#GE13* BN rolls out the works in Sungai Siput

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SUNGAI SIPUT (May 2): Zooming in on the one insecurity of constituents here – the lack of visible infrastructure development over the past five years – BN has been doing all it can to win over voters who chose Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj as their member of Parliament in 2008. Much has changed in this town since January, even before the candidates were officially announced. The transformation took place through the initiative of the caretaker deputy minister in the Prime Minister's department, Datuk SK Devamany, and former Sungai Siput MP of thirty-odd years, Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu. Devamany, the BN's candidate, faces Jeyakumar of Parti Sosialis Malaysia and independent SP Nagalingam in the contest for the seat on Sunday. Bent on reversing their electoral fortunes, the government leaders have pulled out all the stops to show the people that they are serious about improving their track record. Infrastructure development such as roadworks and upgrading of the drainage system are just the tip of the iceberg. Residents here have been treated to fast-track loans, a newly efficient welfare service, lucky draws where they stand to win new electrical items and dinner to woo them. Just on Tuesday this week, 128 small businessmen and business women  received cheques for fast-tracked business loans from Tekun, the fund for small business enterprises, ranging from RM10,000 to RM50,000. A total of RM2.5 million is being disbursed by the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry for small and medium businesses. Devamany could not attend the cheque presentation ceremony since it might be seen as an election offence to use government facilities for campaigning. However, he said that the loans were allocated in early January and February when he was still the deputy minister. He insisted that they were not fast-tracked merely because he was chosen as the ruling coalition's candidate for Sungai Siput. Commenting on the event to the press, the MIC deputy president said that the loan was part of allocations made for Indians by caretaker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. He urged Indians to vote for Najib for more of such allocations in the future. A loan recipient, Guna*, 60, said that he learnt about the loan from MIC (*names have been changed in this report at the request of the people involved). He was very happy to receive the aid as he could finally expand his sundry goods business after several failed attempts to secure a bank loan. Asked whether receiving the loan had influenced his decision about who he would vote for, Guna said that since he learnt of the loan from the MIC, he would definitely vote for its candidate. As an added bonus for residents here, Samy Vellu, who was personally requested by Najib to be the BN coordinator for the area, was able to use his standing as a former Works minister to secure a special allocation of RM2.5 million for the road works here. Steamrollers and bulldozers to tar roads have been standing at the main Sungai Siput roads for over two weeks now. One particular stretch, from Ipoh to Kuala Kangsar, near the Kampung Stesen Salak and near the Perhentian Salak, has been tarred for two kilometres. Locals are lauding this move as this stretch, part of the trunk road used by many lorries, is prone to accidents. Various stretches of the main roads are still being tarred and bulldozers parked at the side of the roads indicate that more areas will be tarred as campaigning proceeds. A pamphlet lists down all that Devamany has done for the constituents even before being named the candidate officially. These include roads and drainage repairs worth RM2.7 million in 16 housing areas and villages; a special housing scheme for squatters; spectacles for 2,100 people funded by 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB); and welfare aid to 2,400 households for sundry products and necessities worth RM80 monthly under the MyKasih programme sponsored by Dovenby Estate owners, among others. These goodies are making an impact with the local voters. "Thanks to Devamany, I have been getting extra aid with household products. I am a single mother with two daughters and it really helps ease my burden. For that I am thankful, and what's wrong with voting for him?" said Sarasvathy* who lives in Taman Dovenby. Another voter, Kumari* said that there has been a visible increase in development since Devamany has come around. "We had voted in the Opposition during the last election and over the last five years, there has been nothing that we have got from it. But when Devamany came, so much is changing," she said. At a Chinese dinner organised for 400 residents from Salak Baru and Salak Utara, Devamany used a pun on his name to strike a chord with voters. "My name is Devamany. Ada Deva, Ada Money (When there is Deva, there is money)...Number 3, vote for number 3 (in reference to his position in the ballot paper)," he said. Elderly Chinese votes cheered as they heard this but a party insider who works closely with the party machinery to woo Chinese voters acknowledged that Chinese voters here were exceptionally secretive over who they would vote for. Devamany and the BN machinery may be targeting the main insecurity of the constituents, but he still faces an uphill task to win over the voters from Jeyakumar whose solid reputation as the "good-hearted" doctor is undeniable with locals. Seventy-year-old Subra* summed up the campaigning in Sungai Siput aptly. When asked what he thought about the recent developments in his hometown, he said: "This is a fight between one party that has money and one party that has none." "Of course Devamany is doing work. People see him, he is young, cheerful, approachable and friendly. But people won't easily forget Dr Jeyakumar's goodwill," said the retired taxi driver. Even after spending so much in the constituency, with three days left until D-day, the fight for this constituency still appears neck-to-neck.