Kuala Lumpur seems to have lost some of its steam. It never really shook off the gloom when Reformasi overtook the hearts and soul of angry Malaysians and the 1998 recession set in. Yes, there are a lot more luxury cars on the road and luxury high-rise condominiums, which are mostly empty. Yet, life in the city has stalled somewhat. Fashion insiders report of budgets being slashed, and what used to be fun and boisterous events are now muted. Parties and clubbing have toned down. Even political forums and activist gatherings are not as “dynamic as before,” a jaded observer remarked. Of course, on the upside, there’s Bersih, and Malaysians are more politically informed. They aren’t shy about making their voices heard, and social media has aided them tremendously.
Nadia Jalil is a young mother, highly educated, and views Malaysian politics with great humour. She is the quintessential young Malaysian success story: brilliant, went to the right schools, literate, witty with a bite, married with a child. She wears the hijab fashionably, and despite the rather masculine work that she does, is girly. Her husband has quit the rat race and is now focussing on a food-and-beverage business. Both their families help care for their daughter, and because of the rising costs of housing, they live with Nadia’s parents. They own one car, and rely on public transport for work and to get to wherever they want. Like many other young Malaysians, she wonders what will happen to her country. Her election wish-list is long, and realistic.
“Obviously I cannot ask for a total cessation of mudslinging, but maybe if there’s sex involved, the mudslinging doesn’t have to be conducted on the front pages of national newspapers for our children to see,” Nadia says.
A relatively “clean” election, without last-minute appearances of postal votes and/or voters who are dead is another, and she would like candidates who have a minimum IQ of 100, and are literate in BM, English or either one.
Nadia can be described as a policy-wonk, and some of the policies she would like to see are a repeal of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 to allow for local elections. This would mean more accountability and more empowerment for the people in charge of our cities; a smaller government: fewer, not more, ministries and agencies. Revamp the current JPA system — currently promotions are based on availability, not expertise, so someone who’s been working on international trade for years can find themselves transferred suddenly to the Forestry Department simply because there’s a vacancy there in that position. This needs to change, and lastly, the Department of Statistics to provide access to data, especially for research. Malaysian data access is one of the worst in the world. This hampers research, which then hampers educated policy-making.
She would also like an actual rationalisation of subsidies, licences and rents. “This is absolutely wishful thinking, especially since 1MDB’s inexplicable purchase of Tanjung, but those IPP contracts need to be re-negotiated. While you’re at it, take a look at the long-term procurement contracts for all the GLCs.”
She does concede that there are success stories. “The myEG online government thing. If it is a crony running it, at least it’s a competent crony. Improvements to the immigration process have been great. Hooray for automated passport renewal! And I like those new garbage bins provided by DBKL.”
The Boys (and Girls ) in Blue
Right across Subway and Silverfish Books on Jalan Telawi, is the Barisan Nasional Youth Volunteer 2012 (BNYV) headquarters which sprouted within a month. When the cornerhouse was being renovated, it sparked off great interest among the tight-knit Jalan Telawi community of shopowners/tenants and households. It was a dental clinic. Looked like a new boutique. Maybe it was a pizza parlour. Oh, it’s blue — it’s a police station. Hold on. Oh my. Barisan Nasional is our new neighbour.
And running it is a young man passionate about politics and volunteerism and is a familiar name to readers of this website and also Free Malaysia Today. Zaidel Baharuddin is the director of BNYV 2012. His nomination to lead the group has been a pleasant surprise, and his mantra to the volunteers is straightforward, ‘Low Cost, High Impact.’
The headquarters is all white and blue on the outside and inside, and all the furniture and appliances have been donated by corporations and individuals. There’s a campus-like feel to it, though seeing people’s heads bobbing past the living room window can be unnerving, especially in the middle of the night.
Zaidel is proud and excited about the venue and BNYV 2012. In a nutshell, it’s a platform for young Malaysians aged from 19 to 25 to voice out their opinions on everything and anything to the Government. “Here’s the thing; BNYV may sound like a political platform, but it is not. It’s an avenue for Malaysians youths to tell the Government what they think. It does not claim to be the voice of Malaysian youths, or backed by them.” But yes, he knows that the public may not buy the sentiment.
So when is the GE, Zaidel? “I don’t know. God’s honest truth. This (BNYV 12) was also set up to get volunteers to help out with the GE but we don’t know when it will be. If GE is next year…” he scratches his head as he frowns, “I guess we may have to change our name!”
Of course he wants BN to win. Of course he wants an increase in youth votes, another term for the current Prime Minister, and for the ETP and GTP to work and be effective. All these are a given. But he also wants to instil a spirit of volunteerism and activism among the young. “I’m very inspired by Ron Paul’s grass roots campaign and our UMNO 1946. Orang sanggup gadai rumah, kereta, untuk politik! (People were willing to mortgage their homes and cars just for politics.)”
Look, he says, he’s a product of a local tertiary education. His parents are working to middle class people. He knows what the rakyat feels. How is he going to marry if he can’t even afford a house? Have people seen the quality of houses now, despite the six star price tag attached to them? Education and childcare are another concern for him. As a young uncle to a special needs child, he knows what the parameters are like. He may be in BN but he’s not raking in the money. He’s like everyone else with dreams and worries.
“This AUKU and freedom of speech thing,” he observes, “I’m all for freedom of speech but I have a caveat. Just because you are young it does not mean that you can voice out at any time. No. You voice out when your work is effective, your deeds are righteous and ideas are good.”
Will BNYV be relevant post GE? Oh yes. He wants to take it beyond the elections, and turn the volunteerism machine into something bigger. “I know that there is a silent majority which supports us, but have all sorts of reasons for not being involved in politics. The narrative is hijacked by a noisy minority. This setup does not guarantee any volunteer any payment; in fact, we don’t pay anyone. Everything is on a limited budget here. But we’re confident of growing big.”
What a taxi driver has to say
Driving up and down Jalan Tun Razak is not for the impatient. And having a cab driver like W (“Oh no, you can’t mention my name, I just renewed my permit. Nanti the authorities will take my taxi away, how?”) who drives at a pace which can only be described as monotonous, it’s a miracle that you get to your destination on time. Somehow, you do.
And like all cab drivers in the city, W has seen and heard many things. He’s seen snatch thefts and smash and grab crimes in front of his taxi as he ferried passengers to their destinations, and his car has witnessed joy and heartbreak. He must know something about the GE.
“Aiyo. I wish the government would just get the elections over and done with. That’s my wish. Then it’ll give us time to see who we want, and vote for. If we have snap polls… how are we going to vote? So little time.”
The cost of living is another issue he wants the Government to focus on. Subsidies should only be for the working to middle income Malaysians. “Why should the rich benefit from subsidies?” Even the expatriates who have come to work, complain. They feel that they have been tricked. “Kuala Lumpur is not cheap. Every week the prices go up and up in the supermarket. And this is not a high-class supermarket, you know?”
But he has high hopes for Malaysia. He believes the country will right itself, providing that the ruling government knows what to do with resources. “I just hope it’s soon. I think we’re fed up of waiting-lah.”
Facebook has been a revelation for Malaysians in and keen on politics. Politicians have a love/hate relationship with social media, and no one underestimates its power to influence and make or break a career. Mark Zuckerberg’s creation has become a platform for concerned Malaysians, who use it for any cause they feel passionate about. Malaysians against the 100 Storey Tower; Malaysians Against Rape, Assault And Snatch (M.A.R.A.H) and of course Bersih. It (Facebook) forces people to engage on concerns. Hazri Haili, Mimi Ahmad and Clayton Koh, who work in Selangor, may not be friends in real life, but on Facebook, they have come together to talk about their concerns. The three work in very diverse fields: education, social work and public sector.
Are they anticipating the elections? It’s mixed. While Clayton is not bothered, Hazri and Harlequin are anxious to see the aftermath of the GE. They want it to happen so they can get on with their lives. They also hope that politicians really know the true scenario of the country; Clayton wants both the Government and Opposition to work together “… to get the work done (for the country)…” It’s frustrating to see both at loggerheads with each other and not working for the rakyat.
Clayton’s work allows him to observe both sides. He’s blasé about the situation, but “If I am the PM, I will include the opposition in all discussion so that we have an open discussion on what really needs to be done for the people and not only for those who will put money in our pockets. Look into long term policies and not just focus on short term policies that benefit the ruling government.”
Hazri thinks both parties have a good chance of winning: BN with their strong party machinery and their solid economic plans and Pakatan Rakyat backed by the frustration of the people and strong economic performances in Selangor and Penang. “I wish PR is more solid in their economic outlook,” he says.
Mimi sounds fed-up. “I’m hoping for more peace and stability in our country as an outcome from the next GE. No more hanky panky and riots, and please ELIMINATE all those LEMBU ministers.”
What Malaysians Have to Say
Inbaraj Suppiah is a new father, and a constant fixture on Twitter. He tweets a lot about religion, and… love and relationships, earning him the monicker, ‘Mr. Loveboat.’ He is very opiniated, and sometimes is befuddled by the current events.
“I think the next GE is going to be dramatic. People are frustrated with the way our government has been handling issues that are important to us. Rising inflation, corruption and crime rates everywhere and “it’s just your perception” is the kind of response we get from the people entrusted to run this country. But I still think the ruling government will somehow hold onto power since the opposition coalition hasn’t been that stable. End of the day, I don’t think it will make a big difference to the common man. After the elections, it’ll be back to working hard, making money and paying bills. Politicians will always be more interested in their own power and position instead of working for the people. If the opposition manages to take over Putrajaya, I will wait until I see a real change before celebrating,” he said.
Inbaraj’s observation on how things will not change, and “… it’ll be back to working hard, making money and paying bills” is echoed by many. The consensus among friends and family when talk about working and living in Malaysia is that nothing will change, and things may get worse. People are becoming more jaded with the economy, and standard of living in the country. Work-culture and ethics have changed so much in the last five years: wither goes the Malaysian with content and substance, if he does not have the connections and youth?
A professional who declined to be named said,”I may be a Vice President now, but I can tell you that I will be working for the rest of my life. I drive an old Perdana, I will be paying for my mortgage until the day I die and there’s the wife and kids to think of. I’m screwed for life.”
Many Malaysians aged 40 and above, be they BN or Opposition supporters, have common worries. Where can they go from here? Give tuition? They are not at that age where they can emigrate to another country. They may even have to move back with their families to their parents’ homes, to cut cost.
Of frogs and cows and… oh yes the GE
Monyet King, a blogger, wrote in the same closed group the writer is part of, “BN has got no moral ground to talk against the recent frogging in Sabah. They have been the culprits several times before. Pakatan (and other opposition parties) are being stupid to encourage frogging — despite having been on the receiving end. The irony of the situation is both sides are quick to condemn frogs that jump from them but praise the ones who jump to them.”
Pakatan’s alternative Merdeka theme had some members hot and bothered. When will politicians stop hijacking what is rightfully Malaysians? “Last week, to the usual fanfare, Pakatan Rakyat announced their alternative Merdeka theme: Sebangsa Senegara Sejiwa, signifying oneness and unity.”
This week, although PR just governs FOUR states, these states chose to have a total of THREE different Merdeka themes! The best comes from Parti Aslam SeMalaysia. Governing TWO States, this party has TWO different themes. Congratulations PR. Putrajaya is yours. Take it over and turn it into a COMEDY CENTRE please.”
For NGOs, who the government of the day is is important. Michelle Nor Ismat is a social worker, and keeps abreast of current news. “When the government is putting more focus into infrastructure rather than human development, its workforce will be riddled with incompetent decision makers who will make wrong decision despite having the best infrastructure. Simple, important decisions will be delayed because of unnecessary red tapes. Complex decisions will be made without proper study and being referred to the wrong resource person. For example we have people who actually go against HIV/AIDS prevention, citing that the virus only infect those who were involved in “unnatural sexual act”, when statistically the number of infection among heterosexual men and women are actually higher than among gay men and transsexuals. So what gives?”
“Honestly?” A pro-UMNO supporter surmised, “Nothing is going to change. Malaysians are tired and will remain tired.”
Come GE, it looks like many will vote not just for a better government, but out of fatigue, from waiting.
Further reading: http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2012/07/30/formation-of-1malaysia-national-culture-in-the-new-regime/