In Tambun, a battle between two generations
IPOH, April 18 — Young, vocal and local, Siti Aishah Shaik Ismail is shaping up to be PKR’s best bet to slay political giant Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah in Election 2013 from his comfortable perch in Tambun, a seat held for nearly two decades by the Umno veteran and Cabinet minister.
While Husni is seeking his fifth term, Siti Aishah, a serious-faced 27-year-old who used to play football with the neighbourhood boys in Manjoi where she grew up, is using the Tambun fight as her formal debut into politics.
It was not too long ago during the 2010 Hulu Selangor by-election when the IT and communications diploma holder, then just a 24-year-old student, faced her first ceramah crowd of thousands at the Kuala Kubu Baru stadium.
Always referred to as “reserved” during her schooling days, Siti Aishah was a nervous wreck on the ceramah stage at the time, frozen and tongue-tied, staring spellbound at the people she was to convince with mere words to vote for Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) brand of “change”.
Today, three years and many ceramahs later, she has become a whiz at public speaking and an emerging star on a political stage where women and youths are quickly becoming rising stars.
During the day, Siti Aishah shoots the breeze with local Tambun folk at public spaces like markets and food stalls, or goes house to house to draw out the older folk who appear more stubborn in their vote.
At night, she wows crowds onstage with speeches that tell of BN’s alleged corruption and politics of patronage and power, using facts and figures to paint a picture of the ruling pact as greedy dictators who bully the rural Malay masses.
She endears herself to the crowd by speaking the local Malay slang to enable better understanding of dry topics, and addressing her elders as “makciks” and “pakciks”.
Speaking to The Malaysian Insider at the Perak PKR headquarters here yesterday, Siti Aishah said she was not afraid of the looming battle ahead and not one bit cowed by her contender’s senior years and extensive experience, not just in politics, but also as a federal administrator.
The PKR Srikandi leader or young women’s wing chief scoffed at the notion that by virtue of his age and experience, the interim finance minister II should be a better parliamentarian than her, giving a reminder that the latter had not proven his mettle to the fullest despite his four terms in Tambun.
“That is why I always say, do not use age to judge ability. Husni, five terms an MP, a minister, but still, the income disparity in Tambun is staggering... and the lower-income earners make up 65 per cent of constituents,” she said.
Siti Aishah is banking on her youth and her familiarity with the ground in Tambun, a place where she spent the better part of her growing-up years, having gone to school in Gugusan Manjoi, a large and populous cluster of Malay villages sited in the heart of the city here.
Her team of 50 election co-ordinators are made up of mostly family and friends, including her husband, whom she just married four months ago, old schoolmates and many other friends interested in the opposition’s cause.
She said 41 per cent of Tambun’s nearly 90,000 voters are aged below 40, many among whom are geared up to see a young person take their voice to Parliament.
“This battle will be a clash of Gen X and Gen Y,” she told The Malaysian Insider. “I represent Gen Y and Husni represents X, but I think I can convince the Gen X to support Gen Y.”
While on her ceramah rounds over the past few months, Siti Aishah said she ran into many former schoolmates and schoolteachers, and old friends, some among whom are jobless graduates finding it hard to make a living in Tambun.
“The rate of unemployment in Tambun is very high. A lot of my friends, university graduates, they keep asking me — what can PR do for them if we win,” she said.
“Even though Tambun is a seat held by a minister, and a finance minister at that, development here is slow.
“Look at the Manjoi police station... they are renting a house for their operations!” she said.
Siti Aishah has fashioned her own personal election manifesto for Tambun, apart from PR’s, which she will launch after nomination day this Saturday.
Her promises include introducing microcredit loan schemes to youths and the village poor to help them start up their own businesses and become self-sufficient, even during times of economic gloom.
She also has several measures planned to improve on street safety in Tambun, saying crime is of another great concern of voters in the area.
“Of course, what can you do when you are renting a house to situate the Manjoi police station,” she said, adding that the station has had to shift several times due to the expiry of past rental leases.
During a drive into Manjoi yesterday, The Malaysian Insider noticed that the station is indeed a single-storey corner bungalow lot bearing the insignia of the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM). A uniformed policeman was seen burning rubbish in the compound’s backyard.
Manjoi is a state seat in Tambun and the incumbent is Datuk Nadzri Ismail, a well-liked and well-known politician who, like Husni, has been the area’s elected representative for four terms since 1995.
But Nadzri was dropped from BN’s candidates list on Tuesday and will be replaced by newcomer Mohamad Ziad Mohamed, the Tambun Umno division treasurer and one of “Husni’s men”.
Siti Aishah said the move to drop Nadzri would play well into her hands as voters in the constituency either like the man or find it difficult to “bite the hand that feeds” and feel it their duty to vote him in.
A shift in support from Nadzri’s supporters to her camp, she said, would help inch her closer to victory this May 5.
“Yes its true that in the Malay culture, we believe in showing appreciation and returning favours but with Nadzri gone, this has opened up opportunities for us,” she said.
“Husni may have been Tambun MP for many terms but Husni is not like Nadzri, who is seen as a humble person.”
She acknowledged that with the poor making up a large population of Tambun’s nearly 90,000-strong electorate, many voters are recipients of the BN government’s Bantuan Rakyat 1 Malaysia (BR1M) RM500 cash handouts.
Siti Aishah admitted that the handouts are a major support-puller for BN, particularly since the pact promised to hike the sum to RM1,200 in its election manifesto, but said voters are aware that these are promises that are only dangled once in five years.
“BR1M does help the people but I see it as more as a bribe for votes. If they (BN) are honest in wanting to help the people, it should not be in the form of handouts but in offering better, long-term solutions to solve economic woes,” she said.
After more than half a decade under BN’s rule, Siti Aishah said voters have wised up and even the village Malays, often construed as diehard Umno loyalists, are now turning the other direction to PR.
She said the polls battle is not a contest of personalities or brands between BN and PR but a process of spreading awareness and creating hope to show voters that there is an alternative that may solve their problems.
“The Malays have grown smart. They don’t want to hear us slam others. If we say that someone has stolen money, for example, they would want to know how much was stolen and how it happened.
“We must support our allegations with facts, figures and solutions,” she said.
Siti Aishah said she would hole herself up once monthly for five straight hours in a quiet room to research issues before she takes to any ceramah stage.
“To draw a crowd, you would touch on three things... if it is about corruption, you tell a story about it, then you convince them that we are not corrupt and then tell them what they would get in return when we are not corrupt,” she said.
Election 2008 saw Husni retained as Tambun’s MP for the fourth term but with a visibly reduced majority of 5,386 votes from 17,360 during the 2004 polls.
The senior Umno politician was earlier rumoured as likely to replace Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir as Perak’s next candidate for the post of mentri besar, but during Tuesday’s release of BN’s candidates list, Husni was named again for the Tambun federal contest.
Tambun, which is home to the Manjoi and Hulu Kinta state seats, has 89,582 registered voters with the Malays making up 64 per cent, the Chinese 22 per cent and Indians 12 per cent.