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Feb 26, 2008

We will all vote OPPOSITION !!! - Tsunami victims

Malaysian tsunami victims threaten protest vote
26 February 2008

KEDAH, Malaysia - Malaysia’s tsunami victims are threatening to cast a protest vote against the government in March 8 polls over broken promises for new homes and mismanagement of relief funds.

In the sleepy town of Kota Kuala Muda in northern Kedah state, villagers whose homes were swept away by the deadly waves say that more than three years after the tragedy the government has still not kept its word.

“I was given a letter and keys by Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2005 to a temporary settlement with a promise that we will be later shifted to a new house,” says Abdul Wahab Zainon. “It breaks my heart when the promise is broken. I don’t know why they did this to me,” said the 57-year-old, who still lives in his damaged house with his family.

The December 2004 tragedy, which ravaged the coastlines of a dozen countries claimed 66 victims in Malaysia, mostly swept from the beaches of the island state of Penang.

Further north, Kota Kuala Muda suffered the worst damage to homes, boats and businesses, with at least 700 simple wooden shacks damaged or destroyed as well as 12 lives lost.

Most people in the area are fishermen and rice farmers, and commonly have large families of four to five children which they support on incomes of only about 500 ringgit (156 dollars) a month.

Abdul Wahab said his village used to be a stronghold of the powerful United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has governed Malaysia since independence in 1957 at the head of the National Front multiracial coalition.

But Abdul Wahab said that like many others here, his allegiance had shifted after he received aid worth only a quarter of the 10,000 ringgit (3,115 US dollars) he spent making his home habitable.

“We will all vote the Islamic Party PAS, or Keadilan,” he said, referring to two opposition parties hoping to make strong gains this year as the government faces criticism over rising prices and seething ethnic tensions.

Another disgruntled villager Shafigam Shuib, 32, said the Malaysian public had donated some 85 million ringgit in relief funds but there was nothing to be shown for their generosity.

He pointed to some abandoned structures — foodstalls, a community hall and a tsunami museum that were half-built after the tragedy and are now just eyesores after the projects stalled.

“This is a classic case of corruption and wastage. Do we need those structures? No. Why waste the money? It should be used to upgrade our broken homes here and upgrade the road which floods whenever it rains heavily.

“I will vote PAS. I want to deny victory to UMNO,” he said.

Across a river in the sister town of Kuala Muda, the damage was minimal but the government said it would shift villagers away from the vulnerable shoreline. They too are still waiting.

“To meet the ruling politician to seek help is impossible. Only his cronies get to see him. Many youths have deserted UMNO,” said Latif Hashim, 32.

“Now I climb trees to put up PAS flags. I am going to vote the opposition in the March polls,” he said.

In Kuala Muda, which is part of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s constituency, a brightly coloured housing scheme for tsunami victims has been built but the scores of single-storey dwellings remain empty.

Local PAS member Zulkifli Ishak said it will remain a ghost town because locals cannot afford the 40,000 ringgit that each of the homes costs.

T. Jayabalan, a social activist in Penang, said that despite the anger, the government’s well-established electoral machine and huge resources would ensure it retained seats in the tsunami zone.

“The fact the promises made after the tsunami have not been held, we will see some votes going to the opposition,” he said.

“But voters only see the opposition figures during elections. The people do not see the opposition as a viable alternative.”

A 2006 report by Malaysia’s auditor-general found that millions of ringgit in aid money for tsunami victims was badly managed.

The report also targeted poor construction standards in the repair and building of houses in Penang and Kedah, saying that ”contracts were not signed, projects completed late and the quality of the work shoddy”.


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