Friday, December 23, 2005

Hope for Pasir Mas

Category : Politics

credit to :
Ajemi Ismail
16 December 2005
Taman Seri Mewah, Kajang.

I did not plan to go back to my hometown Pasir Mas this time around but it so happened that I had to visit my mother-in-law this weekend. My sister, brother and mother-in-laws were about to leave for Mekah to answer God’s call for pilgrimage. It is customary that whenever members of your extended family go for Hajj, you attend the doa selamat and then see them off at the airport. This one is no exception. Everybody who did not want to be disowned made his journey home, no matter how far. And thus all members of my wife’s family gathered at the family house in our village in Pasir Mas. The eight hour journey through the interior of Pahang was not a stroll in the park, but it gave me a rare opportunity to talk to my brother who acted as co-driver.

I have made journeys like this countless times ever since I started working and living in the west side of the Peninsula. I wished they had built a four-lane toll-free highway from Kajang to Pasir Mas so I could cut short the journey by half. I am still wishing.

Nothing is interesting about this trip except for the fact that this town had just received nationwide attention after a bitterly fought state seat by-election last week. The election was forced by the death of Pas rep for the seat of N12 Pengkalan Pasir. Until last week, this town had been under Pas control for the past 15 years. It was one of their remaining strongholds after the big swing to BN in the last general election. The town looked different from usual. Its usually dark streets are now flooded with tall spotlights with visible signboards reminding people of which party installed the damned things. Election posters for all parties were still hanging on trees, power cable poles and buildings. The usual dacing and bulan purnama fought for space at every corner. The independent candidate, ex-Umno stalwart Datuk Ibrahim Ali chose umbrella as the symbol of his side, perhaps mindful of the frequent rain that can happen here all of a sudden at this time of the year.

This by-election was crucial for both parties. For Pas it was about maintaining their razor thin majority. For BN it was about showing the people that the tide of change from the last general election was inevitable and irreversible. Eventually BN managed to wrest the seat from Pas who had ruled over the last 15 years, thanks to postal votes. The majority was thin but at least the efforts of their federal leaders, including PM, DPM and various ministers, with the help of all government machinery, money and the media did not come to naught. Pas blamed it all on Pos Malaysia and phantom voters while Ibrahim Ali disappeared together with all his umbrellas. Some say the new rep is not wakil rakyat but merely a wakil pos. Somebody told me Ibrahim Ali spent two million ringgit to split the BN vote. They took his money but apparently did not need his umbrella. Pas offered RM15,000 to catch pengundi hantu but I am quite sure BN can double that to set them free again! Either side, they had the opportunity to make money. Big money.

It is one of the ironies of democracy. In a community where party politics run in their blood, sometimes victory is decided by a minority group. In this case, the small Chinese community vote was vital as the split among the majority Malay voters was about the same. Perhaps feeling appreciated by their community leaders who took time to visit, the Chinese community votes went to the BN. This would not be surprising outside Kelantan, but in this state, politics can go against the norm. It is not unusual to see non-Muslim Chinese campaigning for Parti Islam in Kelantan.

In the heat of the election campaign, both sides promised to bring changes to this town. BN promised to tackle traffic, drainage system and lack of cleanliness problems. Pas said they would build a flyover to replace the existing level crossing across the railway tracks. Both sides promised to make good on their election promises. And they better do it, or else they will see the people’s wrath in future elections.

As somebody who was born and bred here, but earns a living in KL, I only hope for the better. I think the people of this town also share my views. The barber I visited did not seem to care who got the seat. He just wanted to make a decent living. With cheap goods crossing the Thai border at Rantau Panjang-Golok, he could still afford to charge me six ringgit less than my Kajang barber did. The petty trader I talked to was certain he would go to the kenduri to celebrate BN victory even though he was reluctant to say who he voted for.

Politics apart, whoever wins, I hope they will bring the much needed development to this town. It used to be Kelantan’s second biggest town in 1970s but has since been overtaken by other Kelantan other towns like Tanah Merah and Gua Musang. The town has not had a proper wet market ever since the Pasar Besar was razed down by fire in the mid-1980s. Instead its market is located in wooden buildings next to the town railway station. Perhaps due to lack of funds its cleanliness has had to take a back seat. When it rains, especially this monsoon season, the wet market really lives up to its name as shoppers hop from one stall to another trying hard to avoid the puddles. It is not very much different from Pasar Besar Kajang on a wet day!

After three days of visiting family and relatives, I had to drive back to Kajang. This time I did not have a co-driver. My brother had to go back to Shah Alam for work one day earlier than me. I had to do all the eight hours of driving on my own. Plenty of time for me to think and ponder as I went up and down the hills of southern Kelantan and Pahang. Plenty of time too to compare the development of the town of my birth with the rest of the Peninsula. Perhaps wishing for a four-lane toll free highway from Pasir Mas to Kajang is too wild a dream. But I’d like to see that some of the promises of the last by-election become a reality the next time I go back to my hometown. I hope they will make it worth my while going through the long drive.

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