Perlis – Sleepy No More?

Perlis was spared in the 2008 political tsunami. However things are set to change with the series of events taking place, both nationally and locally. Indeed the locals are bracing themselves for the forthcoming quake, and many Malaysians may just be surprised at what will come out of this sleepy north-western hollow of Peninsular Malaysia.

In the visit to the northern most tip of Malaysia, the Rocket’s T.K Tan spoke with Perlis DAP state secretary Teh Seng Chuan and state vice-chairman Abdul Manan Abdul Razak to catch a glimpse of the political sentiments that is currently permeating through the state and how DAP will fare in this new political awakening.

Teh Seng Chuan

Full Name: Teh Seng Chuan

State DAP Post: Pro tem state secretary, Padang Besar branch chairman

Other interest Businessman

Age: 39

The soft-spoken Teh related how he was roused to social justice struggle for his hometown and why he turned to DAP to be the vehicle for this endeavour:

In 2004, Padang Besar had grown immensely, causing much traffic jams due to cross border movement. The federal government had reconstructed the roads in the town area; however it had caused much inconvenience as there were no exits for the road users to make a reverse turn; the town residents had to make a long journey to a flyover several kilometres away to u-turn.

As the town representative, I approached the local MCA representative to help in this matter; however he was uncooperative and ignored our requests. Subsequently I highlighted this matter to the media. His assistant then demanded that I apologised to him for unnecessarily blowing up the issue.

With no assistance from MCA and the state government, I brought the issue to the federal government. After much persistent efforts, the u-turns and car park lots were finally put in place. I realised then Perlis needed to have a strong opposition presence.

After much consultation with residents from Padang Besar and other parts of Perlis, we decided to invite an opposition party to represent us. And their unanimous choice was to have DAP in Perlis. In 2009, we established seven DAP branches concurrently in Perlis, the first in its history.

Abdul Manan Abdul Razak

Full Name: Abdul Manan Bin Abdul Razak

State DAP Post: Pro tem state vice-chairman

Other interest Businessman

Age 48

Abdul Manan does not mince his words regarding corruption and he tells us why he believes DAP is the best outfit to rid this rot from Malaysia:

As I had come from an UMNO family background, my family had a strong unquestioning loyalty to UMNO and aversion to DAP. However upon growing up, I observed with disdain what was taking place in this country.

Beginning with this government that is growing corrupted by the day, it had also permeated into the private sector. Some of my family kinsmen had leveraged on their connections with UMNO to get business contracts unethically; I abhorred their business dealings that were secured with corruption. I hated corruption tremendously.

I saw in DAP a party that had upright and honest leaders who fought unceasingly for Malaysians. DAP’s record in fighting corruption impressed me particularly. Despite all the discriminations, jailing and obstacles they had had to face, DAP leaders and members remained steadfast to its social democracy principles. This was the party of my choice.

However, so as not to offend my father, I decided to join DAP after his death. My entry into DAP has attracted some attention from UMNO friends and acquaintances. Some have tried to entice me with government business contracts to rejoin UMNO. But I know where my heart is: DAP. I refused them.

Shaking the Paradise – Issues At Play

In Padang Besar, the second largest town in Perlis, the local trading community has been hit hard by the government’s changing the previous policy of allowing Thai and foreign tourists entering Padang Besar to travel freely within three kilometres of the border without stamping their passports. “Instead they are now allowed to do so in the nearby small border post of Wang Kelian. In effect the tourist ringgit is now diverted to Wang Kelian. However the businesses are not relocating there because of the difficulty of relocation,” Teh elaborated.

Another problem is the land ownership issue in Perlis. In the past land owners were allowed to hold land for 30 years lease. However in past few years the state government has not permitted renewal of the 30 years lease; instead the landowners are entitled to only Temporary Occupancy Licenses (TOL). “This means the government can claim ownership of the land at any point of time without compensating the landowners,” said Teh.

Perlis also lacks work opportunities for its youth as there not many industries here. Despite FELDA Global Ventures taking over the biggest private employer here, Perlis Plantation Bhd, and raising sugar prices several times since last year, not much benefit has trickled down to the people here. Many have to seek work outside the state.

Finally, the simmering dissension in Perlis UMNO is threatening to boil over the state BN. Despite the Raja Perlis’s official appointment of Datuk Seri Mat Isa Sabu as the Menteri Besar (MB), former MB Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim has continued to undermine his successor’s authority at every juncture. “Our internal sources in UMNO told us, should Shahidan not be selected as the MB in the next GE, many of Shahidan’s supporters will cast their votes for PR,” Abdul Manan said.

Pakatan’s chances

However, in spite of these issues, many of the rural folks are still unmoved. They are subservient to the authorities. “Many local village mosque imans will unabashedly tell their congregation that unequivocal support for the government of the day is compulsory for them. And often these imans themselves are part of the village committees who have the power to bring development or resolve land issues for the villagers,” Abdul Manan added.

“Those who are facing difficulties will sometimes approach PR parties for assistance. However, when the general election comes around, UMNO will bring the token goodies and funds to assuage them, and they will duly cast their votes for BN again out of hearts of appreciation and gratitude.”

After the 2008 GE, PR has been receiving a groundswell of support. “Our ceramahs, which used to see more special branch (SB) police officers than attendees, are regularly packed with avid listeners,” Teh added.

According to both of them, PR’s chance of winning two more seats in the coming GE is good. “Besides the Simpang Empat and Sanglang state seats (DUN), PR can win Titi Tinggi and Indera Kayangan DUNs in the next GE. But it will be difficult for PR to unseat the current BN state government as our level of support is not adequate yet,” Abdul Manan elaborated.

“As for DAP, we are aiming to contest in two seats, namely Titi Tinggi and Indera Kayangan. We are confident that we can cause an upset in both seats; with the hard work and effort put in, the people are getting more receptive towards us,” Teh emphasised.

Hurdles for PR

As in the other states, PR faces the contentious issue of seats allocation. Seats negotiation is progressing slowly as there are many sides demanding for certain seats without concrete knowledge of their strength and capabilities to deliver the votes.

“Our election strategy needs fine-tuning as well. In seats like Titi Tinggi, PR can win the urban area votes. It’s in the FELDA and FELCRA settlements that PR needs to limit the margin of votes lost. If any disaffected third party candidate contests as well, PR will not stand a chance. This was the case in the 2008 GE when an ex-PAS member entered the fray, winning more votes than the PKR candidate. He managed to attract the conservative voting segment due to his religious appearance,” Abdul Manan pointed out.

“PR’s cooperation in the state is still weak. Some of our component party’s members are openly fighting amongst themselves; we are not sure of who are the party’s state leaders we should deal with to have a concrete plan moving forward,” Teh lamented.

“Sometimes our ceramahs are not represented by all three parties. We need to step up the cooperation level amongst the parties.”

DAP’s challenge

As with many parts of the country, many Malays in Perlis are still conservative in their political views. The overwhelming majority of Malays reside in the rural areas, where access to alternative media is limited. “Some are still very racial in their outlook; in some places, mere mention of DAP will bring jeers of being Chinese lackeys for the speaker. Decades of UMNO’s racial propaganda and vilification of DAP has taken strong root in Perlis. It will take time to change it,” Abdul Manan sighed

“However, some sections of the Malay community have warmed up to DAP. Currently with more than a thousand party members, there is a sizable number of Malay members present in the Perlis branches. The committed Malays who joined the party are generally more open-minded, have a different and moderate worldview and are different from the rest. I would even venture to say that they are “quality Malays”,” he enthused.

“DAP is handicapped by the lack of identifiable elected representatives and leaders here. Kota Darul Aman ADUN Lee Guan Aik has helped us much in projecting DAP’s multi-racial appeal. When he speaks in our ceramahs, his fluency in speaking Bahasa Malaysia (BM), laced with the local Kedah-Perlis slang, helps to dispel the Malays’ stereotype of DAP’s Chinese chauvinistic image. We need to engage more BM-fluent DAP leaders to speak in our ceramahs to reach out to the locals here,” Teh added.

“To further bolster DAP’s image here, we have to take the initiative to engage in more social outreach activities such as assisting the poor and flood victims and highlighting the plight of helpless folks,” he concluded. -The Rocket