A WALL of flags hid marquees where a crowd slowly trickled in as speeches started in what was billed as a mega ceramah, or campaign rally, in Tanjung Karang last night.
There were old men in shorts, some in sarung and youths in jeans while most of the women were in baju kurung and headscarves or t-shirts and pants. Most wore a face mask – a reminder of the still-lingering pandemic.
With just 200 chairs in front of a few loudspeakers, this ceramah was a far cry from the thousands who came to hear the pitch to change the government in 2018.
Then, huge billboards plastered with faces of either Najib Razak or Dr Mahathir Mohamad were everywhere, and posters of candidates – old and new – dominated the landscape.
Najib is in jail, Dr Mahathir still endures at 97 and is standing for Langkawi as he continues his unfinished political struggle.
But in Tanjung Karang, a teacher named Siti Rahayu Baharin, better known as Cikgu Rahayu, of Muda was to have taken on Umno strongman Noh Omar, only to see him being dropped after six terms as its MP.
The little town of fishing villages, oil palm plantations and padi fields has 62,194 votes over which five candidates are fighting, and Cikgu Rahayu is one of them.
There are no posters of her or any of her opponents on the long road leading to the town of the same name, only political party flags.
Her campaign officials said funds are short but more importantly, the logo is to remind voters to pick her among the slate of candidates on election day on November 19.
Despite that, Cikgu Rahayu has been on the campaign trail since parliament was dissolved in early October as Tanjung Karang is one of six federal seats contested by Muda under the Pakatan Harapan banner. The entire Selangor Muda team has been hard at work in their first-ever election campaign in the country’s richest state.
Most of them are urbanites and have traded their Tiktok videos for walkabouts to reach out to an electorate used to local boy Noh, who has been their MP since 1995, when Cikgu Rahayu was still in secondary school.
Yet, they needed a ceramah to make their point and presence in their only Selangor contest and that meant popular Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman had to turn up with other big names to pitch for Cikgu Rahayu – who has only ever been used to teaching homeless and refugee children rather than speaking in public to adults.
A few people spoke first to the crowd at the ceramah just a kilometre from the spanking new district hospital completed under the short Pakatan Harapan rule from 2018 to 2020. Among them were Segambut incumbent Hannah Yeoh, who knew Cikgu Rahayu when the former was a deputy minister.
But it was Syed Saddiq who made the point for the entire ceramah, saying it was about education and the economy.
In his fast-talking style with a slight lisp, the young man who understudied Dr Mahathir spoke plainly about the issues of the day and the need to vote for Cikgu Rahayu to parliament.
Malaysian children needed better education, he said. Malaysian parents needed better income, he added.
And only a Pakatan Harapan government can do all that for Malaysia, Syed Saddiq said.
The voters in Tanjung Karang, and the rest of Malaysia, will have to consider all this over the next 11 days before going to the ballot box and making their choice for the next five years. – November 8, 2022.