harder to sell houses designated as “Malay” lots.

“These lots have less market value and many developers have to bear holding costs from their inability to sell them.”

A Gerakan grassroots activist was cautiously optimistic about translating these grouses into a voting trend.

“You cannot say for sure that we will get back all Chinese votes. Maybe 20 to 50 per cent. But we will have to work hard for it.”

Making and giving more with less

For a community that consists primarily of small traders, the economy has not improved under the PR.The reason for the guarded enthusiasm is that despite its deficiencies, the PR administration has aided causes close to the Chinese community’s heart.

For instance, in 2009, it gave RM50,000 to Chinese Independent schools in Kedah, said Kedah DAP chief Lee Guan Aik.

“In 2010, PR upped the amount to RM60,000. They’ve also helped to acquire land for Chinese and Tamil schools to expand in Alor Star,” he said.

This brings up another Kedah PR achievement that it never fails to mention — how it managed to increase logging revenue by eight times without opening up new forest tracts.

During the last BN administration in 2007, revenue from logging was RM8 million, claimed Lee, who is also Kota Darulaman state assemblyman.

“In 2009, PR got RM38 million. In 2010, it collected RM58 million. This was achieved through giving out open tenders,” said Lee.

“It’s this money that is aiding schools, including sekolah agama rakyat (private people’s Islamic schools).

Criticisms towards the housing policy, some feel, were over-blown as it applied only to neighbourhoods in Alor Star. Nor has the administration been totally clueless about helping business, said Kedah Chinese Chambers of Commerce deputy chairman Datuk Sunny Hoe Thean Sun.

“The government has helped industries in the Mergong industrial estate (in Alor Star) renew their leases with reasonable premiums. And these industries provide jobs for locals.

“It’s not fair to say the state government has done badly. The housing policy could be improved but at the same time, they have prudently managed the state’s finances,” said Hoe.

This fact about Kedah PR is seldom heard outside of the state. But it was among the most repeated points made by poll respondents who said they’d vote for the PR again.

And it is actually something tangible that can be re-spun repeatedly during an election campaign. Unlike slogans about racial unity that even its promoters have a hard time living up to.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Sunday, 22 May 2011 - 1:53 pm

    When you are doing better than BN….be prepared for some who are constantly complaining…ignoring not corruptions and earning much more for the State.
    Same in Penang…and Selangor.
    But in Kedah…PAS have proven it’s worth.
    They should listen to all complaints and be better…if some complaints are worth thinking about.
    All I know…Kedah Muslims hate Mahathir for what he did to Tunku and original ” UMNO”.
    Will Kedah Malaysian Chinese be the people to sell their souls to the devils for money?
    This is unthinkable.
    MCA and Gerakan are finished party…..finished by voters…doing just that.

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