By Dineskumar Ragu
Nurul Izzah Anwar’s failed bid to retain her ‘family heirloom’, the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency, surprised many observers in Penang and beyond.
Politicians and social media users, especially on Twitter, expressed disbelief when they heard she had been dethroned by a Pas candidate.
Many thought Nurul Izzah would have no problem retaining Permatang Pauh, given her reputation as a policy-centred MP who cares about important issues concerning people’s livelihoods.
Her qualities are undeniable. She is passionate about addressing climate change, overcoming poverty, reforming technical and vocation education and training, tacking flood-related issues and boosting food security.
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She is also an outspoken, conscientious critic of the massive land reclamation project off the southern coast of Penang Island, even though it landed her in the bad books of the DAP. As someone who opposes this mega-project, I salute her for that.
Policy-wise, she is a brilliant MP, and no one can say otherwise.
But she has one problem that could have contributed to her loss: her absence from Permatang Pauh most of the time.
Despite being Permatang Pauh MP, she is not often in her constituency, as she spends much of her time in Kuala Lumpur.
This, right here, is the issue with Anwar’s family. They have been keeping the seat for years, and yet they have not spent enough time there. Moreover, they rarely remain in the seat for long: they have a tendency to move on to contest in other constituencies in distant states, like a bunch of ‘political nomads’.
That appears to have infuriated her constituents, especially the older ones. While young voters are keen to look at an MP’s policy preferences, older voters look at whether their MP can be in the constituency most of the time and attend to their problems immediately.
“Kamu tak turun kawasan selalu, kenapa kami nak undi kau balik?” (If you don’t visit the constituency frequently, why should we vote you back?) This is what many voters may have felt.
If you want to be a ‘Yang Berhormat’ (elected representative) in Malaysia, championing sound public policies alone is not enough. You need to regularly ‘turun padang’ (go down to the field) often as well. Nurul Izzah failed on this score, and she lost her seat.
I felt bad about her loss. But I also hope that this loss can be a sobering experience for the “Puteri Reformasi” (Reformasi Princess), as well as for other politicians who lost their seats on 19 November because they were not at their constituencies often enough.
Never, ever, ever take your seats for granted. Voters are watching.
Dineskumar Ragu is an Aliran executive committee member