Johari Ghani was only one of two Barisan candidates to win in Kuala Lumpur in 2013 and although he admits that the situation could be tougher for the ruling coalition the next time around, he is optimistic that a party that does the right things for the people would get their support.
KUALA LUMPUR — IT was a time when the urban groundswell was very strongly against the ruling coalition party and most predictions were that the Barisan Nasional would lose badly in this segment.
Indeed it did, in many constituencies but there were exceptions, although the majority in most cases wasn’t big.
In the Federal Territory, of the eleven parliamentary seats only two are held by BN, of which one — Setiawangsa — can be considered a safe seat which the coalition has won all three times since it was created before the 2004 elections.
The other is Titiwangsa, which although won many times by the government, had gone the other a few times too.
BN managed to win it again in 2013 through current Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Ghani who beat Ahmad Zamri Asa’ad Khuzami of PAS, with Johari securing 23,034 votes for a small majority of 866.
The two seats indicate that despite the challenges, especially what is generally described as a genuine disregard for the government and everything associated with it, especially the politics, it’s still possible for Umno or BN to win in the towns.
In the case of Johari, an accountant who grew in the predominantly Malay suburban Kampung Pandan, his service to the community suggests that this could be a major route for BN to win over the hearts and minds of voters.
A visit to his community service centre shows just how crucial this is to influencing the people’s thinking.
“It’s as if BN had finally discovered the best way to approach us, the urban poor,” quipped a taxi driver who wanted to be known only as Ismail.
According to Johari, urban voters can be wooed even without political rhetorics.
“As far as urbanites are concerned, they want their MPs to be on the ground. As long as you are willing to spend your time with them, they will give you their votes,” said Johari during a recent interview.
Titiwangsa has been a BN stronghold, with the bulk of its supporters living in the Malay enclaves around Jalan Raja Muda, Kampung Datuk Keramat and other sections of Kampung Baru.
However, pockets of dissatisfaction provided opportunities for the opposition to penetrate, as was the case in 1959 when the founder of the Malaysian Socialist’s Front Datuk Ahmad Boestamam won, and also in 1969 when it went to the DAP’s Walter Loh Poh Khan and again in2008 to Dr. Lo’ Lo’ Mohamad of PAS.
“When BN lost in 2008 and after I was appointed as BN Titiwangsa chairman in 2010, I spent three years servicing the rakyat (people). That is how I won it back,” related Johari.
Support for BN in Titiwangsa in 2013 came almost entirely from the Malays and Indians. Johari has decided to keep the BN flag flying strongly by also assisting people from areas outside his constituency. The catch-word is service to the people.
Although he was unable to win much support from the Chinese, the majority of the Malays and Indians gave him their votes. He won nine of the 10 Malay majority polling districts but lost in all five Chinese majority areas.
Staying true to his intention of wanting to serve the people, Johari, despite his busy schedule as minister, meets his constituents at the community centre every fortnightly.
A poor mother of three blind children, a mentally ill man in need of money to buy medicines and a former bodyguard whose eyes were infested with cataracts were among those who regularly sought Johari’s help.
They admitted to being unhappy and feeling the effects of some policies, like the Goods and Services Tax, but Johari’s attitude towards them has managed to mitigate their anger.
“Sure, some of us were frustrated at first but when we realised how helpful he (Johari) has been to us you just can’t stay angry forever,” said Erman Parjoo, the former bodyguard from Kampung Baru.
Johari’s help was also sought by those living in surrounding constituencies like Cheras, Batu and Pandan.
“He even helps those who are not from his constituency,” said Azieyati Mat Ali, who wanted Johari to help her stop a government agency from demolishing her stall.
“I live in Pandan but my MP doesn’t seem to care about the welfare of those who he thinks did not vote for him,” remarked the 35-year-old.
Johari considers going the extra mile to help those who not from his constituency as part of his responsibility as a BN MP.
“You must understand that at the end of the day, I am carrying a BN flag. So whatever I do, it reflects BN’s image,” he said.
Admitting that the current political situation may be tougher than ever for BN, Johari was nonetheless confident that the coalition will retain Titiwangsa in the next general election.
“As long as we continue to do the right things for the rakyat, I’m sure the rakyat will support us,” he said.