Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Johor dilemma

P.140 Segamat (13th General Election on May 5, 2013)
46,262 (20,093/43.43% Malays; 21,393/46.24% Chinese; 4,641/10.03% Indians)
Vote for Change, for our children’s future

Wednesday, 24 April 2013 23:03
The Johor dilemma
Written by  Soraya Salim

I refer to your report “Still uphill for Johor Malay vote, admit Pakatan leaders” on April 22, 2013. I am a Johor resident and second-time voter. I wish to add a few points based on what I observed and from my interaction with the Johor people especially the Malays.
While we cannot deny the swing to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in Johor especially among the Chinese voters, it remains to be seen whether such swing is big enough for PR to wrest the state from Umno/BN. Here’s why PR needs to work harder in Johor:
‘Umno is Government, Government is Umno’
Johor is Umno’s bastion. Period. It sounds crazy even I myself refuse to believe what I heard but this is what the majority of Johor Malays especially “Saluran 1” voters believe. Thanks to Umno/BN brainwashing, lies and propaganda, the Malays in Johor traditionally believe that the Government is Umno and Umno is THE Government. They simply cannot imagine a government other than Umno despite PR ruling five states post-2008.
This has been Umno’s main campaign against PR and there are now banners everywhere in Johor crying “Pertahankan Johor, Tiang Seri Umno!” That’s how much Johor Malays love Umno (or how scared Umno is of PR’s potential in Johor?). This is the reality on the ground. Despite the amount of confidence amongst the PR leaders, it is undoubtedly an uphill battle for them to win the hearts and minds of the Johor Malays. Their loyalty to Umno is probably one of the biggest hurdles for PR in Johor.
The Johor Malays think that Umno is their saviour. If the Johor Malays want to see this from its “Malay” (instead of its ‘Malaysian’) point of view, there is still nothing to brag about. Even in its role as the so-called saviour, Umno fails miserably but the Johor Malays amazingly don’t mind this.
Never mind the NFC and LTAT scandals by Wanita Umno leaders. Never mind that Johor Umno leaders and their cronies benefit from state and federal government contracts through rampant corruption and cronyism like nobody’s business. Never mind the Malay reserved lands acquired by the state government to be resold to private entities and not replaced.
Never mind JCorp and other Johor GLCs fiasco involving disposal of Bumiputera shares to non-Bumiputeras. As long as (they believe) Umno overzealously protects the Ketuanan Melayu and will come to their rescue anytime with the infamous keris. That is why people that preach “I am Malay first and Malaysian second” like Muhyiddin Yasin is popular among the Johor Malays.
When you tell the Johor Malays to reject Umno/BN for all their misdeeds of more than 56 years, they will ask you what’s wrong with Umno. Or rather why is there a need to get rid of Umno. Like seriously? I think it’s just mind-boggling!
The loyalty of the Johor Malays to Umno/BN is puzzling. To them, the racial status quo must be maintained at all cost but little did they realize that Umno/BN is the one that betrays the Johor Malays. Iskandar Malaysia and RAPID project in Pengerang is a testimony of what Umno/BN is made of when it comes to the poor Malays and non-Malays. Land privatisation programme and large-scale land sale to foreigners under these projects had triggered massive inflation in the state.
Vote ‘the devil you know’
If there’s anyone that believes Dr Mahathir Mohamad on this, it has to be (some of) the Johor Malays.
Even with proof of Umno/BN's corruption and betrayals, Johor Malays still feel that they are better off than their counterparts in many other states. And despite everything, Umno/BN is still better than PR.
Majority still don’t see the importance of the opposition as an instrument of check and balance in a democracy. “Pembangkang buat kacau”, or “pembangkang memecahbelahkan rakyat” is how they generally feel about opposition parties. Things have changed in 2008, of course, but don’t be surprised when you still get this from them now. It certainly does not help that they only watch RTM or TV3 and read Utusan Malaysia! That is why they would rather stick to Umno/BN despite Umno/BN being the devil.
This misconception about the opposition has deprived Johor residents of a strong and credible opposition in the state assembly for the past 56 years. Before the new media era, we never knew what happened in the state assembly, whether our plights, questions and issues were raised and whether the Umno/BN representatives did their job, until 2008 when DAP and PAS won six state seats. Then the opposition assemblymen were denied any allocation by the state government to serve their constituencies.
This misconception is worsened by the racial politics played by Umno/BN, threatening the Johor Malays that the state will turn into Singapore if PR takes Putrajaya, amongst others. Sadly, while the vast majority of Johor residents reject this, Umno/BN is still the favourite among the rural Malays.
Sense of complacency
In some parts of the Malay heartlands of Johor, you will find senior citizen voters who have children that help them with the finances, and they cannot be bothered by rising prices of essential goods, or considered that they and the other taxpayers are paying for the largesse of the BN government.
This group of voters doesn’t realise that the average Johor residents and Johor Malays can hardly afford property in the urban areas not only in Johor Baru and Iskandar but other districts like Muar and Batu Pahat. They pay a higher cost of living, higher price of essential goods (Johor Baru is swamped by Singaporean shoppers every weekend, driving the prices of goods up), pay the highest water tariff in the country, are victims of one of the highest crime rates and major social ills in the country and the list goes on.
Some seem to be so proud with the RM3 billion iconic wellness resorts in Iskandar, the Johor Premium Outlet, Legoland and other massive Iskandar projects although the biggest beneficiaries are the wealthy Singaporeans. How on earth are these projects going to benefit the Malays and the poor in Johor?
It is also a challenging task to make them understand that what happens at the federal level affects them. Let’s take a look at the PR manifesto and a typical Saluran-1-Johor-Malay-voter’s response to it: Cheaper petrol? I don’t drive.
Cheaper cars? I don’t drive.
Lower prices of goods? I didn’t buy them; my children do the shopping for me. I don’t mind what the prices are like.
Free water? Oh it’s just 10 cubic meters. It means nothing.
Abolish PTPTN? My children didn’t go to university so they have no debt.
Zero corruption? Wait, what’s corruption?
Lower crime rate? I’m not that rich, nobody’s going to rob me.
Free education? I have no school-going children. Zero tolls? “Makcik tinggal kat kampung, tak payah bayar tol!”
I am not even kidding!
The politics in Johor particularly in sub-urban and rural areas are also very much “grassroots politics” ― who attended you children’s wedding feast or your father’s funeral, who hosted Raya open house, who organized gotong-royongs to clean the drains, who gave out free food during Ramadan, etc. ― that they almost always don’t bother to get involved in the bigger picture of Malaysia’s politics.
They don’t think issues at the federal level affect them. Well not at least until some Umno guy or Utusan tells them the “Ketuanan Melayu” is threatened! Many don’t understand that state assemblymen are lawmakers and policymakers, not santa-clauses that were supposed to give handouts and goodies to their constituents. This is again a consequence of Umno’s culture of giving out goodies come election season.
So what can PR do?
I would say that PR is on the right track with their Johor manifesto as well as the track record of the state assemblymen for the past five years. So what else should PR do? Connect the dots and tell the Johor residents point blank how Umno/BN misdeeds affect their daily life and their future. How Umno/BN’s betrayal to the rakyat is actually a bread and butter issue. Always tell them “why does it matter to them?”
Another challenge for PR is to create a paradigm shift in Johor. PR must understand that this election is not just about winning Johor and forming a PR state government. It is also about changing the mindset of the Johor voters that are so used to racial politics, Umno-style.
The battle is beyond winning the elections. It is a battle to change their minds beyond racial politics, beyond Umno/BN and beyond election goodies. GE13 is an election for the bigger picture, the future, and not on who can give BR1M every year.