Perlis is the hottest state in the country with a recorded temperature of 41.1°C in Chuping. Economically, socially and politically, however, the state is not so hot.
CAB driver Osman thinks he is clued in to the sentiments of his small state, Perlis.
From chats with passengers and his reading on the ground, he believes 80% in the state will go for a Barisan Nasional government and this is primarily because they have no choice.
“Perlis is such a small state. There is very little production here. We depend a lot on the Federal Government and people here are not willing to gamble and jeopardise that.
“So whatever their ideology, we really have no choice but to support the present,” he says.
But he isn’t surprised at the growing support for Pakatan Rakyat in Perlis, and he blames it totally on the “illness” of the current state government.
Coat of Arms ~ Perlis
“We are getting something (BR1M RM500, RM100 for schoolchildren, RM200 smartphone subsidies for youths) from the Federal Government but the state government closes its eyes to us,” he complains.
Osman, who is obviously pro-Barisan, says cabbies are grateful to the Prime Minister for the RM520 tyre subsidy and the RM10,000 personal accident insurance scheme for them. “But,” he wonders, “why is the state government not following in his footsteps?”
His friend Zakaria Shahban, 58, also a cabbie, jokes that he desired to be Prime Minister “but that didn’t work out so I drive a cab instead.”
The Flag of Perlis
Then, in all seriousness, Zakaria says the Mentri Besar should come to meet the rakyat if he wants their votes and should not wait until election time.
“After they get voted in, they scoot off and have no time for us,” says Zakaria, whose main concern is rising food prices.
Taxi drivers in Perlis, like many in non-urban areas in other states, don’t use meters. They also don’t use the cheaper 68 sen per litre NGV to run their taxis.
Osman who is with the state taxi association explains that it costs RM3,000 to install an NGV tank, and that is way too costly for cabbies in Perlis.
Furthermore, there is only one petrol station in Perlis which has an NGV kiosk so it is not really practical.
Taxi fares here have not gone up for seven years, he says, and after deducting the yearly car insurance and monthly maintenance, cabbies in Perlis make only about RM800 to RM900 a month.
“Is it any surprise then that young people here do not want to drive cabs?”
Didar Singh should know. The 54-year-old was born, grew up and spent all his life in Perlis, a place he truly loves.
But eight years ago, his wife and children left for Kuala Lumpur to study and because there are not many job opportunities in Perlis.
The family now commutes: he goes to KL once a month to see them and they visit him in Perlis when they can.
“They don’t want to come back to live here. They like it in KL. They have more friends and there is more entertainment there.
“I used to say I will never leave Perlis but I’ve also grown comfortable in KL so I don’t mind leaving too if I can sell off my business. I’ve been trying but so far I’ve been unsuccessful,” says Didar Singh, who sells carpets for a living.
Business used to be much better in the 80s and 90s because in those days “we were the only people around (selling carpets), he adds.
Now that shopping centres have sprung up all over the country, there are so many choices and people tend to shop elsewhere.
“So people like me can’t get rich these days,” he says.
Didar Singh likes the fact that Perlis is small and that everything is nearby and it is not as hectic as other places.
But he notes that a number of colleges have sprung up in the state and with it outsiders and added traffic, which makes finding a parking lot much harder.
“It used to be so nice here before,” says Didar Singh who now moves about on a motorbike.
Still, in terms of development, he thinks Perlis has been left behind.
It is developing but very slowly, he says.
“See how much Kedah has grown in comparison. Jitra and Alor Setar have grown quite big. If people in Perlis want to buy something good for a wedding or something, they will go to Alor Setar because there is not much choice in Perlis.
“By right, Kuala Perlis should be developed because it is the gateway to Langkawi.
“Once upon a time, people used to come to Padang Besar (which borders Thailand) to shop but it’s pretty much a dead town now because the (North-South) highway ended up in Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah (the main border town between Malaysia and Thailand) so that area has really come up instead.
“(Tun) Dr Mahathir developed Kedah a lot when he was Prime Minister.”
It takes about 40 minutes from Perlis to get to either Padang Besar or Bukit Kayu Hitam. But people including those from Perlis prefer to go to Bukit Kayu Hitam because there is “real entertainment” when they cross the border into Danok, Thailand and plenty of good food, drinks, hotels, shopping and women!
Sometimes after work, he and a group of friends drive over to Danok, have a few drinks, dinner and return to Perlis before midnight, Didar Singh says.
“If you go to Danok, there are mostly Malaysian vehicles there,” he says.
On politics, Didar Singh thinks Barisan will still win the state but it will lose one or two more seats.
“I will vote Pakatan because I feel the Barisan government should be shaken up a bit,” he says.
(In the last general election, Barisan won 13 of the 15 state seats in Perlis with PAS taking the other two.)
On race relations, Didar Singh says it is still good but sees a trend where Malays are increasingly separated from the non-Malays in schools and housing estates and he is not comfortable with this.
“I grew up in a kampung and we didn’t have a TV set and my Malay neighbour who had a TV used to call us to go over whenever there was a Hindi movie on.
“I was also very close to our Chinese neighbours in the kampung.”
Didar Singh, who is still very fond of his old childhood friends, now sees a new generation of Malays who don’t mix around, think of themselves as superior and choose to be ignorant of other races.
“Everybody should know something about others,” he says.
Because he wears a turban, some Malays here, out of their ignorance of Sikhs, have even mistaken him for a Muslim, as Muslim men also wear various types of head dresses like the songkok, kopiah and serban.
Siti Nurbaizurah Ahmad Mukri, 23, is both concerned and excited. She worries that she is gaining too much weight with her pregnancy but she’s excited about the fact that she will be voting for the first time in her life.
“I used to weigh 48kg before I got married. Now I’m six months pregnant with my first child and weigh 63kg. I am eating all these vitamins that have made me put on so much weight,” says the restaurant worker who earns RM780 a month. Her husband who is in the army makes RM1,700.
As a first-time voter, she says, she is excited because it will be a whole new experience.
“I won’t vote for change. I have been watching the news about all sorts of issues in Penang and the Malays having all kinds of problems there and I don’t want that to happen in Perlis.”
Lim Jia Ren and Saw Zhen Qiang are only 24 but while others their age are moving out in search of opportunities, these two young men are determined to stay put in Perlis.
They and another close friend, who is also 24, borrowed money from their parents for capital and pooled their resources to open up a shop in Arau a year ago after completing their computer studies.
“Business is not bad. We are doing okay,” says Lim.
They are even able to employ two workers, paying each a monthly salary of RM1,200. But they work really hard, finishing only at 10pm which leaves them with little free time.
“We don’t go out much. When we get home, we go online and sometimes watch a movie. Once in a while, we yum cha with friends. We went to a Chinese school, so our friends are all Chinese,” says Saw. Despite this, he finds no problem mingling with other races in the Malay-majority state.
He thinks Perlis will not appeal to most young people as it is not vibrant like KL or Penang.
“But it is very suitable for raising a family. I have a business here so I am going to continue to live here after I get married,” says Saw who has been with his girlfriend, who is also from Perlis, for six years.
A registered voter, Saw will be voting for the first time. He will make his choice based on the candidate, he says.
His friend Por Cheng Han, who is also 24, disagrees, however. Por says he will look at party rather than candidate. “No matter how strong a candidate, it’s difficult if he can’t get support from the party. That’s the reality. Even if Lim Guan Eng is good, if he doesn’t get support from his party, he can’t do anything.”
Por is studying political science in Taiwan on a Taiwan scholarship and hopes to return to Malaysia to be a journalist after graduation.
He is critical of Barisan and doesn’t think they have done a good job handling race relations, the economy, education and national security.
The government has been way too soft in handling the recent Lahad Datu standoff, he opines, and that there is no clear path on the economy, leaving him to wonder if the country is going to focus on technology or industry or tourism.
On education, he feels it is fine to have schools in different languages but they all must have a similar education policy, vision and imagination that gel the people together. Currently, each type of school – national, Chinese, Tamil, religious or international – pulls the people in different directions, he says.
He adds that while Chinese and Indians of his generation think of themselves as Malaysians and want equal rights as citizens, there are still groups in the country who are not as accepting and want to still promote Malay supremacy.
“Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) is so outdated,” he says.
Por also finds it painful that parents, teachers and the government talk down to youths, as if only what they (the adults and authorities) are saying is gospel truth.
“We are not creating a critical society. The younger generation are not being taught to think,” he says.
Nevertheless, he is “optimistic about the country. We have a lot of natural resources and human resources. I will definitely come back to make a difference.”