Restoring the free port status may go down well with the business community but it will have no impact on the lower and middle income groups.GEORGE TOWN: Restoring Penang’s free port status (FPS) will be a strategic move by Barisan Nasional to win more votes in the coming general election, said an academician here today.
But it might not be enough to recapture the state because it would not be a vote-catcher among the state’s lower-middle income group, according to Assoc Prof Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
The academician said BN could woo votes from the dominant Chinese business community if the federal government restored Penang’s FPS, which was revoked in 1969.
However, he noted that since FPS would benefit only certain segments of society, it might fall short of capturing the imagination of the lower and middle wage earners, who made up a large portion of the state’s voters.
“These wage earners’ demands and needs are different than that of the business community,” he told FMT.
Although restoring FPS would be a smart move, he suggested that BN had to implement different strategies to woo the wage earning voters, especially Malays and Indians.
Among the lower-middle income group issues that BN should address, he said, were affordable housing, public transportation, employment, especially in the civil service, and small business opportunities.
He said BN could win over lower-middle income Penangites if the coalition could assure establishing a legal mechanism to control inflating land and housing prices in the state.
Since 2008, he said land and housing prices in Penang had rocketed beyond the reach of ordinary local residents.
“Only the rich, including foreigners, can afford to buy land and houses in Penang, especially on the island. It’s a serious violation of the natural birth rights of the locals.
“But the Pakatan Rakyat state government has failed to address this issue,” he added.
Sivamurugan said BN should unveil its strategies to increase foreign direct investments (FDIs) in the manufacturing sector, the state’s number one revenue earner.
He said BN should also reveal the steps it would take to boost the tourism industry if it regained Penang.
If BN could focus on all these issues in its state election manifesto, Sivamurugan said the coalition had a good chance of winning over wage-earning voters.
He said neither BN nor Pakatan could ignore the importance of these lower-middle income voters as they proved to be crucial in the last general election.
“They played a pivotal role in swinging the tide from BN to Pakatan in Penang in 2008,” he added.