SLIM RIVER, Aug 16 — The small town of Slim River in Perak lies roughly in the middle of state capital Ipoh and national capital Kuala Lumpur by 100km either way with a population of 27,139.
Most of the residents here are plantation workers, traders, civil servants and professionals who found the cost of living before Covid-19 and the lockdown in March on the high side, and have since been struggling to pay their bills even though travel restrictions have lifted and the new government has come up with a slew of economic initiatives aimed at decreasing their financial burden.
People on the street interviewed by Malay Mail yesterday when campaigning for the state seat kicked off spoke mostly of rising costs, especially in food and goods, and hope their next elected representative is someone who can help small businesses stay afloat and others keep up with the high living prices.
“Traders here don’t want much. They only expect that the person who represents the constituency will get more aid for them to conduct their businesses,” said petai trader Shasaruddin Mat Zain, 62.
Mohd Fairus Mohd Paji, 38, a drinks seller who runs a stall in the night market was troubled by talk that the pasar malam may be privatised.
“When the district council hands over the night market to some association, the traders suffer financially. Private groups can’t provide the help needed by the traders and it’s difficult to raise our concern to them.
“I hope the person who wins the by-election will look into the matter,” he told Malay Mail.
C. Sivananthini, 21, who runs a kuih stall, said she could barely survive with the income she got from selling food.
“Prices of goods have increased lately and the income I get is not sufficient to take care of my family,” said the mother of two.
Sivananthini hopes that the next assemblyman will provide more job opportunities for locals.
“Most of the people here are doing their businesses on a small scale as there are not many job opportunities.
“Maybe the elected representative could bring investors and open up factories so that people here can get a stable job and income,” she said.
A grocery shop owner who only gave his name as Wong said that many people in Slim River start up their own business because there were little other job opportunities in the area.
“Some have moved to the cities to find jobs, but not all are capable of doing that so they start their own business here,” he said.
While the majority of the voters are happy and satisfied with the public infrastructures in the constituency, Mohamad Shairi Rosni, a third generation resident in the Felda Besout 1 settlement here said that the telecommunication service has room for improvement.
“Telephone lines and internet connection is still poor here. We don’t have coverage at all in some areas,” he said.
The 30-year-old hopes for more banks and ATMs to open in the settlement. He said the area currently has only one bank.
Voter demographic make-up
Slim’s constituents are 74 per cent Malay, 12 per cent ethnic Indian, 10 per cent ethnic Chinese and 1.4 per cent Orang Asli.
For this by-election, a total of 23,094 voters — comprising 22,815 normal voters, 277 early voters as well as two overseas voters — are eligible to cast their ballots.
The majority of voters met by Malay Mail believe Barisan Nasional (BN) has the advantage in the poll.
Chew Ah Kow, 70, a convenience shop owner, put it down to the combined support for the BN candidate from PAS and Bersatu.
“Based on the previous election result, if we add up the votes between BN and PAS, they already have the majority. Also Bersatu is backing BN. It’s obvious they have the advantage,” he said.
Nazierus Azam Rahim, 30, pointed out that Slim has been a BN stronghold for decades.
“Even during the previous general election when people opted for a change, BN managed to secure the seat with a majority of 2,000 votes.
“With BN back in control at the federal level, chances are high for them to attract more votes and defend the seat,” he said.
Shahrudin Hamid, 63, a retired soldier from Kampung Ulu Slim, said the majority of Malay voters will stay loyal to Umno as they remember the work and service provided by the incumbent from the party, the late Datuk Mohd Khusairi Abdul Talib who died of a heart attack on July 15, triggering the by-election.
“He has done a lot for this constituency and there is not much issue here to complain. He has taken care of all of our needs. This will play a part in the people’s voting decision,” Shahrudin said.
In Election 2018, Mohd Khusairi defended the state seat with a majority of 2,183 votes by defeating Mohd Amran Ibrahim from Bersatu who contested on a PKR ticket then, and Muhammad Zulfadli Zainal of PAS.
Ridi Katak, 58, from Kampung Orang Asli Sungai Bil expressed similar sentiments.
“Our village has roads and basic needs such as water and electricity taken care of. The schools are also near for our children. So with this I assume most of us will want BN to continue to represent the constituency,” he said.
Polling Day for Slim is on August 29 while early voters will cast their ballots on August 25.