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Mar 2, 2008

They supported BN in past, but now...


ALL her life, she has supported the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). But this year, Madam Siti Hajar Awang, 78, and her family find themselves at acrossroads.

Madam Siti Hajar Awang (far right) with her daughter and her grandchildren. --Picture: JONATHAN CHOO

For the first time, they find themselves drawn to the words of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

'From what we hear, there is an allocation of funds for our district for upgrading and other uses, but it doesn't seem to reach the ground,' said her grandson, MrSazali Ramli, 25, mentioning insufficient road lights and unfinished roads in the area as examples.

Said Madam Siti Hajar, who lives in a 60-year-old wooden house with two children and three grandchildren in Pulau Betong, Balik Pulau, Penang: 'I can't decide who to vote for this year.'

As with many other villagers, her main concern is the steep rise in living costs.

She and her daughter, MadamSiti RamahAbu Hassan, 60, make traditional Malay kueh (cakes) that they sell to a shop.

Said Madam Siti Hajar: 'The prices of oil, flour, eggs and sugar have all increased. It used to cost RM20 ($9) a day to make the kueh, but now, it costs RM30.

'Sometimes, we need to put in more effort and make more kueh to earn more money.'

They have also struggled to control their monthly household expenses, which have risen from RM450 a year ago to RM600 now.

Madam Siti Hajar said their house - for which they pay annual rent of RM120 - needed some renovation.

Her other grandson, MrHaris Idris, 25, is also uncertain who to vote for.

Like Mr Sazali, Mr Haris missed registering for the 2004 elections and will be voting for the first time.

Mr Sazali said: 'We are quite excited that we are able to get involved this time and can vote.'


Mr Haris felt that more could be done to improve their lives.

'For youngsters like us, we don't have a proper place to play ball, for example.'

They have been roped in to put up flags and posters for BN, but are doing it mostly for the small stipend that they get.

Like many young men in their kampung, the cousins work in the factories owned by multinational companies in Bayan Lepas.

They travel on motorcycles and have been affected by the rising fuel costs.

Mr Sazali said that although they like BN as a party, they feel the leadership has been ineffective.

'The PM has been slow in stimulating the economy. Factories have been closing down,' he said.

But Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has denied that foreign investor confidence in Penang has eroded.

He said the state's economy will instead be enhanced further under the Northern Corridor Economic Region project.

But the family is not quite convinced.

'Our state assemblyman seems to appear only when the elections are round the corner,' said Mr Sazali.


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