Eyeing Dato A Jalil Hamid's take on Mukhriz and the Sungai Limau By Election
BY-ELECTION: The battle for Sungai Limau can be won by solving bread-and-butter issues
DATUK Mukhriz Mahathir once told this paper that his vision as Kedah menteri besar was to bring down the poverty rate in the state to zero from three per cent currently.
"This has compelled me to work hard to develop Kedah," he said matter-of-factly.
Even before he came into office in May, the youngest child of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has had his plate full, from the general election to the Umno election, and now, the Sungai Limau by-election.
Tomorrow's by-election is yet another test, some say even a referendum, on Mukhriz and his new team, in running the country's rice bowl.
The 49-year-old has helped steer Barisan Nasional into winning back Kedah from Pakatan Rakyat, came close to winning an Umno vice-president's seat and is now engaged in the tough battle for the Sungai Limau seat, held since 1995 by his predecessor, the late Tan Sri Azizan Abdul Razak of Pas.
This is not to mention other pressing issues which he has to deal with. These include managing the RM3 billion Federal Government loans that were raised by the previous Pas administration and the touchy issue involving Kolej Universiti Insaniah (KUIN), another of Pas' legacies.
These days, the new menteri besar sleeps just four hours a night, according to one account.
Eradicating poverty in the state is something close to his heart. He is drawing up a comprehensive plan to transform Kedah by boosting economic growth and raising the people's incomes.
Last month, he conducted a laboratory comprising experts on how to move the transformation agenda forward. The release of the full conclusion of the lab has been delayed until after the by-election.
Eliminating hard-core poverty will be an uphill task for Mukhriz and his administration. Most people, including those in Sungai Limau, rely on padi farming or fishing for their livelihoods.
The battle for Sungai Limau is dominated by bread-and-butter issues. The constituency is predominantly a rice-farming community. There are hardly any factories to provide jobs for school-leavers. Some houses are still dilapidated and some are without basic water supply or sanitation.
Many blamed Pas (the seat was held by Tan Sri Azizan for five terms) for the plight of the poor because much Federal Government assistance was constrained by Pas' brand of politics.
Apparently, Pas supporters were discouraged from seeking Federal Government assistance. Those who sought help were ridiculed by their grassroots leaders.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and other BN leaders have promised to bring in much needed development to Sungai Limau to help address the prolonged state of neglect of the area by Pas.
During one of his campaign rounds in Sungai Limau on Friday, Mukhriz witnessed the supply of piped water to the home of Embun Man, a 78-year-old senior citizen who lives in a small house in Sungai Dedap.
Basic needs such as water, electricity, medical care, roads, food, shelter and education should be high on Mukhriz's agenda to transform Kedah's rural society.
Rural folk formed the foundation of BN's strength in the last general election. Efforts should be made to ensure that the rural heartland is not sidelined or marginalised at the expense of the urban electorate.
As far as Kedah's development is concerned, it should accelerate efforts to modernise farming, introduce high-yielding rice varieties, boost oil palm cultivation and downstream activities, encourage better fishing methods, including deep-sea fishing, and promote value-added agro-based industries.
The state should work on its economic model that complements its inherent strengths rather than try to emulate other states.
Kedah is already a major player in tourism through Langkawi. But other than job opportunities, there is not much revenue coming into the state coffers through it.
One industry that Mukhriz and his predecessors have been toying with is the crude oil-refining industry, which is earmarked for the district of Yan on the coast of Kedah. The project, which is supposed to be driven by private investors, has yet to materialise.
The outcome of the Sungai Limau by-election should inspire Mukhriz and his team to work harder to win the hearts and minds, not just of rural voters, but of Kedahans in general.
Expectations are running high that the BN government will be able to make a big difference in their lives.