In the mid-1970s when Anwar Ibrahim was teaching at Yayasan Anda, a private college to assist school dropouts at Lembah Pantai, he went to work riding a 70cc Honda Cub.
Among his friends, he was known as ‘Saudara’ Anwar, a respectful and endearing term, derived and used by many Universiti Malaya undergraduates then and the Malay literati group.
‘Saudara’ carries a proletarian tone and denotes equality among the Malay youths and adults of that generation. It was so influential that even DAP emulated it and used the term for their leaders and party cadres. Thus, we had Saudara V David, Saudara P Patto and Saudara Ahmad Nor in the same vein as Saudara Ahmad Boestamam and Saudara Kassim Ahmad.
Today, we still have Saudara Lim Kit Siang, Saudara Loke Siew Fook and Saudara Gobind Singh Deo and yet Saudara Anwar has evolved to become a ‘Dato Seri’. It is still not too late for Anwar to rebrand himself and be referred to as Saudara Anwar again or Pak Anwar, as he is fondly called in Indonesia.
The influence of Pak Jokowi, a simple and humble man of Solo, who has now become the popular President of Indonesia should be emulated, according to my fellow FMT columnist Saudara Adzhar Ibrahim.
In order to rebrand himself, Anwar should go back and revisit Lembah Pantai again, and open his ears, eyes and his heart to their grievances. Simply seeing how the place has transformed, partly into Bangsar South, is not sufficient. As the cliche goes, the hardware is there but the software is lacking.
Please look at the substance in Lembah Pantai. Scrutinise the jobs of those dwelling in low-cost flats, at their earnings and what they put on the table for their families.
Perhaps while he is there he should make an assessment of whether this diverse group of Malay-dominated households have progressed since his Yayasan Anda days. I think their take-home pay and their lives have not improved, apart from the presence of several new tower blocks and a couple of malls in their midst.
Those dwellers of the former Kampung Kerinchi and Pantai Dalam are a nice sample and sizable representation of KL’s urban poor, who have been neglected. Some of them could have been his former students at ‘Yayasan Anda’, who never made it to the adjacent Universiti Malaya, Anwar’s alma mater.
Anwar surely understands his supporters’ difficulties and predicaments, as much as they understand his political travails over the years.
If only Anwar could design a model on how to assist and uplift the economic plight of this group of urban poor, his problems about leading Malaysia and winning the next general election can be considered as having been resolved.
Let’s go back to the basics. Malaysia’s current challenge for the urban poor is economically related. A lack of skill sets, a lack of technical competence combined with an inferior education and poor knowledge, are still rampant. Add insufficient capital on top and the vicious circle is complete.
These five factors are the main drawbacks that have not been overcome by a succession of past governments led by Umno, in which Anwar was once a member.
In its current state of affairs, Umno can’t see the woods from the trees. Their leaders are too busy counting their riches and too elitist to prepare a scheme to assist the poor.
As demonstrated in Melaka recently, their only capability is to drop some crumbs when an election is held. No economic strategy and no long-term financial assistance. Only good for vote-buying.
PKR, on the other hand, and despite the massive support that it gets from this lower strata of the population, has so far got away without paying much attention to the problems of the urban poor.
A plan or an economic concept, at least, is definitely due. Not having such plans, as seen in Melaka, will lead to another disaster for PKR.
Lembah Pantai has been but a glaring example of how rural-urban migration has shaped up over the years. Not only has the cityscape changed but also there is a need for political parties to take cognizance of issues pertaining to the geopolitics of their constituencies.
There are at least thirteen or more other seats of similar characteristics that are crucial to PKR in the next election.
These seats include Selayang (P97), Gombak (P98), Ampang (P99), Pandan (P100), Subang (P104), Petaling Jaya (P105), Sungai Buloh (P107) Kapar (P109), Wangsa Maju (P116), Setiawangsa (P118), Titiwangsa (P119) and Bandar Tun Razak (P124); all in the Klang Valley where rural-urban migration is the highest in the country.
There are many more similar seats, although smaller in voter size, in other states such as Segamat, Simpang Renggam, Kulai and Johor Bahru in Johor, while Penang has Balik Pulau, Nibong Tebal and Bayan Baru to worry about.
Sungai Petani, Kulim Bandar Baharu and Merbok are all in Kedah. While Raub, Bentong, Indera Mahkota and Kuantan are in Pahang. Tambun, Sungai Siput, Gopeng, Tanjong Malim and Lumut are the relevant constituencies in Perak.
These are all semi-urban seats which matter a lot to Anwar and PKR for victories at the next general election.
Urbanisation, resulting from Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s 1.0 industrial programmes, has brought about new problems in terms of urban housing, employment, education, transport, social needs, race relations and many more, which were never addressed strategically and holistically by past Umno leaders.
Umno leaders have neither the experience nor the the vision to address these urban problems. They preferred to let MCA or MIC deal with those issues, allowing them to contest those urban seats. That was how a large proportion of urban Malay voters became neglected and poorly represented.
Fortunately for Anwar, these were also the constituencies that swung to his coalition at the last two general elections while Umno’s partners, MCA and MIC, crumbled and went out of favour with these urban voters.
But for PKR to remain sustainable, a plan that appeals to such multiracial constituencies, preferably the ones that appeal more to the urban B40 group, must be devised immediately.
Like it or not, Anwar must take the lead, as the genuine Saudara Anwar, but not as a superficial Dato Seri.
Rail expansion and new urban centres
Anwar should excel where Mahathir has failed.
Mahathir is insular, against a multiracial party and has never contested in urban seats. He is obsessed with cars and highways. He was never a hero for the downtrodden, the weak and the economically deprived groups either.
Unlike Anwar, Mahathir, as a vocal capitalist, was definitely popular among the businessmen where licences, car APs, government contracts and procurements were dangled in exchange for political support.
Although Mahathir did not appeal to the urban voters, Malays or otherwise, Anwar must recognise that it is impossible to reverse the rural-urban migration process, previously advanced by Mahathir.
The answer to replace Mahathir’s failed industrial policy, is not found in a new agro-based policy strategy. That will not be the right move.
Anwar has to tackle the urban poor, the B40, irrespective of race, colour or creed. He must champion their cause, worries, jobs and entitlements.
He has to come up with a grand plan on housing for the urban poor, Singapore style.
It is feasible to urbanise some of the semi-rural or semi-urban areas by decentralising KL and the Klang Valley.
At the moment, everything is concentrated in KL or its surrounding areas. Too much money is spent in KL, on MRT, LRT, electric supply, water supply, etc.
By introducing regional growth areas at state level, these new economic initiatives could release the pressure on KL as a sole growth centre.
With such a strategy, Anwar could tour the states and propose new growth centres that could reduce the dependence on KL to provide accommodation and utility services for everyone.
Many of the surrounding towns could become new satellite cities that possess the same level of infrastructure, utilities, services and facilities as KL and also have the ease of connectivity with KL.
And this strategy can only work with the railway as the backbone or the centrepiece. It will not work using Mahathir’s network of toll highways.
This strategy will create new investments, economic and job opportunities, and new commercial activities, for our ‘saudara and saudari’.