As shocked as Malaysians are with what happened recently, there is much to be said about how a person like Dato’ Sri Haji Tajuddin bin Abdul Rahman can be elected as Prasarana chairman yet alone rise to such heights in local politics.
Drawing the ire of Malaysians, his handling of the LRT Collision should be considered as material in the next volume of PR For Dummies. From his lackadaisical attitude towards the tragedy to his “no love lost” reaction to his termination, he failed to show empathy, and even if he did in his heart of hearts feel sorry, he did not get the emotion across.
Even before this, Tajuddin has had a colourful past with viral headlines highlighting his sexist, racist and often in-denial attitude. Here are a few screenshots with those colourful headlines because today’s a little gloomy:
In addition to the above, he was also reported to have made a statement about wanting to slap Malaysian Chinese citizens if they continued to complain about their problems to outside parties. According to a report in The Star, his statement was due to the visit of the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia at the time, Huang Hui Kang to Jalan Petaling in Kuala Lumpur, following the red shirt group protest threat to the area to undermine the Bersih 5 rally in 2016. (Guess which other minister was a red shirt protest-member? Free vax for you if you get the right answer.)
On top of all that, Tajuddin also defended Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor’s lavish lifestyle during the height of the 1MDB scandal.
The question now is not how much of an unworthy leader the man whom Teresa Kok called “scum” is, the question is how he rose to power.
I’m sure we can all think of similar political figures who share the same background story, so let’s connect the dots because that’s the fun thing to do when we comment about politics.
Tajuddin’s constituency, Pasir Salak, which he has been MP of since March 2008, is part of the Malay Heartland – a sparse collection of the poorest and most rural Malay communities in Malaysia since independence.
The murder site of JWW Birch (who tried to abolish slavery), Pasir Salak, has a proud history of standing up against colonialists and defending its way of life.
Places like Pasir Salak are where political warlords like Tajuddin rose to power. He would never be able to pull this kind of sh*t if he came from Petaling Jaya.
The Malay Heartland’s aspirations are different from the rest of the country but to say the Malay Heartland is backwards is incorrect. I have personally been to many of these places and the fact is, while the rural-ness is still there, there is very little of the kampung left in this country.
Although infrastructure may be lacking, and people might have to climb trees and hills to get connected to the internet, rural communities have come a long way in terms of education and awareness. Everyone has a smartphone and knows of someone who has moved to the city.
What is still there is the kampung way of life and psyche, and that’s where the warlords come in. Well, at this time, they are still just foot-soldiers climbing up the ladder…
Let’s say you come from Pasir Salak, and your cow goes missing. Your local rep (yes, that might have been someone like Tajuddin at one point) will help you find it. Your kid can’t get a scholarship, your local rep will help him or her get a study loan at the very least. Agriculture subsidies and allowance for fishermen? Your local rep will sort it out.
Your local rep might be someone working for the local MP or the MP themselves, but they are all one tight unit who you can call on personally when you’re in a tussle.
All this aid culminates up to the general elections that happen once every 4 to 5 years, where extreme priority is given to these constituencies.
In its essence, this is the one thing that UMNO got right. The party gives priority to the Malay Heartland, mainly to win election after election. But how effective their aid has been, is another story.
Once a political candidate has established their operations in a part of the Malay Heartland, their legacy continues even if they are not physically there half of the time. While they are living it up at one of their multi-million ringgit mansions in KL, they have the next generation of foot-soldiers doing their bidding. And so the cycle continues and the kampung folk will always have a sympathetic ear.
But what does a political bigwig do once he has a strong hold of his part of the Malay Heartland? Ascend.
Someone put Tajuddin where he is and it should not come as a surprise that he was sacked from UMNO at one point as well.
Imagine, if you will, a Royal Rumble wrestling match. Last wrestler in the ring wins the title. Throughout the match, wrestlers will team-up and then turn against each other once weaker opponents are thrown out of the ring.
Tajuddin has not been thrown out of the ring, hence, other heavyweights want to team up with him. And now, he is probably looking at running in the next election, for a fourth consecutive term as MP for Pasir Salak, continuing his reign in the ring with follow contenders who rose to power in the Malay Heartland. Heck, he’s even got the guts to call for his party to cut ties with PM Muhyiddin earlier this year.
We don’t have to dream of flying cars and high-speed railway systems that will connect the country if we want Malaysia to progress. We just need to ensure that the grassroots in the Malay Heartland are getting what they really deserve – a chance at joining the rest of us in a unified Malaysia instead of living on handouts that are running out.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and views of JUICE Malaysia.
Ben Liew is a keen observer of Malaysian politics and the frontman of Ben’s B*tches, a KL punk rock band.