MCA chief stands on shaky ground in inflation-hit Bentong

by Gan Pei Ling, 29 Jan 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

ASK most locals in the town of Bentong, Pahang, what they think of MCA president Liow Tiong Lai and almost every response will be of approval and praise.

Liow, the member of parliament for Bentong since 1999, is credited with his attempts to boost the local tourism industry in the town, and is described as “down to earth”, “approachable” and “diligent” in his weekly visits and walkabouts.

However, Liow’s constituents’ fondness for him may not necessarily translate to votes at the 14th general election, as concerns of the rising cost of living and inflation have caused many locals to question their earlier support for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

The owner of a Chinese restaurant, located just a stone’s throw from Wisma MCA in Bentong, said profits have dropped by up to 60% in the last three years because of the rising cost of ingredients, and with fewer people dining out as many tighten their belts.

“People prefer to eat at home to save cost. Property prices, including shophouses, in town are beyond the reach of people like us,” she said, adding that she has been renting her shop lot, located just a stone’s throw from Wisma MCA, as she cannot afford to buy it from the owners.

This growing discontent, echoed by many others who spoke to The Malaysian Insight during a visit to the town centre, is something the opposition hopes to use to their advantage.

Last night, DAP launched an offensive into the town best known for its lush, rolling hills, fresh produce and the hilltop casino resort of Genting.

DAP has declared its intentions to take down Liow along with MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong in Ayer Hitam, Johor, in GE14, which must be held by August.

Liow’s position was already shaky since he retained Bentong by a paper-thin margin of 379 votes in 2013, a marked decrease from the thumping majority of 12,549 votes in 2008.

Bentong is one of only seven parliamentary seats that MCA managed to retain in the 2013 polls. It also managed to win 11 state seats nationwide.

No to party loyalty, yes to help

When asked if they thought DAP stands a chance to take over Bentong at the next elections, locals remained tight-lipped on which party they vote would for but told The Malaysian Insight they just wanted a leader who could address and alleviate their economic hardships.

The owner of a coffeeshop, who only gave her surname Lok, said most are grateful to Liow for developing the town.

However, Lok said, while there are more tourists, the prices of goods have skyrocketed and affected locals.

“It’s good that the town is more happening now but food prices like roti canai and durians have increased a lot,” she said.

She added that with the shrinking value of the ringgit, people have to tighten their belts.

“Last time, when we go shopping, RM100 is more than enough to fill the trolley, now even RM200 may not be enough.”

An MCA party insider conceded that it would be a close fight for Liow in the next elections.

“The locals are okay with him but their children who work in the Klang Valley tend to be anti-BN and might sway their parents to vote against Liow,” said the source.

The Chinese restaurant owner, who has been a long-time MCA member, said while Liow is an affable and diligent representative, he has neglected small businesses like hers in his haste to try and bring in larger-scale developments to the former mining town.

This, she said, could well be what sways her vote at GE14.

“It’s not just about the party. It’s about who can solve our problems.”

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