Thursday, August 14, 2008

Warung pundits: Anwar will win the by-election but never become PM

Warung pundits: Anwar will win the by-election but never become PM


Permatang Pauh residents gather at the local warung for a chat. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

By Debra Chong

PERMATANG PAUH, Aug 15 — The fire truck sat awkwardly on the side of the narrow, two-lane road between the padi fields. It must have been summoned to stand by while the Chinese community here carried out various ceremonies to appease wanderings spirits during this Month of the Hungry Ghost.

The weather has been exceedingly dry in this corner of the north. The water level in the streams that feed into the padi fields was extremely low. It would only take a spark to turn the fields into the fiery pits of hell.

And with the Permatang Pauh by-election gearing up, community leaders were taking all precautions to guard against any phantom menace, though Idrus Ibrahim, the equally charismatic elder brother to opposition leader and Permatang Pauh candidate, Datuk Seri Anwar, had remarked earlier that "right now, even the hantu were afraid of the humans".

There used to be a river running close by, according to Nordin Said, the proprietor of a drinks and snack shack next to the small rural library in old Permatang Pauh town.

"That's where the 'Permatang' came from. 'Pauh' is a type of mango, very sour," the 48-year-old, fondly known as Pak Din, added. Permatang means river and while that is gone, the mango trees remain, though few and scattered now; but such is the nature of development — some things change and some remain, though they can never be the same.

The late afternoon sun that streamed in through the chicken-wire bars of the drinks shack brought with it a stream of old-timers curious to know why two strangers had invaded their regular watering hole.

Yellow shirtThe words "by-election" and "Anwar" drew their attention and started a lively discussion about the sad state of politics in the country.

"Do you know, this place used to be an Umno stronghold," Ishak Said, 54-year-old cousin to Pak Din, confided, delighting in astonishing the two outsiders.

"Now, we're open-lah. There's no difference who's in power. See first who does the talking," Ishak said tiredly.

Permatang Pauh has been a PKR seat, under the stewardship of Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, for three terms. Even now, he noted, there are still a lot of Umno supporters in the old quarter.

"Umno at the grassroots level is all right. It's the fellas at the top who are not good," Ishak said, before pulling over a newcomer into Pak Din's warung. "Ask him. He's a ketua Pemuda Umno."

The young man was obviously embarrassed at the sudden attention but was polite enough to play along.

"It's true," admitted Bahari Yahaya, 40. "The people here support Umno, but they are disillusioned with the leadership. It's all about money and power. The grassroots have no power. If you want anything, you must follow the branch head."

And that's why the prediction in Pak Din's warung is that Anwar will, without a doubt, win the by-election but he will never become the next prime minister.


"You want me to give you 50 dalils?" interjected Md Saad Din, 61, referring to the book, “50 Dalil Kenapa Anwar Tak Boleh Jadi PM”, published 10 years ago.

"All the leaders are busy quarrelling in the august House, who is fighting for the people?" sighed the grandfather to 14, greatly disgusted with the behaviour and performance of both members of the ruling and opposition parties in Parliament.

"Sabah and Sarawak won the general election for the Barisan Nasional. Now, they're asking for things but they are being pushed aside," he observed.

CookMore than disgust, however, was his overwhelming disappointment with the political leaders; in the course of developing the country, he felt they had lost sight of what it means to be mature.

"The political parties are not wrong. Umno is not wrong, PKR is not wrong, Pas is not wrong. The ones who are wrong are the leaders. Everything is pushed aside because of money," he remarked.

As such, corruption leads to arrogance, which is leading to a decay of morals, ethics and civility in society.

"Maturity is about understanding. Last time, the races were all distinct in their own groups. The Chinese looked like this," he said, pulling up the corners of his eyes and flattening his nose. "And the Indians like this," he added, mimicking a hawked nose and drawing forth chuckles from the other patrons.

"If we had that today, everyone would be very supportive of each other. Like this, we can rest easy.

"We must speak the truth, then only can we form an alliance and find a resolution to our problems. Discourse is beneficial. If we can all talk like this, then everyone will win."

By this time, the rest of the warung had fallen silent, blown away by Saad's astute philosophy perhaps, and needing time to digest. The grave digger is an eloquent speaker, fluent in Mandarin and Hokkien too, despite having little formal education experience — he stopped after Primary Two. Little wonder then that the locals nickname him sifu.

But talk alone cannot sustain a hungry belly, more so now in light of the recent inflation which is causing great hardship to small traders.

Eu Hee Ling, 40, and her husband operate a duck rice stall at the famous Wai Sek Kai (Cantonese for Glutton's Street) in Chai Leng Park.

Permatang Pauh is your typical small town.

Business is brisk; they start selling at 5.30pm and are fully sold out by 8pm latest (customers have to settle for the more exotic parts, like the head and webbed feet, when they are too late to obtain the meat).

However, the high cost of foodstuff has affected their profit margin greatly.

"Everything is so expensive now. One duck now costs RM20. One sack of rice, that's about 50kg, is RM130, and it's local rice, not Siam. It used to be RM80 per sack. Sesame seed oil has more than doubled in price. One bottle used to be RM7-plus; now, it's RM16-plus.

"Business here is good, but price keeps going up. So how to make money?" cried the mother of a teenaged boy.

"I didn't vote in the March general election because I had to work. I'm not going to vote on Aug 26 because I have to work. The roasting needs to be done in the morning and at night I have to sell. It's a lot of work.

"Anyway, it makes no difference if I vote or not. Politics is politics. I don't want to get involved. I just want to earn a living," Eu said, cleaning up the stall before retiring for the night.

Eu is not alone. Nariah Said, 56, a drinks seller from Permatang Rawa too shares her sentiment.

"It's only a by-election. I've already done so in the March general election. I don't know yet if I will go on Aug 24. It depends if there's someone to take me there. I don't even know where to go to vote," said the chatty grandmother, mistaking the polling day for a Sunday instead of the Tuesday it has been set for.

Nariah's saucer eyes grew bigger when she learnt her mistake. "Eh? Is it true it's the 26, not the 24?"

She was baffled why the Election Commission had set it on a working day and said that the likelihood of her not going would be higher now.

Jusco"I have to work," she said, echoing Eu.

Nariah has not had an easy life. Her husband died early, leaving her to bring up four children on her own (one died later) on what she could make from selling nasi lemak and kuih. Back then, she only had a pension of RM500 a month to draw on. Today, she gets RM100 more.

But after deducting rent (RM300) for land where her rickety shop stands, there is hardly anything left over.

She pulls 12-hour working days, but there never seems enough. Some days, she can only afford to eat plain rice and a fried egg. Some nights, she is so exhausted she falls asleep in the shack behind the shop.

Today, the children are grown but she still struggles to earn even RM25 a day. If the laksa hawker shows up at her rickety stall in Bandar Perda, she gets more business, safely RM30 more a day.

But the hours are long and the profits are dwindling. She used to have an assistant. She can't afford to hire anymore.

Her dream is modest — to own her own van and park it nearer to the spanking new Jusco mall in Bandar Perda, due to open end of this month. "I'll sell soya bean, orange juice and cendol. That'll be enough."

(Malaysian Insider)

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