21 July 2013

When the kampung speaks, what the city hears…

What do kampung folk and city folk think about the way each group voted so differently from the other in the last general election? In the fourth of The Malaysian Insider series on reconciliation, a look at the so-called urban-rural divide.

The village is pretty, with tall, ringed coconut trees leaning like a welcoming wave to the visitor on the gravel road to Kuala Selangor. There are cows – brown, white and black – everywhere in Kampung Pasir Tuntong but hardly any chickens scampering about, maybe not surprising given the record price chicken is fetching on the market these days...

The air is fresh, just as one would expect in a village, and a soft breeze is tugging at your arm, maybe asking you to stop here for awhile. Sure. It is a good place as any to stop and ask the kampung folk of Malaysia just what happened in the past general election.

Why were they the ones who returned the ruling Umno to power when their city cousins pulled so strongly for the opposition? Is it only because the kampung is mostly Malay and Umno, the largest part of the ruling coalition was founded as the voice of Malay nationhood.

Or could it be like what one city boy lawyer Jason Lim says, "The rurals think more on short-term gains. They can be satisfied with a little handout the government gives once in a while. While those of us in the city are more concerned about the long-term effects. So good governance and corrupt-free leaders are important to us.”

Is he right? Do people in the villages think so differently from urbanites about basic human rights?

Cannot really be that simple, can it? After all this kampung is part of the Bukit Melawati state seat that five years ago went to the opposition PKR. It was in the last election on May 5, that it turned back to Umno.

Ask village headman of Kampung Tuntong Pasir Bu Naip Mohd Yusof about it. At 63, the father of seven spends most of his time reading newspapers like Utusan and Harian Metro and meeting his old pals at a nearby community centre.

At first he appears to sound like he is making Lim’s point, when the headman says,  "More and more people are moving to the city. Their views and lives have changed."

But he adds a different perspective to their different needs, one of helplessness versus independence, not a divide in beliefs about rights.

"They have everything in the city. Those people can stand on their own two feet even if the government does not help them " But it is different for us in the kampung. We need the government's help in a lot of things that the city folks take for granted."

And out of this is born a certain gratitude for what they see as the helping hand, something anybody would feel.

His friend Ramli Toh Mad, 51, adds, "We in the kampung remember history. We went through a lot of hardships in those days – and we only know that this is the same government that helped us then."

But yes, there is a perspective among the kampung folk that the urbanites, especially the younger generation, have gone a certain way.

"Their minds have been 'poisoned' by politicians and by the things that they read and the things that they see.

"So they ask for this and that and eventually are not happy with what they have," Ramli says.

The city sees it differently.

Anita Mammen, 40, from Puchong says those in the kampung are more comfortable with a way of life that is not too fast-paced for them.

"Political parties use certain agendas, like the race card, to scare the rural people.

"They are told that if a new politician comes in, their benefits would be cut off and will make life difficult for them," the manager argued.

Basically, she adds, rural and urban folks want different things in life and have different expectations of the country's leaders.

"It is a gap that, I fear, will only get wider in time.”

There certainly was some kind of gap highlighted on May 5. BN wrestled the state seat here back from PKR after its candidate Jakiran Jacomah beat S. Manickavasagam with a majority of just 806 out of 16,153 registered voters, the majority being Malay.

Nationwide, rural areas backed BN. It was a phenomenon that led Parti Keadilan Rakyat director of strategy Rafizi Ramli to say last week, "We can't keep riding on urban dissatisfaction to make the numbers. We are working on strategies to get the message across to rural areas."

Back in KL, Lim argues that the rural folks are not much for change.

"They are not exposed to the 'outside world' and as such, they are susceptible to a certain propaganda by political parties.

"The only information they get is from the mainstream media. So how much can they be aware of the real political situation?”

But again, why was this not a problem for the opposition in 2008 when they won this seat?

Maybe it is not about a divide but more about a pendulum. And maybe that is where the answer for the urbanites lies, in looking back to look ahead.

Maybe the kampung has its own mind but it is not different from what urbanites want if they can promise to deliver to the heartland.


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