Small-town politics in Johor

Small-town politics in Johor
By Zan Azlee

I have been following the Johor state election quite closely on the ground.

Out of all the years and multiple elections that I have followed and reported on, this is the first time I have been directly involved in a campaign. Before this, it has always been as a journalist, but this time around, in full transparency, I am helping the Layang-Layang candidate Maszlee Malik.

What I have noticed is that a local state election runs differently than a federal general election in many aspects. The most obvious difference is the minute detail when it comes to local issues.

Going around the constituency of Layang-Layang this past week, I learned that the locals don’t care much for general issues like 1MDB or ultra-corruption cases. Old news, they say.

What they do care about is the fact that their water supply won’t be disrupted anymore due to pollution when it rains since the landfill in the area has been closed down.

They want to know if their cost of living will reduce and the quality of life will improve with more job opportunities. They also care about affordable housing and educational opportunities for their children.

Party and coalition also, although still important for association and credibility, does not mean as much in a small town as it does nationally.

You hear people talking about how they have seen a candidate come to their house to say hello and ask about their well-being. They remember when a candidate sits down with them at a kopitiam and talks about the kampung goings-on.

Muda Machap candidate R Sangaran campaigning in Bandar Simpang Renggam


That, to them, is a man of the people. They want someone who actually knows their concerns and addresses the local issues. They want someone who is always in the area, knows his way around and is in touch with the community leaders instead of a parachute representative who only relies on his team on the ground to brief him.

If you think about it, that is valid. Who wants a representative who doesn’t know their area?

There are also many hardcore voters who are fiercely loyal and committed, just as there are many opposers who fiercely oppose. This makes ceramahs and walkabouts exciting, but the main thing is that in this current state election, there are also a whole lot of people who are tired, disillusioned and frustrated. These are the people who might not even bother to vote.

These people say that it doesn’t matter if they go out to vote or not because no real change will happen anyway. To these people, the candidate needs to convince them their vote matters.

Show them he or she will work hard and has worked hard for their benefit and well-being. Be humble and genuine in wanting to serve the people. Remember, without the people, there will be no leaders.

It is not about big national issues

The women folk is another focus. On a national and international level, the fight for gender equality is a big one. But on a local level, like in Layang-Layang, for example, it is hard to ignore how things move because women play such important roles.

They want issues like welfare and family-related matters to be given attention. Cost of living, education, and social problems are what they want to be addressed.

And not surprisingly, they are the ones leading the call for better opportunities for small business owners. A large number of entrepreneurs in small towns are led by women. They range from small cottage industries like kuih making right up to medium-sized businesses like fruit orchards and farms that serve the local market and also nationally.

MCA Paloh candidate Lee Ting Han on campaign walkabout


The issue of out of town voters is big too. They need to be given motivation and reason to make the trip back home to cast their votes. These are important voters because many of them are politically and socially aware.

Hence, their decisions are educated and informed decisions. But, the question for them is, is it worth it to return and vote?

And last but not least are the young voters between the ages of 18 and 21. This will be the first time they are eligible to vote, and it is interesting to see what their concerns are.

In Layang-Layang, they don’t care about the big national issues. They just want to be acknowledged and heard. They need infrastructure to develop their potential and help them stay out of trouble. Public skateparks, sports facilities and motorsports infrastructure is what they are asking for.

At the end of the day, the conclusion that I have come to is that when it comes to smaller state elections, the voters are extremely in touch with their issues.

A candidate or political party will not easily get by on sensationalism and populist politics. Hard work, sincerity and commitment is what will convince them.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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