Thursday, April 08, 2010

A middle path in Hulu Selangor

Middle Malaysia will have its say later this month when the electors of Hulu Selangor cast their collective decison at the ballot box.

Not the Middle Malaysia of political punditry, but the everyday middle Malaysia of real life, the one experienced by everyday folk seeking a path through the fog of confusion conjured up by the powerful and those seeking power.

This week the Pakatan Rakyat coalition will have another opportunity to make its case for leadership of this community when PKR announces its candidate for the parliamentary by-election on April 25.

PKR's unexpected narrow victory in this constituency in 2008 was clearly the result of internal tensions within the local Barisan Nasional parties riding on the national wave of general discontent.

In its choice of candidate this week, with the well-respected Zaid Ibrahim widely expected to be named, PKR can provide clarity and a renewed focus on the one major issue at hand: that the tired old ways are not the way to the future, and that middle Malaysia can steer a course between the rocks of racism and the shoals of plutocratic plunder.

Hulu Selangor at mid-term is an advantageous redoubt to seize, its population mix a reflection of society at large, its way of life poised between the plantations of old and the teeming metropolis next door, in the easy-going ways of small towns surrounded by farms and small industry.

There is fertile ground for political strategists to slice and dice the demographic data, seeking the many ways in which to capitalise on narrow sectional interests and thus build an electoral victory. So many Malay votes, so many Chinese votes, so many Indian votes, so many Orang Asli. This much in agriculture, this much in trade and commerce, this much of the underclass.

PKR is not immune to this kind of approach, at which the Barisan Nasional has long excelled, and knows that it ignores such strategy to its peril. Yet the BN has already immersed itself again in the well of communal and parochial concerns from which it has drunk long and deep.

The BN's touted candidate, MIC deputy president G Palanivel, carries baggage of the past from the internal feuding in his party, his own ambitions, general discontent with the ways of party leader S Samy Vellu and his family, and the long-ignored problems of the Indian underclass which were exploited so effectively by Hindraf, now sadly a spent force.

Selangor Umno, on the other hand, has sought a retreat into the old ways of race champions, by hauling out the discredited old warhorse former menteri besar Muhammad "Mat Tyson" Muhammad Taib back into the ring and presumably recapture the banners of race supremacy now being waved by Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa.

On the sidelines, a clapped-out MCA under its newly-elected leader Dr Chua Soi Lek must try to persuade the community that its soiled past has been cast aside and that a new future awaits. Much scepticism remains after the party's long-drawn-out power struggle, with another election due just over the horizon.

It is testimony to the BN's travails that party chairman and Umno president Najib Tun Razak, wearing his prime ministerial hat, took to the hustings with another much-ballyhooed walkabout, in the streets of Kuala Kubu Baru. Scripted shouts of "I-ker" from a rent-a-crowd of college students are not likely to sway many votes from a community that has yet to see tangible results in a nebulous 1Malaysia.

Najib's personal touch in early campaigning, which seems to have escaped the attention of the Election Commission, and the absence of the BN deputy chairman, traditionally the BN director of elections, only highlights the divisions that exist in his own party and his 1Malaysia's lack of traction.

It is these divisions that Pakatan Rakyat and PKR can seek to exploit, through a candidate with broad appeal, able to acknowledge the real narrow and sectional concerns of society yet able to rise above them.

A candidate for whom a seat in Parliament is not a waystation on the road to personal riches or glory, but an opportunity to shape a common future.

Philosophical questions are not likely to be in the forefront when the electors of Hulu Selangor cast their ballots. But there is a common thread behind the real issues of daily life in middle Malaysia, of seeking a decent living, of a decent education and a decent future for their children. It is what links Altantuya to Kugan to Teoh Beng Hock to Port Klang Free Zone to healthcare to motor insurance to Petronas to Proton... and to Putrajaya.

This common thread is the notion that everyone is entitled to a fair stake in securing the daily necessities of life.

Come April 25, electors of Hulu Selangor will have an opportunity to show if indeed there is a middle way, a middle path, built on common decency, on which Malaysians can come together. But that choice will be shaped by the choice of candidate: whether it is one able to look to the future, or one mired in the past.

by FMT

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