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Sunday, May 29, 2011

PKR off the blocks in battle to keep Selangor

KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 – In the small towns and villages of Malaysia’s biggest state, PKR politicians are already on the hustings to defend their tenuous hold on power in Selangor even though elections do not have to be called until early 2013.

At a recent rally, about 1,000 locals were gathered in and around a small hall in rural Kampung Bukit Changgang, where just 10km away, huge commercial planes take off and land at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

One of the biggest airports in the world, it spans over 100 square kilometres and has a capacity of 35 million passengers and 1.2 million tonnes of cargo per year.

But in Bukit Changgang near Banting, it is 9pm on a Monday night recently and the only shops open are the stalls around the ceramah, which can only be found after driving through kilometres of roads without streetlights.

Kuala Langat MP Abdullah Sani Abdul Hamid is talking up Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) promises of subsidies, abolishing tolled roads and increasing allowances for civil servants under its Buku Jingga pledge if it takes over Putrajaya.

The PKR leader tells the crowd that Barisan Nasional (BN) was busy talking about “video, video, video, mani, mani, mani (semen, semen, semen),” referring to the sex video and sodomy allegations against Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“But they don’t talk about money,” he says before listing alleged abuses of power by BN.

The Malaysian Insider asked a stall owner selling drinks earlier that evening what was the main issue for him heading into a general election expected this year.

He simply rubbed two fingers against his thumb and said, “We’re all looking for rezeki(livelihood).”

PKR launched its Jelajah Selangor Tawan Putrajaya (Jelas) series of ceramahs at the beginning of the month and has since blitzed 16 different venues in its first three weeks.

But at least three-quarters have been held in what state information chief Shuhaimi Shafiei terms “enemy territory.”

“We believe that the seats already won by PR in 2008 will see a status quo. So we are going into the five seats that BN won,” he told The Malaysian Insider, naming Sabak Bernam, Tanjong Karang, Sungai Besar, Sepang and Pandan as the targeted seats.

The plan to sweep all of Selangor’s parliamentary seats in a general election expected to take place within the year is ambitious.

Among the BN incumbents are a current and two former Cabinet ministers, including former MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, who is MCA’s only MP in the Klang Valley.

But Shuhaimi, who is in charge of the Jelas campaign, is confident as BN’s majorities in these highly-populated seats range from as low as 989 votes to 5,009.

PKR state chief Azmin Ali also told The Malaysian Insider that the state government, which his party leads, will not dissolve the state assembly if elections are called this year.

This will relieve PR of having to micro-manage the 56 state seats and concentrate on the main prize — Putrajaya.

To achieve this, PKR believes that debate must be shifted away from accusations of sexual misconduct against its de facto leader Anwar, to matters concerning the economy.

“When the elections come, forget the show in Jalan Duta,” said PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli in a ceramah in Pandan on last week.

“Remember the cuts to fuel subsidies, remember low wages, remember rising prices,” he added before Anwar himself spoke for over an hour, calling on voters to reject BN’s proposed subsidy cuts.

The message seems to resonate with those who attend the ceramahs. A quick straw poll found that only one in three thought that the sex video and sodomy allegations were important but all were concerned with economic opportunities and inflation.

Shuhaimi said that the first phase of ceramahs and fact-finding would conclude this month.

The Sri Muda assemblyman said that Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim would lead the charge in the second phase in June.

“MB will go to villages and solve problems that we have identified this month, whether it is about land or basic amenities,” he said, pointing out that the five seats, with the exception of semi-urban Pandan, were largely rural.

Khalid’s involvement reflects a strategy that is also being executed at the state government level.

Dr Xavier Jayakumar told The Malaysian Insider last week after returning from a retreat for the state executive council that next year’s budget would focus on infrastructure for rural areas.

“That is the only way for us to penetrate as BN controls all the mainstream media channels and we have to rely on ceramahs,” said the Sri Andalas assemblyman.

To back up its political offensive, Shuhaimi added that PKR was also addressing its lack of grassroots machinery with three-day training camps held weekly.

He said that 4,000 election workers were being trained in batches at camps being held across the state.

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