On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

GE13: A gentleman’s fight

The PKR candidate is making his second attempt for the Alor Setar parliamentary seat, but strangely, he and his father have only nice things to say about the incumbent.

ALOR Mengkudu is lined with huge Barisan Nasional and PAS flags. Located on the outskirts of Alor Setar, most of the voters are padi farmers and petty traders, who put religion first.

PKR candidate Gooi Hsiao Leung, who is making his second attempt for the Alor Setar parliamentary seat, has to meet voters at Surau Borham here.

It is unfamiliar ground but Gooi, who is tanned and has grown a goatee, is starting to look like one of the locals. It is only his formal manner of speaking Malay that is telling.

The young lawyer, who practises in Penang, lost to MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Chor Chee Heung, by a whisker, with just 184 votes separating the two in the 2008 general election.

Chor, the incumbent who has held the seat since 1990, polled 20,741 votes against Gooi’s 20,557. Interestingly enough, there were 1,757 spoilt votes in the close contest.

Today, the constituency has 69,189 registered voters, of which the Malays make up close to 62%, the Chinese 33% and the Indians 4%.

The three state seats under Alor Setar were split up among the DAP (Kota Darul Aman), PAS (Alor Mengkudu) and Barisan Nasional (Bakar Bata), which means the fight cannot be taken for granted.

The battle for Alor Setar is a four-way contest involving Chor, Gooi, Abdul Fisol Mohd of Berjasa and Jawahar Raja Abdul Wahid of Bersama.

Gooi is still regarded as a novice by political analysts but he is no stranger to politics.

His father, Gooi Hock Seng, was a DAP Member of Parliament while his uncle is Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, the Gerakan president.

As a child, he was used to seeing the family home being used by DAP leader Lim Kit Siang and other veterans like the late P. Patto, who used to sleep over when they gave talks in Penang.

Despite the intensity of the contest, one thing that has stood out is that it can truly be billed as a gentleman’s fight.

As I arrived here from Kuala Lumpur on a Sunday, it did not strike me that it was a working day, as the streets were rather quiet. Friday is the official weekend in Kedah.

At 9am, when I passed a church, it was nearly empty, while most of the shops had yet to open for business.

Over lunch, the father and son had only nice words to say about Chor – something which emotive Malaysian politicians and campaigners can learn from.

Apart from the political arena, the Goois have previously engaged Chor in the courts, as they are all lawyers.

At the headquarters of the Alor Setar MCA division, it is hive of activity as Chor meets reporters, party workers and voters, who trickle in to seek his assistance over constituency matters. While handling all these, he is multi-tasking, having to take non-stop calls on his mobile phone.

His Bahasa Malaysia, laced with thick northern accent, is near perfect and if one does not look at him, you would think he was a Malay.

“I am a man of the street. I enjoy meeting people at the coffee shops,” Chor said.

This is his strongest point, as his presence is felt in the constituency he has faithfully served for five terms.

Which is why his supporters are quick to point out that Gooi, after losing in the 2008 polls, “had abandoned Alor Setar.”

Gooi has dismissed such talk, saying that he comes to Alor Setar regularly for his court cases and remains the Kedah PKR legal bureau chief.

At the Zam Zam Nasi Lemak restaurant in Jalan Merpati, which sees a multi-racial crowd, I asked a 45-year-old Chinese businessman who he would be voting for.

“I would have voted for Pakatan Rakyat this time but I am sticking to Chor. He is always around the constituency and that matters. I am voting for Chor, not Barisan, okay?” he said.

He is angry with the many problems that has affected Malaysia, saying that his relatives living in other parts of Kedah were supporting PKR and DAP candidates.

But there are also other Chinese voters who have said that their support for PAS in 2008 has been a disaster, citing the closure of the abattoir, the ban on women performers at a Chinese New Year show at a mall, the 50% quota for bumis in housing properties and the sharp decline in investments and state revenue, resulting in the state government having to go on a massive logging exercise.

Said Lim Teik Boon, who works in Kuala Lumpur, when met at another table: “The Chinese in other states who love PAS so much should come and live here, see what it’s like. If you say under PAS, there’s no corruption, it’s simply because there are no businesses.”

At another table, a Malay customer, while sipping his kopi kaw, said he would still back the BN because he believed in the Prime Minister’s transformation plan. He is also not giving his state vote to the DAP either.

The in-fighting within the Kedah DAP is a talking point here. Its chief Lee Guan Aik has been dropped from the race completely. When Pakatan Rakyat announced its candidates at the PAS headquarters in Kota Sarang Semut, Lee and other DAP officials stayed away.

In Alor Mengkudu, incumbent PAS assemblyman Datuk Dr Ismail Salleh – who had rebelled against Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak – has been packed off to contest the Jerlun parliamentary seat.

MCA campaigners said they are better prepared this election after scrapping through in 2008.

Datuk Chong Itt Chew, the state MCA chief, said the party has been working on the “black areas” since the last polls and he believes they have recovered the lost votes.

Political analysts still regard Alor Setar as a “grey area” because of the three-figure majority in the 2008 polls.

It remains to be seen if there is a real turnaround as even BN campaigners have admitted that in the urban sections of Alor Setar, the sentiments against the BN remain strong.

For Chor, the burden is heavy, as Alor Setar is among the 15 MCA parliamentary seats that the party expects to retain.

For more election stories, please visit The Star’s GE13 site