Modest needs in PAS land

From – Malaysianinsider
Kelantan is the last stop in DANNY LIM’s tour of the 5 Pakatan Rakyat-governed states

Tesco employees taking a break from work outside the entrance of the hypermarket. — pictures by Danny Lim

JUNE 30 — It’s a bit different up here in Kelantan. It’s not 100 days of a Pakatan Rakyat government. It’s not really even a PR state government, is it? It’s 18 years and a hundred days of PAS (save a token state seat for PKR). On the night of March 8, I dare say Kota Baru was the only state capital which saw celebrations out on the street. Welcome to PAS country.

During the election campaign, BN beat the drum that only they could bring in commercial and industrial development, more than implying that Kelantan was backward under PAS rule. PAS retorted that at least five (hitherto) BN-controlled states had a higher rate of absolute poverty. The party also produced glossy coloured brochures that touted the most recent and conspicuous signifier of “development” – the opening of a Tesco hypermarket.

Built on reclaimed land next to the Sultan Yahya Petra bridge straddling Sungai Kelantan, Tesco opened in January, and it already has an impact on the Kota Baru economy. Here I meet three young Tesco employees squatting near the entrance, not so much to poll their feelings about PR as to get a sense of their future under PAS.
Machang-born Aziz, 25, married with two kids, earns about RM600 a month carting goods around the hypermarket. “Tesco ini gaji paling mahal (This Tesco wages are high),” he says, having surveyed wages for manual labour in the hotels and other KB supermarkets like The Store, Pantai Timur and Mydin, which range from about RM300-RM400 a month.

The rising price of goods means locals cannot afford to be loyal to kampung neighbourhood traders and older markets including the tourist-snap bait of Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah. “Tesco lebih murah… semua tak boleh lawan (Tesco is cheaper…all can’t match),” says Mahathir.

Without cinemas or concerts, KB doesn’t offer plenty of the usual entertainment options for urban youths. Mahathir goes for bowling at KB Mall. They used to do a bit of motorcycle racing – presumably of the illegal sort – but not anymore in light of the oil price hike.

At the very least, they’re happy that Kelantanese girls are all “lawa-lawa, comel-comel, gadis manis-manis (pretty, cute, sweet)”. The four guys gape at three nymphets walking by in headscarves. In jeans and T-shirts, the girls just about passed the Kota Baru Municipal Council guidelines on proper attire for female Muslim workers, which was picked up by world media as a ban on using lipstick and high-heeled shoes (the council later clarified that it was merely a “guideline”).

They’re not as observant about politics but Mahathir the leader ventures that a PR government would be okay only if the coalition had “satu kepala (one head)”. Much the same way that they’ve spent most of their lives under a PAS state government.

Part of what blunted the impact of BN’s development election bait were the modest demands of the locals. It is also this distinct “jiwa”, a regionalist pride in identifying themselves as Kelantanese above party loyalties that tests the notion of a truly “hijau (green, the PAS colour)” state. The rout of BN on March 8 set out the state as a PAS stronghold, but it was as recent as 2005 after the Pengkalan Pasir by-elections that BN was within one seat of taking control.

So I revisit my old campaign haunt in Berek 12 to seek out more robust political chatter on the streets. During the election campaign I didn’t have to try very hard. I just plonked myself at a roadside stall and the chatter found me. This time, just after working hours, at the same roadside stall, I have the good fortune of meeting again a godsend of a vox pop venture. Without much prompting, the erudite Farhan Yusof, a 37-year-old EON car-dealing executive practically writes my article for me. He really should blog.

For now Kelantan is “safe” for Pas and Farhan believes that with the takeover of Kedah and the executive seat in Perak, the party’s credibility is on the up.

Among the PAS propaganda during the campaign were pamphlets showing the prime minister holding Datuk Michelle Yeoh by the waist as they posed for a photograph during a private function.

Then there’s corruption. “Umno is capable,” he says. “Cuma (Umno) is using up the capability for own use.”

The idea of Pakatan Rakyat grabbing federal power with crossovers does not go down well with Farhan.

I ask him why he’s so assured that the handover of power to the deputy prime minister will “kautim” (take care of) everything. His answer is not so much an endorsement of Najib as it is a nod to history repeating.

He believes if Umno keeps its promises, the locals will show their appreciation in the long run. Farhan cites the case of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan being built in Bachok and Jeli as a positive move.

Farhan is actually from Cambodia, his family moving to Kelantan when he was four years old. Now this UiTM graduate raises four kids in his house near Berek 12 in Kota Baru. Purchasing power is strong here by his reading. EON Kelantan’s sales is “number 2 or number 3 in Malaysia”.

Streets of Kota Baru.

Cost of living is low, but Farhan has also seen a rise in property prices. He points to some newly-built shoplots further down across the street where the land itself costs RM3 million. Each shoplot, according to Farhan, goes for about RM800,000. Income is still chronically low, especially for Kelantan-based companies.

As for PAS itself, Farhan echoes the prevailing belief that state menteri besar and PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is holding the party together in Kelantan.

This PAS member goes further in his criticism of the way Kelantan is run. He sees growing problems among wayward youths who hang out at late night pasar malam.

Farhan sees a widening gap between ulamaks who stress on the trappings of piety and those preaching a deeper inculcation of the teachings of Islam. “By right, ulamak ‘mesti’ (must) teach us to be ourselves, not to be Arabic,” he says.

Farhan Yusof (left) and friend.

On the wider political front, he sees the Islamic nation issue as an internal struggle for PR.

For stability, Farhan has a suggestion. This is based on his belief that “agama mesti tinggi sikit dari politik, agama (religion) is a way of life, everything about life must be controlled by agama.” Which is why he joined PAS. He wants all the leaders of the various religions to come together under one roof and decide on religious matters.


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