On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

GE13: Kampar to provide case study

Will the folk in this university town vote for ‘change’ despite the fact that MCA has brought tangible benefits to their lives in the form of the Utar main campus? It’s a choice between good work by Barisan and Pakatan’s promises.

JUST 17km away from Kampar is Tanjung Tualang, a small town, which has made a name for itself as a freshwater prawn centre.

Almost everyone knows each other in this tiny place, which boasts of having 15 seafood restaurants and plenty of hair salons.

“There aren’t that many places to spend our money unless we travel to Ipoh, so we just spend our time eating and getting our hair washed and blow dried,’’ a 55-year-old prawn breeder replied when asked.

Tanjung Tualang was originally one of the major tin-mining towns in the early 1900s. It derived its name either from the Tualang tree or the Toh Allang Chinese Tin Ltd company, depending on who you talk to. The world’s biggest tin dredging machine used to be located here.

The heyday of the tin mining industry may be over but the people have risen to the challenge by converting the mining ponds to breed freshwater prawns. Others who have been given land have moved on to become smallholders, planting rubber and oil palm.

On weekends, many tourists travel to the restaurants here, and the owners take much pride in adorning the walls with pictures of Hong Kong and local celebrities who had eaten at their outlets.

Tanjung Tualang is located under the Kampar parliamentary constituency of Datuk Lee Chee Leong, who has set a record of sorts – of the 15 parliamentary state seats won by the MCA in the 2008 general election, Kampar had the largest number of Chinese voters.

The mild-mannered Deputy Home Minister is defending his seat against DAP’s Dr Ko Chung Sen, a heart surgeon who is making his debut in politics.

The constituency has 63,776 voters of which 60% are Chinese with 29% Malays and 10% Indians. In the 2008 polls, Lee won the seat with a 2,697-vote majority.

The strong anti-establishment sentiments against the Barisan Nasional from 2008 still linger, but BN campaigners are confident.

A biscuit seller at the Kampar market, for example, said he was voting for the DAP as he “wanted to teach Umno a lesson” although he acknowledged the good work done by the MCA on the ground.

The main campus of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) and the branch campus of Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman are located here and along with the vibrant student population comes plenty of financial spillover effects and business opportunities to the people of Kampar.

Thousands of people, including those from outside Kampar, have gained from the businesses they have set up around the campus, ranging from the eateries to rental income from their homes let out to these students.

It is well known that many Utar graduates have stayed back to set up their own businesses next to their alma mater.

Kampar has turned into a fashionable and attractive campus town with its picturesque lakes, and some have commented that it is even more attractive than Oxford and Boston, two well-known university towns.

Lee is aware that the physical and financial benefits brought in by the MCA have put him in an easier position for this election.

Said a food seller near the campus, who had earlier attended to the students: “Most of my friends are voting for DAP, but I tell them that I am better off now because of MCA. They tell me that MCA has done nothing but I tell them that they must be blind.

“It will prick my conscience if I vote for DAP when I am benefitting from what MCA has done and I vote otherwise.”

Her helper at the chap fun (economy rice) stall admits she’s torn between the MCA and the call for change.

“Kampar has changed from a sleepy town into a thriving place because of the campus. My family members now no longer have to find jobs in KL,” she said.

However, national issues could affect the voting pattern of the people of Kampar, who have voted in DAP candidates previously.

Dr Ko has told the media that his main campaign topic would be corruption, which he said has affected the nation.

Corruption, the 45-year-old said, had affected Malaysia “from top down, sideways” and that he wanted to get rid of this problem before it reached “advance terminal stage”.

The Kuala Lumpur-born doctor has been residing in Ipoh since 2004 and works at the Ipoh Specialist Hospital. His colleague, Dr Sharifah Halimah, even turned up at his press conference to give him support.

Interestingly, Lee’s wife is also a medical doctor and would be helping out in the campaign.

The Barisan campaigners have pointed out that Dr Ko is an outsider but in interviews, Dr Ko has rebutted this claim by saying Kampar is not that far from Ipoh.

Furthermore, he said, many of his patients are from Kampar.

As we now enter the final leg of the campaign, there is no doubt that Kampar will be one of the most watched constituencies as the Barisan and PR battle it out to win the hearts and minds – and the votes – of the people.