February 23, 2018.
Since its birth as a parliamentary constituency in 1958, Bentong – whose voters comprise 46.1 per cent Malays; 42.4 per cent Chinese and 9 per cent Indians – has always elected a Chinese from the MCA as its parliamentarian.
While it was not a big deal back then, the party’s fiercest critic, the Chinese-dominated DAP, has recently snubbed the MCA, describing its leaders as hypocrites for claiming to represent the Chinese while surviving on Malay votes.
Those who echoed DAP’s taunts even went as far as alluding that MCA leaders who won in Malay-majority areas are mere puppets of Umno that can never protect the interests of the Chinese.
Since Bentong is one such constituency, The Mole went over to see if the situation on the ground fits the DAP’s description.
IT appears that the people of Bentong finally feel their small town is starting to take a turn for the better.
The once sleepy Pekan Bentong is waking up to a number of exciting prospects and one key ingredient is – believe it or not– its ginger.
“Bentong’s ginger is one of the best in the world,” proclaimed traditional Chinese titbits shopkeeper Raymond Lai, “Even tourists from as far as Macau are making a beeline for our ginger.”
To the unfamiliar, ginger is a popular cooking ingredient among the Chinese due to its health benefits, with ridding gas and bloating as its more popular traits.
The ones grown in Bentong, Lai explained, are of superior quality with a distinct just-about-the-right-amount-of spicy, peppery, lemony sweet flavours.
The idea to promote Bentong’s ginger was actually that of the constituency’s Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, who is also president of the Malaysian Chinese Association.
Liow had a bruising electoral fight where he retained the seat by a whisker, 379 votes, in the 2013 general elections against DAP’s Wong Tack.
The narrow victory was a dubious first for him as Liow had always maintained an average of over 13,000 majority in the 1999, 2004 and 2008 general elections.
A high-ranking MCA party worker in Bentong attributed the dismal 2013 result to the influence of outsiders.
“They were mostly influenced by the opposition’s propaganda that was spread through social media and we didn’t know how to counter,” he said.
A local from Kampung Kemansur, Alex Mah, said that in 2013 thousands of Chinese would choke Jalan Chui Yin just to hear Wong Tak campaign.
Wong Tack, a first timer in the elections, gained popularity among the Chinese in Bentong after leading the 2013 ‘Himpunan Hijau’ environmental protest against the rare earth processing plant in Gebeng, Kuantan.
“But the groundswell seems to have subsided. The people have started to realise how hard Datuk Seri (Liow) has been working to develop Bentong,” said Mah, who confessed that he had voted for the opposition in the previous elections.
The locals, Mah added, are no longer unsupportive of Liow’s pet project, the Bentong Walk, a Saturday-only night market that was initially opposed for fear of traffic congestion.
“I think Datuk Seri’s decade-long efforts finally paid off. Today we see an increasing number of youths coming back from KL to start their business in Bentong and it is partly due to Bentong Walk,” said Mah.
The commercialisation of Bentong’s ginger and the setting-up of Bentong Walk however were not the only brainchild of Liow.
Courtesy of his ministerial post, Liow played a crucial role in placing Bentong as one of the primary destination of the Kuala Krai-Kuala Pilah Central Spine Road (CSR) and the East Coast Railway Link (ECRL).
“I think once the CSR and ECRL are completed, Bentong will be even more bustling and business opportunities will be more abundant,” said Mah.
But the million-dollar question is: Has Liow done enough to even his odds in retaining the constituency come this year’s elections?
Critics and pundits who rely solely on the previous electoral trends and statistics were confident that Liow’s defeat is inevitable.
Especially so given the fact that MCA had suffered a crushing defeat in the last general elections, where it won only 18 of the 127 parliamentary and state seats it contested.
And the fact that the top three MCA leaders won their parliamentary seats in Malay majority areas was an argument that the DAP has been harping on, to claim that MCA has fallen out of touch with the Chinese.
The latest to needle MCA was DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, who said that MCA cannot claim to represent the Chinese community if the party is banking on Malay votes.
“MCA accepts the reality of the political content and demand of the nation. We are a communal party that subscribes to BN’s walk of moderation,” retorted MCA religious harmony bureau chairman Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker.
“If MCA leaders stood in a multiracial constituency with a near or slight Malay majority, it is only natural and proof that MCA leaders under BN subscribe to multiracialism and thus are accepted by all including the majority of Malays,” he added.
While politicians may forever quibble over racial politics, the locals – at least the ones in Bentong – just want a hardworking parliamentarian.
“He or she can be either a Malay, Chinese or an Indian for all I care because what matters the most to me is how diligent the candidate is in servicing his constituents,” said a Bentong cookie shop owner Mohsin Mokhtar.