Permatang Pauh, more than meets the eye...


Written on 3/21/2008 04:30:00 pm by sikapitan

At this moment, I’m in Penang Island, the crown of the Opposition’s jewel maybe. I was here since yesterday, ironically, moving from one Opposition state (Selangor), passing through another (Perak), before reaching my hometown. It is, to me, a chain of states that has always been closely connected due to the migration of the younger generation to KL.

The younger generation, or so I’ve been led to believe, are IT-savvy. Therefore, they remain the main source and recipient of a lot of alternative information available online. Prior to GE 12, these young “migrants” return to their hometown to lay down the “truth” to their parents about the corruption, nepotism, arrogance and mismanagement of the present government. In my opinion, it is not surprising that these states fell to the Opposition like a huge domino stack.

Anyway, today I visited my father’s Aunt at Permatang Pauh, the parliamentary seat currently being held by Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah. Before that, we stopped by my father’s former High School, the BM High School (primarily to show my wife that yes, we are not that boring of a family). But this High School holds with it a legacy that may change the course of Malaysian politics. You see, BM High School was also where both Pak Lah and Anwar Ibrahim attended their secondary education.

Pak Lah’s apparent weakness and incompetence has allowed a resurgent Anwar to lead the Opposition to unprecedented victory in GE 12. Now that talks are rife of East Malaysia’s BN reps ready to jump ship, it might really be possible for Anwar to be our next PM. So this humble area (including Kepala Batas, Pak Lah’s hometown and Parliamentary seat) full of traditional Malay houses and surrounded by paddy fields may be the place which give rise to two PMs.

Back to my father’s Aunt, or more fondly known as Tok Su. Now, Tok Su used to be Permatang Pauh’s Wanita UMNO’s chief, back when Anwar was the Deputy Prime Minister and the MP of that area. In fact, I remember the days when we would attend his open house and get RM 2. I used to quip that it was pretty stingy for a Finance Minister (but he had THOUSANDS of kids coming over).

So you would have guessed, correctly, that when the Anwar-Mahathir debacle came to a head with Anwar’s sacking and arrest, a lot of this strong supporters formed PKR. Tok Su became a highly influential member of PKR in that area, and her strong and vocal voice was often at loggerheads with her previous mates who are still sticking with UMNO. But she was distinctly beyond dirty politics from the start, preferring instead to use wit and humour to gather supporters.

From an area where UMNO was predominant, the Anwar saga really split the people into two camps. Those who stayed with UMNO must have laughed at the attempts of PKR, especially after 2004 where the Opposition was truly wiped out with only Wan Azizah remaining as the lone, lonely soldier. It also splits families, and Tok Su’s wasn’t spared, although the fall-out was not as catastrophic as some I’ve heard.

She is the epitome of a grass-root leader who will decline posts and money just to serve loyally her elected representative. Without fear or favour she declined the tempting offers from UMNO and threats from others. So I guess she must have been delighted to hear of the Opposition amazing victory in Penang (she seems completely oblivious to what’s going on in other States...she couldn’t care less).

She looked animated and excited when we were discussing politics (well, it was more like her telling a lot of amazing stories and us listening). I can share with you that the current Timbalan Menteri Besar of Penang, M. Fairus, a 32-year old PKR ADUN of Penanti, was selected just two days before nomination day because there was NOT enough candidates to stand for the Opposition. In fact, he came in without any money (basically, he’s just a simple guy without funding), and this was even raised by UMNO supporters during their campaigns. I guess UMNO was still trying to play the “money-game” and hoping that most Malays are still after the quick buck.

So the joke was that if my father had accepted Tok Su’s offer to stand as a candidate in Penanti, he would have been the Timbalan Menteri Besar. He missed out big time, my mom said. But my father said that if he comes in as an ADUN simply because he wants the TMB post that would not be ethical and morally correct. God, he’s sooooo straight that it gets annoying sometime. I guess a lot of Permatang Pauh’s folks are now ruing their missed opportunity to be the TMB of Penang. It’s just, as Malays say it, his rezeki.

M. Fairus had no money, but he had the support of people who worked NOT for the money, which “surprisingly” yields better result and implementation of campaign strategies. These volunteers would work day and night tirelessly for a cause they believe in, without hope of getting contracts or favours, so the support that they gain is also pure and true. These grass root support will triumph over any “duit kopi” campaign in the long run, and so it prove this time.

Where PKR has not enough candidates, UMNO had too many, until factions materialized and infighting became common-place. Everyone is jockeying for position and with money thrown into the mix, the quest to be just even the Ketua Cawangan is intense. There were 6 people contesting for the 4 seats available, and you can just guess the support those dropped would give to the ones selected. They can rent 10 buses to carry people, but if each one is only filled with 4 people, what does that say about your grass root support?

This neglect of the foot soldiers led to even more money being wasted with tales of “allowance” money abound all over the country as UMNO tries its best to gather support. If UMNO had just paid more attention in collecting a lot more Tok Sus instead of businessmen, they wouldn’t need to spend a lot (of the rakyat’s money no less) to oil their election machinery.

The choice of candidate is also important for the future. No longer can UMNO just put anyone in and he would win. This is wonderful for our democracy, and also for this country in general, as each elected representatives would not take their constituency for granted. Wan Azizah visited Permatang Pauh at least once a month, and even if she’s not there, people can still turn to Tok Su to settle their problem. One UMNO candidate was humiliated when he went on a campaign round and was told off by a Chinese trader that Wan Azizah comes over every month, and he only shows up once every four years! Why should he when he’s busy with his multi-million ringgit contracts?

There are a lot of things that was shared this afternoon that I could not share with you for fear of being sued for defamation etc., and I believe that these stories are nothing new anyway. It’s just surprising to hear it from the people on the ground, even though stories of corrupt Dos (District Officers) and phantom voters have been around for years. The battles, the dirtiest battles, are not fought in the big towns and cities, but in little rural areas like Permatang Pauh.

When we left Tok Su, she was smiling happily with the thought of Wan Azizah coming over tomorrow to have a “kenduri”. Her loyalty and affection for both Wan Azizah and Anwar may be misguided to some, or inspirational to others, but the crux of the matter is she believed in them with all her heart.

UMNO needs to find back its heart and soul. It needs to convince people like Tok Su.Go figure.

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