FACE-OFF: The Klang parliamentary seat may witness an intense fight between a party strongman and an economist in the coming general election, write Chandra Devi Renganayar and Tan Choe Choe
ONE of the parliamentary seats that is expected to see an intense fight in the coming general election is Klang, a place which came under the spotlight following the RM12.5 billion Port Klang Free Zone scandal that shocked the nation when it was exposed in 2007.
Incumbent Pakatan Rakyat member of parliament Charles Santiago, who is vice-chairman of Selangor DAP and an economist who was elected into office for the first time during the political tsunami of 2008, said he was confident of retaining his seat.
"Yes, even (Datuk Seri Dr) Chua Soi Lek can come (and challenge me) if he wants."
But for now, the man that is strongly speculated to take on Santiago is not Dr Chua, but MCA's Pandamaran strongman, Datuk Dr Teh Kim Poo.
Dr Teh, who is also Port Klang Authority chairman, was equally confident that he would be able to win in Klang and that he would be the man who would bring Santiago down.
"I'm a local man, born and bred in Klang. My family still lives here.
"I understand the problems faced by the people here and since 2008, I have been working to improve the lives of the people in this constituency."
Dr Teh, who contested and lost the Pandamaran state seat, believed that while others were too absorbed in the outcome of the 2008 general election, he chose to look forward.
"What took place in 2008 could have happened to anyone representing Barisan Nasional-MCA.
"It was a political tsunami. The fact is, I still have the support of a large number of voters in that area," he said in an interview.
Dr Teh has been laying the groundwork to capture Klang from very early on, doing his "election rounds" of talking and listening to the people on the street, wet markets, housing estates and villages.
"No one else does this. Not even the incumbent.
"From what I hear, the people don't see him on the ground and there has been a lot of complaints about him.
"They say he is not a hands-on person. He is not a local man and he is not in tune with what Klang folk want."
Dr Teh said there was growing support for MCA and BN in the area now, which he claimed was a direct outcome of his personal effort to win over the people.
"You can say that the people in Klang know me better than they know the party," he said.
"I'm the only one going down on the ground to address their problems. I am welcomed wherever I go.
"The people of Klang are now realising that they made the wrong choice in voting Pakatan into power.
"They have been shortchanged and now, they want us back. Promises made were not kept."
Dr Teh said Klang folk were unhappy over the area's "poor infrastructure development, clogged drains, flooding, bad road conditions, increase in various fees and escalating property prices".
Santiago, however, said MCA can choose to put anyone they want to stand against him.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's not Teh that matters to me, but the rules on which I'm fighting on and the electoral roll."
Political analyst Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, dean of school of international studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia's college of law, government and international studies, said it was national issues, and not local issues, that would be the deciding factor.
Azizuddin said Teh's winning chances hinged on the performance of Pakatan at national level, and felt that his personal track record alone would not help him clinch the seat.
"Klang voters are keen to debate and discuss national issues, which they observe closely.
"The issues that can influence them are those on good governance, economic opportunities, crime rate, education, and human rights, not to mention the PKFZ issue, which will also have an impact, especially since court proceedings are now ongoing," he added.
But Azizuddin conceded that some local issues, such as that on water and squatters, would still be relevant, adding that it was not impossible for BN to recapture Klang.
He brought up an interesting question -- would a former MCA powerhouse who hopped over to Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Datin Paduka Dr Tan Yee Kew, the incumbent of the seat in the 2008 general election, want to contest in Klang?
"She was a popular candidate but dropped by MCA in the last election.
"She is still active and might be a good candidate for Pakatan.
"A battle between Tan and Teh can also be very interesting, considering their long bristly history in MCA."
If Tan was indeed interested, this might pose some candidature problems within the opposition coalition which could be exploited by the BN camp, Azizuddin said.
However, Santiago brushed the speculation aside.
"There is no such issue."