By Leslie Lau
The majority of voters in peninsular Malaysia are against the proposed construction of the 100-storey Warisan Merdeka project, a recent survey by the independent Merdeka Center has revealed.
The survey, conducted between November 30 and December 11, found that 65 per cent of those polled disagreed with the construction of what would be the tallest building in the country.
Opposition to the project was uniform across all three major communities.
Sixty per cent of Malay voters polled disagreed with the project while 76 per cent of Chinese opposed its construction. Among Indians, 58 per cent were against it.
The findings suggest that a recent online protest on the Facebook social networking site was a fair reflection of public opposition to the project.
More than 200,000 Malaysians registered their protest on Facebook in a campaign launched soon after the project was announced a few months ago.
Last month, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad warned of a property glut that would result from the construction of the proposed tower.
Dr Mahathir had said that the government should consult the public before proceeding with the project, announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak when tabling Budget 2011.
Government investment arm Pemodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) had defended the RM5 billion project, saying that it would neither involve public nor depositor funds.
PNB has formed PNB Merdeka Ventures as a wholly-owned unit to undertake the RM5 billion skyscraper project on the land it bought from Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Berhad in 2000.
PNB paid RM310 million or RM220 per sq ft to buy the land, but the market value of the land has since appreciated to RM800 per sq ft today.
The land was initially given to UEM Berhad in exchange for the infrastructure giant building the National Stadium complex in Bukit Jalil for the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders have also derided the grandiose skyscraper project as wasteful and accused Datuk Seri Najib Razak of trying to “out-Mahathir” Dr Mahathir.
Dr Mahathir had embarked on a massive development spree after he took power in 1981 by building highways, the Penang Bridge, opening new industrial estates and oversaw the construction of the Petronas Twin Towers, the KL International Airport, the Sepang International Circuit, intra-city train lines, several ports, and the new administrative capital Putrajaya and its neighbouring Cyberjaya, which was central to the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project.
Najib appeared to distance himself from the controversial tower when he made it known that the project did not originate from him but PNB.
He nevertheless defended it, saying that it would have a “multiplier effect” on the economy and help drive it forward, in addition to providing an attractive commercial centre for Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera businesses alike.
In his 2011 Budget speech, Najib said the rationale for the Warisan Merdeka tower was similar to that of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, in that it would serve as a symbol of a modern and developed Malaysia.
The 19-acre development area of the mega project — which includes a condominium and a shopping mall — is sited on the car park and land adjacent to Stadium Negara and Stadium Merdeka.