Unfriendly drama unfolding in Batu Kawan constituency

Unfriendly drama unfolding in Batu Kawan constituency

BUTTERWORTH: After a surprise press conference by Kasthuriraani Patto (pic) who declared that she is stepping aside as Batu Kawan MP “in the hardest decision” of her life, the intrigues of DAP politics in Penang have come under scrutiny.

All eyes are now on a power game in the state, with Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P Ramasamy said to be lobbying for Batu Kawan.

It won’t be easy going for whoever is chosen. Batu Kawan might not be a safe seat for Pakatan Harapan anymore.

Connected to the island via the second Penang bridge since 2014, the Batu Kawan constituency has grown from a land of farms and plantations to a suburb with fancy retail hubs, two large tertiary education campuses, acres of beautiful homes in gated communities and over a dozen high-tech multinational facilities.

Not everyone is enamoured by this boom, though.

The mushrooming of high-rise residences has led to frustrating traffic bottlenecks, with huge jams leading to the older Penang bridge.

The import worker population has spiked and foreigners fill as much as 90% of homes in some residential estates. At the height of the pandemic, Covid-19 cases in such area were so high that they had to be sealed with barbed wire.

There are also frequent complaints of pollution caused by factories and pig and chicken farms.

Such discontent could trigger protest votes, something that MCA and Gerakan could take advantage of.

There is a strong likelihood that MCA will field local face Datuk Tan Lee Huat, 55, the Batu Kawan MCA and Barisan Nasional chief who has been a local community leader there for decades.

“The haphazard development here has caused so many problems. Traffic congestion and affordable housing needs will be my priority. I have been here since 2004 and I know what needs to be done,” Tan said.

Kasthuriraani, 43, was first fielded there in 2013. She won and was returned in 2018 with a good margin. She champions women’s rights, frequently asking hard questions in Parliament.

She denied talk yesterday that she had been dropped by the party. “This is not the case. I am stepping down on my own accord,” she said.

According to a party insider, Kasthuriraani does not have the best of relationships with the 73-year-old Ramasamy, who was the Batu Kawan MP from 2008 to 2013.

“Those in DAP circles know they do not attend each other’s events. They are seen together only during party events in the presence of national leaders,” the insider said.

P. David Marshel, 47, who is seen as Ramasamy’s man, is also said to be in line for the Batu Kawan seat.

Marshel has been a Seberang Prai City Council councillor for eight terms. He is a familiar face in mainland Penang, resolving many issues while helping the marginalised.

Asked about it, Marshel said he was willing to serve, be it in Parliament or the state assembly.

The Batu Kawan seat has always been a contentious one, with much drama behind closed doors even in 2013 and 2018.

“In 2018, DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang put his foot down as Kasthuriraani’s father, the late P. Patto, was his close comrade. So she got a second term,” said the source.

This time, the choice of candidate for Batu Kawan will again indicate how power is flowing in Penang.

Should Ramasamy head for Parliament, he may have to forgo his deputy chief minister’s post because of the “unwritten rule” in DAP that, except for the state chairmen and the secretary-general, all others can only to contest one seat, either Parliament or state.

A Ramasamy move to Dewan Rakyat would also see a power play over who the next Indian deputy chief minister is.

There are 13 parliamentary seats up for grabs in Penang, six on the island and seven on the mainland.

Pakatan holds 10, with DAP having seven and PKR three. Bersatu and Barisan have two and one, respectively.

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