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Empty promises shrink BN - ST
By web aNtu

14/6/2000 5:55 pm Wed

From: mIChaeL fONg

Subject: [BUNGARAYA] Empty promises shrink BN's votes

KUALA LUMPUR -- Ask any Umno politician, what is the best antidote against the anti-government sentiment sweeping through the electorate and this will be his likely reply: Time.

Time will heal.

The Telok Kemang parliamentary by-election result on Saturday suggests that the strategy of depending on time is a double-edged sword.

Time plus inaction plus continuous allegations of corruption and nepotism by the opposition causes the fire of anger among voters to rage more strongly.

In November, the Barisan Nasional candidate won the seat in Negri Sembilan by a yawning margin of nearly 10,000 votes.

On Saturday, the coalition's candidate, Mr S. Sothinathan, defeated his opponent from Parti Keadilan Nasional Ruslan Ka#sim but by a smaller majority -- 4,000 votes less than the last time.

A preliminary study of the voting pattern shows that the ruling coalition candidate garnered about 62 per cent of the Malay vote, 80 per cent of the Indian vote but only 48 per cent of the Chinese vote. At the November polls, nearly 70 per cent of the Chinese electorate in the area supported the Barisan Nasional candidate.

Why the sudden shift to the opposition camp? Because over time, the disappointment felt by the pig-breeders of the virus-ravaged Bukit Pelanduk and their families over what they perceived as inaction by the government turned to anger.

Two years ago, this cluster of villages was once the biggest pig-farming industry in the region. Today, it is a ghost town, no thanks to the Nipah virus that killed about 80 people and forced 900,000 pigs to be shot, bludgeoned or buried alive.

It is also a reservoir of unhappiness. That reservoir was kept from overflowing in the November elections by a slew of promises from Malaysia Chinese a#sociation.

Pig farmers were a#sured that the initial compensation package of RM50 (S$23) per head of pig culled would be increased by RM70. They were also told that the state government would make a decision on whether to allow pig breeding in the area.

There was little progress until two weeks before the by-election when the government gave out more compensation and announced that pig farming would be allowed in a selected zone.

By then, the farmers were already being summoned to courts in Seremban and Shah Alam to face bankruptcy hearings over their inability to repay debts to banks and feed suppliers.

If only the aid had come earlier, says Mr Lai Poh Chon, 36, a member of the Malaysian Swine a#sociation.

""People feel that their suffering has been forgotten. They kept their anger inside,'' notes the man who lost a brother to the virus.

On Saturday, most of them vented their frustration at the Barisan Nasional.

Datuk Yeow Chai Thiam, state a#semblyman for Lukut, was upset. He said: ""They have no gratitude at all and are not thankful for what the BN government has done for them.''

A similar refrain was heard from Umno politicians who were puzzled how the opposition candidate garnered more postal votes -- votes from army and police personnel -- than Mr Sothinathan.

In November, 1,874 of the 2,931 postal votes in the constituency went to the Barisan Nasional candidate with 730 going to the opposition.

This time, the opposition candidate obtained 1,743 postal votes. Umno sources say that talk of relocating the military camp from its choice site near the beach in Port d##kson had upset army personnel who felt that they were being treated as second cla#s citizens.

But they concede that a more likely reason for the shift in support for the opposition was the growing sense among some sectors of the Malay electorate that not much has changed in Umno since the general elections.

Yes, ministers and senior party officials who campaigned in Telok Kemang drove Proton Perdanas, left their expensive clothes at home and spent quality time with the constituents but hangers-on and members of their entourage still exhibited the trappings of a rich boy's club.

At several villages, party members received hostile or indifferent treatment from people who sold fruits and vegetables for a living and rode motorcycles.

Every day for the past two weeks, these constituents were told how corrupt, power crazy and greedy politicians from Umno were by opposition politicians who employed a similar tactic during the general election.

Only this time, they asked people to think if the Malay ruling party or the Mahathir administration had embraced whole-hearted change since the November polls. ---Straits Times