From issues on politicians being held accountable and the armed intrusion into Lahad Datu to rising cost of living, Pahang folks have their own take on things.
RETIRED soldier Saadon Ahmad, 75, is very old school. He believes in a strict regime of discipline, rules, regulations and punishment and he thinks this should also apply in politics.
“If a politician breaks a rule, does something wrong, he should be hauled up and punished, otherwise people will think he can do whatever he likes and gets away with it,” he says.
He knows being a leader is not easy. “You have to understand your men, use the right size, correct method and proper tools, and know how to start and finish the job.
“Human beings are like an orchestra and its leader is the conductor. He must know how to conduct, otherwise the music will not be a symphony,” he says.
Perhaps it is because Saadon is from Pekan – Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s constituency – that he thinks the PM understands people and is a “solid” conductor for the country.
“His plans are not just for five years but 50 years ahead. He has vision,” Saadon says with obvious pride.
But he is less flattering when it comes to other politicians in the party.
“People who are not well-off shouldn’t enter politics because once they get posts, they get ‘drunk’ on power and money. We see this all the time in Umno.”
He wants Barisan Nasional to carry on ruling because “we should honour the progress that they have made” and “it’s not safe to experiment”, but at the same time he wants politicians especially from Umno to be more accountable.
He suggests that an “assessment officer” keep watch on politicians elected to office without them knowing, and these “officers” should submit reports on the politicians every three months or so to the top leaders so that they can assess and take action if required.
“Politicians shouldn’t demand RM50 or so each time the rakyat comes to them for a signature on a form. If you makan RM1 from somewhere, your salary should be cut by RM2 at the end of the month. There must be punishment,” Saadon says.
“If nothing is done, the excesses will go on and I fear the party will be finished.”
Saadon credits Pakatan Rakyat for making a lot of improvement.
“They have been doing a kind of R & D on what our weak points are. They also study the people, their wants and needs and address them. Why are we not doing this?”
As an ex-soldier, Saadon is of course closely following the issue of the self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan’s claim on Sabah and the intrusion into Lahad Datu by the Sulu armed men.
He says the insurgents’ claim on Sabah memang tak kena (not realistic).
“Why did they not make their claim back then during the Cobbold Commission (which looked into whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak were agreeable with the formation of Malaysia with Malaya and Singapore)?
“It’s not logical to do it now. Malacca once had a Sultan. Can the heir come back some day and claim it?”
In Bentong, friends Shahril, Hassan, Tuan Haji Mawi and Ahmad Shukri are in a warung discussing the Lahad Datu situation.
Shahril wonders if Malaysian ICs have been given out so easily in Sabah to people from southern Philippines to benefit certain politicians (and vote for them) and if the country is now paying the price when these people turn against Malaysia.
“We worry for Peninsular Malaysia, too, because there are too many foreign workers from Indonesia, Bangladesh and Myanmar, who may end up living here permanently, so we are concerned what might happen to the country in the future,” he says.
Hassan thinks it is too easy for foreigners to get student visas here.
“Are the authorities monitoring if the foreigner is qualified, is actually going to college and attending classes or is simply using the student visa as a pretext to carry out illegal activities here?”
On politics, he believes the Malays in the state do not oppose Barisan or Umno but are simply fed up with the politicians and their ways.
“They grab everything including the tender to cut grass, so what does that leave the common folks with? You need connections and to ‘pull cables’ politically if you want something.
“I am a Barisan man but even my confidence is eroding when I see how people change once they get posts.
“They change their old car straightaway to not just a new one but a luxury car. It is as if they are in politics just to accumulate wealth for themselves. It is disappointing,” says the 59-year-old Hassan, who is a businessman.
But above and beyond all this, what matters most to him is to get the Government to revive the Jawi script in primary schools and make this a mandatory subject for Malay students so that they can read and write Jawi as was done in the past.
“If you ask school children today, 10 out of 10 may not be able to read Jawi. How then are they going to recite the Quran and understand Islam?
“The Chinese have their own writing and the Indians have theirs, too. Why are the Malays using Roman alphabets to write and read instead of Jawi?
“It is not just a matter of identity but basic knowledge so that they can read the Quran and understand the religion,” says Hassan, adding that this problem of the younger generation of Malays not being able to read and write Jawi has been bugging him for more than 10 years.
For 43-year-old Kuan who runs a tyre shop, what bothers him most is the rising cost of living.
“In 1987, I was earning RM150 a month and was able to survive but today, people find it a struggle to manage on a salary of RM2,000 a month,” he says.
“The price of everything has gone up. Having money is the most important thing in life. It gives people happiness,” says Kuan, who dreams of being a millionaire, retire at 55, buy a boat and go off sailing and fishing in Australia.
He thinks money is easy enough to make in Malaysia and that one should use money to make more money.
“If you use your hands to get money, then you won’t get much,” he says.
One must also know how to enjoy the money because otherwise life will not be complete, he adds.
Kuan, who has three children, finds it easy to sit down to chat and connect with people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and retirees but finds it tough to do so with teens or those in their early 20s.
“They are of a different wavelength. I don’t understand what they are saying and they don’t get me either,” he admits.
He thinks parents pamper their children too much these days by giving them lots of pocket money, buying them a car or a motorbike and subsequently paying the monthly instalment, and also giving them money for petrol and shopping.
“So, kids these days can live without even working,” he says.
His friend Fatt, who is also in the tyre business, thinks family is more important than money.
“If you have money but no family you will not be happy. And you shouldn’t have too much money,” he says.
After all, he adds, the Chinese are good at managing their money no matter how small the amount.
“If they get RM100, they will save RM70 and spend RM30. If they get RM70 and spend all RM70, then they are not Chinese.”
Fatt, who has three daughters aged 17, 16 and nine, says parenting needs a different set of skills these days. He hopes the caring and respectful manner with which he treats his elderly mother will rub off on his children so that they will treat him similarly in his old age.
“We cannot control kids too much because they will rebel, pack their bags and leave home or, worse, jump off a building and commit suicide,” he says.
But Kuan disagrees, saying that a child’s mind is empty and it is imperative for parents to upload the right “software and programmes” in it.
“If you want to taste the fruit, you have to plant the tree first,” he adds.
On politics, Kuan says it has become so divisive that he does not put up party flags in front of his shop anymore or tell customers which party he supports.
“I did it once and the customer drove away in a huff without getting his car tyres changed. So I don’t tell anymore because I don’t want to lose any business,” he jokes.
Kuan and Fatt both oppose the Lynas plant here, fearing they may be exposed to radioactive waste material.
Fatt worries that the effects will be felt and borne by the generations to come and that his grandchildren might be deformed or disabled because of it.
Fatt questions why Australia itself refuses to accept the radioactive waste and other countries like Indonesia and Thailand don’t want it either.
“So why have it in Kuantan?” he asks.
He further argues that if an advanced country like Japan can suffer a nuclear disaster and radiation exposure when its Fukushima nuclear plant leaked after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, how can a developing country like Malaysia be sure that it can protect against radiation of radioactive material from the Lynas plant in the event of a disaster?
But Edwin Murthy is not worried. He doesn’t think it is a problem. “A lot of people are working there. It is their rice bowl. Would they be willing to work there if there is such a risk?
“I think it’s just the Opposition (Pakatan Rakyat) party who is creating this issue,” he says.
Edwin works as a supervisor at one of the big supermarkets in Kuantan and his wife teaches in a kindergarten.
Their combined salary doesn’t come up to RM3,000.
He worked in Singapore for 10 years but chose to come home to Kuantan to look after his elderly mother after his father passed away.
“The money is good in Singapore but my commitment is to my family. I am the only son so I have to come back.
“If you show a good example to your own children, they will do the same for you,” says the 48-year-old father of two.
He gives 10% of his salary as tithes to the church every month because he believes money comes from God so he should give some back for the running of the church.
And he manages to put away RM100 each month as savings.
“Of course I worry about retirement but I am putting a plan in place,” he says.
For him, it doesn’t matter which party comes to power because either way “you have to earn your own living”.
“I am a moderate. I am not against or for a particular party but I prefer Barisan because I don’t trust the other side.
“They are three different parties with three different ideologies.”
But Hadi Abu Bakar, 23, has opted for the right not to choose.
“I haven’t registered as a voter. My family are hardcore PKR supporters and they have been persuading me to register as a voter but I told them to wait.
“There are things right about PKR and there are things wrong about the party. It’s the same with Barisan; there are some things I like and some things I don’t.
“So for now, I am staying neutral,” he says.