The rail economics of East Coast Rail Link (ECRL)


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Rail link seen as game changer but cost is a concern.

TOK Bali, a fishing village in Kelantan with its beautiful sandy beaches and pristine blue waters has long been a hidden gem among well-travelled backpackers. But that may soon change. The idyllic town is one that is touted to potentially become a tourist hotspot, as it sits along the alignment of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a multi-billion infrastructure project that promises many economic spin-offs.

After almost a decade in planning, ECRL was launched with great pomp this week.

Touted as a key game-changer for the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia, the interstate ECRL is expected to help the economy of the four states that it covers by an additional 1.5% per year over the next 50 years.

On a micro level, more employment opportunities, particularly skilled jobs, will be made available to Malaysians. Domestic industry players especially in the construction sector, can now anticipate construction contracts to the tune of RM16bil, at least.

   
Another milstone:Najib checking out a train model at the ground-breaking ceremony this week.He called ECRL ‘another milestore in the country’s land public transport history”.

The ECRL is expected to benefit freight transport because it would link key economic and industrial areas within the East Coast Economic Region such as the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, Gambang Halal Park, Kertih Biopolymer Park and Tok Bali Integrated Fisheries Park to both Kuantan Port and Port Klang.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called it “another milestone in the country’s land public transport history”.

Despite the much highlighted economic benefits from the rail network, the venture is attracting its own share of controversies from the way the contract was awarded to the price of contract.

For one, China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has been appointed for the construction of ECRL via a direct negotiation method.

Detractors have labelled ECRL – at a cost of RM80mil per kilometre – as the world’s costliest rail project. Note that, the Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking stretch costs RM45mil per km.

ECRL, however, will go over hilly terrain and has several tunnels to be built.

There are questions on whether the 688km rail venture, at RM55bil, will be financially feasible.

Sources say the price tag is unlikely to have included land acquisition costs.

They indicate that close to half of the land plots required for the rail link sit on private land and would require land acquisition. At this point, the total land acquisition cost is unknown.

No money in rail

The concerns of the critics are understandable, given the fact that public infrastructure projects, namely rail projects are usually not commercially viable.

A quick check on the finances of Malaysia’s very own Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) and a number of major rail operators abroad, affirms the fact that rail projects do not promise easy money.

The loss-making KTMB which was corporatised in 1992, has not been able to financially sustain itself, resulting in the deterioration of its level of service despite attempts to turn around the company.

According to the railway service operator’s latest publicly available audited report for financial year 2013, the group registered a total net loss of RM128.2mil. However, note that, the net loss had narrowed by 46% from RM238.5mil in the previous year.

Had it not been for the government’s subsidy which kept it afloat, KTMB would find it difficult to continue its operations without a further raise of its fare.

In India, where railway is a favoured mode of transportation, the Indian Railways has been incurring losses on passenger operations every year. Earlier this year, the lower chamber of the Indian parliament was told that the state-owned rail operator recorded a loss of Rs359.18bil (RM24.04bil) in the period of 2015 to 2016.

This was slightly higher than its loss of Rs334.91bil (RM22.42bil) in the period of 2014-2015.

On the other hand, China’s state-owned rail operator, China Railway Corp, was reported to have recorded a 58% increase in earnings last year despite huge losses in the first nine months. However, a zoom into its finances reveals that the high profit made was only possible due to a significant annual government subsidy.

Similarly, Singapore’s SMRT Corp which manages the city-state’s rail operations posted a profit of S$7.4mil (RM23.33mil) in its financial year of 2016. This was on the back of a revenue of S$681mil (RM2.15bil), which rose by 4.1% year-on-year.

While the rail operations saw higher ridership in that year, SMRT Corp would have registered a loss of S$9.6mil (RM30.26mil) for its rail business, if not for the net property tax refund of S$17.1mil (RM53.9mil).

Considering the lack of commercial viability in such rail projects, ECRL would ultimately require assistance from the government in ensuring smooth operations, while maintaining an affordable service for its users. This is akin a crucial trade-off, to complement the government’s move to provide an integrated transportation system in Malaysia, which is long overdue.

AmBank Group’s chief economist Anthony Dass tells StarBizWeek that for every ringgit spent on capital projects such as transportation, it generates a return or multiplier effect of around 5% to 20%.

In his estimation, he says the ECRL should create around RM50-55bil in terms of gross domestic product.

“The impact of this project to the economy will be multilevel. Impact on the respective states’ GDP and national GDP will be evident, though the magnitude of the impact on the respective states is poised to vary.

“On a longer term, once the entire project is completed, we expect strong benefits seeping into services related activities. Properties in the major towns is likely to enjoy more especially the port-connected towns, driven by logistics- and trade-related businesses.

“Other areas would benefit from the movement of tourism. As for the smaller towns, they are more likely to enjoy from the spillovers of this connectivity through movement of people commuting to work and new areas of business growth especially in areas like the small and medium businesses,” says Anthony.

High cargo projections

By the year 2040, an estimated 8 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo are expected to use the ECRL service annually as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

By 2040, ECRL is projected to support a freight density of 19 million tonnes.

The freight cargo projections of the rail network stands in stark contrast to the total cargo volume running through the entire Malaysian railways today.

As of 2015, the entire Malaysian railways operations handled a sum of 6.21 million tons of cargo, according to a study related to the ECRL.

To note, the revenue from the operation of the venture is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.

If the projections of ECRL are anything to go by, the planners are anticipating a ballistic growth in volume of cargo being moved along the tracks.

Is this realistic?

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie remains concerned on the details of the project financing, albeit the expected trickle-down benefits of ECRL.

“While ECRL has been identified as a high impact public transport project that will connect east coast states with the west coast, especially Greater KL and Klang Valley, the high cost of RM55bil requires further justification. More clarity on the cost structure and terms and conditions of the loan is needed to ease public genuine concerns.

“It must be noted that the high costs, low profits and long gestation periods of transportation projects do not always make them financially viable. The financial viability of the ECRL would depend on the revenue generated to cover operating cash flow, including interest expenses.

“As the loan will have a seven year moratorium, the bunching of loan repayment together with interest payment will be substantial in the remaining 13 years,” he says.

Lowering cost the key

In terms of funding, 85% of the total project value of RM55bil would be to be funded by Exim Bank of China’s through a soft loan at a 3.25% interest.

The balance 15% would be financed through a sukuk programme by local banks.

There is no payment for the first seven years, and the government starts paying after the seventh year over a 13-year period.

At 3.25% interest per annum, the interest servicing bill for the project is huge.

“Hence the main challenge to this project will be to bring down cost as low as possible. The lower the cost, the lesser it would be the burden on the government’s balance sheet,” says an industry player.

Echoing a similar view, Lee noted the ERCL project loan is expected to be treated as “contingent liability” as it will be taken by Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd, a special purpose vehicle owned by the Ministry of Finance.

This is also to ensure that the Federal Government will not breach the self-imposed debt to GDP ratio of 55%.

As at end-March 2017, the Federal Government’s debt stood at RM664.5bil or 50.2% of GDP.

At the end of the day, despite the concerns on the possible cost overrun in the ECRL project, proper management and efficiency in project delivery could lead to cost savings and ultimately lower overall expenditure for ECRL.

History has shown that Malaysian companies can lower the cost, especially on rail projects compared to foreign players.

In the late 1990s, a consortium of India and China state-owned companies were awarded the contract to build a double track electrified railway system from Padang Besar to Johor Baru. The cost was estimated at RM44bil and paid through crude palm oil.

However, an MMC Corp Bhd-Gamuda Bhd joint venture managed to win the job in 2003 with a RM14.3bil proposal. However this project was shelved and subsequently continued after a lull of few years.

ECRL is a seven year project to be built in stages. Many factors can come into play in that period like delay in construction and rise in material costs.

However in the bigger picture, the infrastructure venture should not merely be seen from a commercial-viable lens alone. The trickle-down benefits on the economy and the Malaysian population should also be factored into the calculations.

The lower the cost, the higher the multiplier effect.

Source: The Star by ganeshwaran kanaandgurmeet kaur

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  Boom time is here for railway towns,
little places that dot the route of the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link
from Port Klang to Kota Bar…

Rail link a huge economic boost, big news for small towns in Malaysia


 
Boom time is here for railway towns, little places that dot the route of the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link from Port Klang to Kota Baru. Not only will the link shorten travel time between the west and the underdeveloped east of the peninsula, it will also unlock huge economic potential, create thousands of jobs and bring down the country’s carbon footprint. And it could all happen sooner than expected.

KUANTAN: Exciting days are ahead for the many small towns that dot the route of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) from Port Klang to the Kota Baru.

A host of towns including Bentong, Mentakab, Maran, Kuantan, Cherating, Chukai, Dungun, Kuala Terengganu and Tok Bali and Kota Baru, all of which are designated as ECRL stations, are looking at boom times ahead.

The ECRL will also benefit freight transport as it will link key economic and industrial areas within the East Coast Economic Region such as the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, Gambang Halal Park, Kertih Biopolymer Park and Tok Bali Integrated Fisheries Park to both Kuantan Port and Port Klang.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called it “another milestone in the country’s land public transport history”.

With its slogan of “Connecting Lives, Accelerating Growth”, Najib said the project sets the tone for an economic spin-off effect and positive social impact for the east coast states.

“The ECRL is a high impact project that will provide easy access from the Klang Valley to Pahang, Terengganu and Kelan­tan.

“The 688km rail link will be a catalyst for economic equality between the west coast and east coast as it will stimulate investments, spur commercial activity, create ample jobs, facilitate quality education and boost tourism in the states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan,” he said at the ground-breaking ceremony here yesterday.

Najib also urged local contractors with capabilities and know-how to seize the opportunity to take part in the project.

“We have together with our Chinese counterpart agreed that Malaysian contractors will be involved in at least 30% of this high impact project,” Najib said.

“The viability of the ECRL is undisputed as it is estimated that 5.4 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo will use the service annually by the year 2030 as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

“Comparatively, revenue from the operation of the ECRL project is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.”

Najib said the project was long overdue as the east coast states of the peninsula had only been connected to the west coast via a network of roads, highways and woefully inadequate rail lines.

Najib also urged local contractors with capabilities and know-how to seize the opportunity to take part in the project.

“We have together with our Chinese counterpart agreed that Malaysian contractors will be involved in at least 30% of this high impact project,” Najib said.

“The viability of the ECRL is undisputed as it is estimated that 5.4 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo will use the service annually by the year 2030 as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

“Comparatively, revenue from the operation of the ECRL project is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.”

Najib said the project was long overdue as the east coast states of the peninsula had only been connected to the west coast via a network of roads, highways and woefully inadequate rail lines.

The railway line, with 12 passenger-only stations, three freight stations and seven combined passenger-freight stations, is expected to increase the gross domestic product of the east coast states by 1.5%.

China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company has been appointed for the construction of the RM55bil project.

Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd is the special purpose vehicle under the Minister of Finance Incorporated tasked as the project owner.

Rail link a huge economic boost – ECRL project set to create over 80,000 jobs and promote businesses along its route

KUANTAN: The economic impact of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is huge and critics who say it is not feasible are wrong.

“There will be a multiplier effect. When there are more business people, we can get more taxes and government revenue will increase,” Malaysia Rail Link (MRL) chairman Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said.

He said critics must also look at the development that would take place alongside the ECRL in the long run.

China Communications Construction Group chairman Liu Qitao said the ECRL project was of great economic significance.

“It will promote social development and improve the living standards of those along the railway line, especially in the east coast,” he said.

Liu said that the rail link was also expected to generate more than 80,000 jobs for Malay­sians during its construction period.

Another 6,000 jobs will be created during the rail’s operation and the Chinese government will also train more than 3,000 Malaysian students.

A total of 3,600 graduates will be trained in rail technology through the ECRL Industrial Skills Training (PLKI-ECRL) programme.

Its chief coordinator Prof Dr Rizalman Mamat said about 1,000 applications had already been received as of yesterday.

“The first intake of 50 participants will begin in September with the next intake of 250 scheduled in December.

The next batch of 700 trainees will be in April next year.

“The programme will be focused specifically on the socio-economic development of the east coast but this does not mean those in the west coast cannot take part.

Dr Rizalman said the training was open to graduates who majored in civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

He added that Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) had been appointed as the focal university for the implementation of the programme, with cooperation from Beijing Jiaotong University and Southwest Jiaotong University and other institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.

He said railway technology was developing rapidly and the programme was a stepping stone for UMP to develop rail engineering in the future.

The training under the programme will take four to six months, said Dr Rizalman.

China state councillor Wang Yong said ECRL was a landmark project for China and Malaysia.

“The team from our two sides have had productive cooperation. This is a full demonstration of the friendship between China and Malaysia and its efficiency,” said Wang.

MRL project director Yew Yow Boo said the railway would have 88.8km of viaducts mostly in Kelantan and Terengganu to bypass flood-prone areas.

Yew said the first phase would have a total length of 49km of tunnels at 19 locations with the longest being 17.9km connecting Bukit Tinggi and Gombak.

Source: The Star/ANN

Liow: Do not politicise the ECRL

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5537464019001
KAJANG: The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is created for the people and country, and should not be politicised or turned into a racial or language issue, says Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

“I would like to emphasise that the ECRL is one of the most important projects for the nation.

“It’s a game changer for the east coast. It is for the country’s economic development and to help us reach greater heights.

“The theme is very clear, we’re pushing for connecting lines and accelerating growth,” he said after attending Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s 15th anniversary celebration at its Sungai Long campus here yesterday.

The RM55bil ECRL from Port Klang to Kota Baru, which is 534.58km long, is estimated to be completed in 2024.

Liow cautioned actions that could harm good bilateral ties between Malaysia and China were counter-productive.

 

Varsity pillars: (Standing from left to right) Utar founding president Tan Sri Dr Ng Lay Swee, MCA vice president Datuk Dr Hou Kok Chung, Dr Chuah, Dr Ling, Liow, Dr Ting, Chong and Utar Board of Trustees chairman Tan Sri Dr Sak Cheng Lum cutting Utar’s anniversary cake. 

“We must explain to the people that the ECRL is for them and the nation. They should not be misled by those out to create a controversy,” he said.

The ECRL was launched in Kuantan on Wednesday.

Certain groups had criticised the rail link launch, claiming that it was “too Chinese”.

Liow described the launch as a successful event, adding that the project was set to bring many benefits to Malaysians.

“We have received a lot of support for the project. We are looking forward to its completion,” he added.
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Small town, big names in Bentong war part 2, Malaysian election fever


 

Bentong Liow_Felda-scheme

Meeting the people: Liow speaking during an NGO dinner in Bentong.

Felda scheme with a potent voice

Lurah Bilut stands tall as the nation’s first Felda scheme, pioneered by settlers from all races from different parts of the country.

LURAH BILUT is just about 19km away from Bentong. It is a huge piece of fertile land located near Sungai Bilut and the Kelau forest reserve.

It is safe to say that most Malaysians, especially those staying in the cities, have never heard of this place and have no reason to come here.

But Lurah Bilut is not only the first Felda scheme in the country but one that was pioneered by settlers from all races after independence.

In this 12,920-acre (5,228ha) enclave, located within the Bentong parliamentary constituency, there are Malays, Chinese, Indians and the Orang Asli, and their children can go to either the national school or the national-type schools where the medium is in Chinese or Tamil.

The scheme was opened in 1957 and each settler was given 10 acres (4ha) of land. According to records, the first batch of settlers who entered the scheme on Aug 2, 1959, was from Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur. They were brought into the area by bus and were shocked to find themselves in a jungle.

One Chinese settler, who arrived here in 1959 from Negri Sembilan with just his clothes on his back, was given tools to hack away at the dense growth, according to one report. There is one road here called Jalan Pulau Pinang, because the settlers came from Penang.

As with everything that is new and untested, the settlers had to be imbued with a sense of adventure. Certainly they could not foresee the success that Felda would turn out to be eventually. Thus these early settlers in Lurah Bilut came to be known as the Pioneering Bulls and have become some kind of a legend in this Felda scheme.

Felda was set up to eradicate rural poverty through the use of effective agricultural methods to cultivate cash crops such as rubber and oil palm. In recent years, there has also been special emphasis on diversification to deal with the fluctuations in commodity prices.

On my visit to this Felda scheme, it was clear that many were eager to share their experiences with me. There is a sense of pride over what has taken place here.

Strategising: Wong meeting with his team of campaigners at his service centre in Bentong. Strategising: Wong meeting with his team of campaigners at his service centre in Bentong.

I am sitting at a restaurant opposite the Lurah Bilut Chinese school where the Barisan Nasional campaigners are having their lunch break.

A vegetarian meal has been prepared for incumbent MP Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and as he sat down at the table, the MCA deputy president invited those at the table to share his vegetarian dishes.

But many jokingly told him that they would take his share of meat instead, a joke which he has heard many times.

The Bentong parliamentary seat which Liow won with a 12,585 majority when he polled 51,340 votes against his PKR opponent R. Ponusamy’s 12,585 votes is regarded as a safe seat for the Barisan Nasional.

The current electorate of 62,400 voters comprise 43.9% Chinese, 44.6% Malays, 9.4% Indians, 0.5% Orang Asl and the rest, others.

Liow is expected to deliver this seat to the BN but no one is taking any chances this time because of the perception that the Chinese sentiments against the BN are very strong, even in Bentong where they have always been traditionally pro-BN.

Even the Bilut state seat, held by the MCA, is under threat from the Pakatan Rakyat. Liow has to work extra hard to campaign for 36-year-old Leong Kim Soon, who is contesting this seat. Leong’s grand uncle is the late Tan Sri Chan Siang Sun, who was the legendary MP for Bentong.

Leong, who is the political secretary to Liow, is facing DAP’s Chow Yu Hui.

In this rural setting, the two have gone from door to door, under the hot afternoon sun, to shake the hands of every voter.

Said a campaigner: “This is a crucial area as it is racially mixed and we want to cover as much ground as possible.”

Unlike the Felda schemes in Johor, especially, where Pakatan Rakyat candidates are literally chased away by the settlers, the PR workers have been able to put up their flags and banners, an indication that a fight is at hand.

In the Bentong town centre, Liow’s challenger is Wong Tack, who made a name for himself as the anti-Lynas campaigner. In his green T-shirt, Wong was raising environment issues but his credentials have taken a knock after he was exposed as the owner of a 1,000-acre (404ha) oil palm estate in Sabah.

Wong also had to fend off the revelation that he held Canadian permanent residence status, explaining that it was cancelled by the Canadian authorities because he did not go back to the country.

But the BN campaigners have been hammering on that issue, questioning why there was a need for him to collect donations at every ceramah when he is pretty well off financially.

They asked how many of the voters, especially settlers, could even dream of owning 1,000 acres of land and if they knew how much money had been collected so far.

But Wong seems undeterred by these issues, saying he was well-prepared to challenge Liow for Bentong,

and also Mentri Besar Datuk Adnan Yaacob, who is contesting in the Pelangai state seat, under Bentong.
Wong’s campaigners, mostly youngsters, are visibly seen in town, especially at the market, where they aggressively tell voters to go for change.

One Universiti Malaya student said she had volunteered to canvass votes for Wong because she had been actively involved in the anti-Lynas campaign.

“My belief in him remains the same. I will still support him and the DAP, nothing will change my stand,’’ the third-year student said. She said her parents knew that she was campaigning and wholeheartedly supported her.

Her friends, many eager to express their views, said they were using their own expenses to stay in Bentong.

At the Bentong Jaya coffeeshop, the discussions focus on the sentiments of the Chinese, swayed by DAP’s talk that Pakatan Rakyat would take over the Federal Government. Only a few were cautiously warning about the implications of the Chinese voting themselves out of the government.

A businessman from Kuala Lumpur said he had been trying to explain to some Chinese voters that while their sentiments are pro-Pakatan, the majority of Malays would be backing Barisan.

“The huge crowd at DAP ceramah can be deceiving because the Malay style of campaigning, in Felda areas, is to have small get-together sessions, prayers at the suraus and house to house visits. As these are not visible, the Chinese think the huge crowd means PR would take over,” he said.

In Bentong, the local dialect is Kwong Sai, which originates from Guangxi province in southern China. As we continued with our drinks, the locals at the neighbouring tables were listening attentively.

The politicians and campaigners have been doing all the talking so far but come May 5, the voters will be doing the talking via the ballot box. The stand of the majority in Bentong would be known then.

On the GE13 Beat
By WONG CHUN WAI

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Small town, big names in Bentong war, Malaysian election fever 

Small town, big names in Bentong war, Malaysian election fever


Politics up close and personal in a small town is different even if the candidates are major players at the national stage.

TIADA tingkap RM57.25, ada tingkap RM76.35 (without window it is RM57.25, with window it is RM76.35),” said a Hotel Kristal receptionist over the phone.

The difference was RM19.10. I decided to splurge and go for “ada tingkap”.

I wanted a room with a view for my quick stay at Bentong town in Pahang on Friday. The eve of a weekend presented a window of opportunity for me to get out of Greater Kuala Lumpur.Bentong_Loke Yew Street

Since nomination day I’ve attended poli­ti­­­cal activities in the MP seats of Lembah Pantai, Serdang and Putrajaya and I wanted a change in political scenery.

Bentong was tempting as it is a hot seat. Incumbent MP and MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is facing fiery environmentalist Wong Tack of the DAP, who had threatened to burn the Lynas plant.

I also wanted a taste of politics in a sm­­all town and the famous ABC (ais batu campur) in Kow Po Coffee Shop.

Plus, I wanted to contribute to Star Online’s Storify timeline. (Storify users, in the words of Storify.com, tell stories by collecting updates from social networks, amplifying the voices that matter to create a new story format that is interactive, dynamic and social.)

On that day, The Star was covering the campaign trail of Liow and Wong via Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

After an 80-minute, 85km-drive from Subang Jaya, I arrived in the quaint town of Bentong, once a mining town, at around 3.30pm.

Here’s how I judge a town. “Wah, got KFC! Wah, got 7-Eleven! Wah, got Secret Recipe! Wah, got HSBC!,” I told my wife as I drove around the town which was like a big roundabout.

“Wah, no McDonalds!,” I told her. It seemed if you lived in Bentong, you had to drive 37km to Genting Sempat, on the foothill of Genting Highlands (and also part of the Bentong parliamentary constituency), if you had a McAttack.

One of the best hotels in town is Hotel Kristal. I checked in and quickly checked out my “ada tingkap” room. The view was that of a rather narrow Bentong River, the back of KFC and Barisan Nasional flags. It was worth the extra RM19.10.

Across the Bentong River and about a few kilometres from Hotel Kristal is Kampung Baru Perting, a Chinese new village, which is a DAP stronghold. I drove there as a candidate running for the Bentong seat was campaigning door-to-door.

It was drizzling. After a five-minute drive around the village, I spotted two dozen people carrying blue Barisan umbrellas. Must be Liow Tiong Lai, I told myself.

The 52-year-old politician has been the Bentong MP since 1999. Liow was working his way through a row of wooden and concrete houses together with his mentor Tan Sri Lim Ah Lek, a former Bentong MP and MCA deputy president.

I took their photograph and tweeted (when the Internet signal was strong enough) it.

The silver-haired 70-year-old retired politician, according to my colleague T. Avinesh­waran, was amazing as he remembered almost all of the residents’ names.

Earlier, at 11am, Liow’s opponent Wong Tack had a press conference at the DAP office in Bentong town. At that time I was still in Petaling Jaya. But, via the Storify time­­line curated by Michelle Tam, I felt as if I was in Bentong town covering it.

One of the questions asked of the politi­cian, who made a name for the anti-Lynas campaign, was on the revelation over the Inter­­­­­­­­­­­­­­net that he owned large tract of oil palm plantation in Sabah.

In a video uploaded by Avineshwaran on YouTube immediately after his press conference, Wong said those who questioned his environmental credentials should call Datuk Masidi Manjun, Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister, to ask about his contribution to environmental conservation in Sabah.

Tashny Sukumaran, my colleague, tweeted: “@wong_tack asked that @liowtionglai call @MasidiM to ask about his contributions to environmental conservation in Sabah. #bentong #ge13” and Masidi replied on Twitter: “let them fight their own battle like a gentleman #ge13”.

That’s the beauty of social media. The response is immediate and public.

Done with the Liow door-to-door campaigning, I decided to follow my rule #72 of covering a campaign trail – patronise a famous eatery in the town you are in.

I drove to Kow Po Coffee Shop. I managed to chat with the 80-year-old Tan Kow Po and his 48-year-old son, Michael. In 1969, Kow Po established the ABC and ice cream parlour at the same premises which it still occupies now.

Kow Po gave me the low-down on the political scenario in his hometown, Bentong.

At first I could not understand which party he was referring to as he used gestures to describe them.

Finally, I understood that when he made a quick stab with his index finger it meant DAP’s rocket and an O-sign repre­­sen­­­­­­­ted PAS’ moon.

If I was to understand the nuances of the ice cream maker’s political observations, I think he meant: be careful of voting based on the flavour of the month.

 One Man’s Meat by PHILIP GOLINGAI

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