An outsider journeys into rural politics

  • One Man's Meat
  • Saturday, 28 Apr 2018

Akhramsyah Sanusi getting to know Jerai voters

DESPITE having roots in the Jerai parliamentary constituency, Akhra­m­syah Sanusi considers himself an outsider in the seat he’s contesting.

“Jerai is my kampung. My father (the late Kedah mentri besar Tan Sri Sanusi Junid) was from here. But I am not a local here,” said the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia candidate in a conversation at his family’s village, Kampung Acheh, about 42km from Alor Setar.

“While I am sitting in Kuala Lumpur talking about my kampung, I can live with an illusion that I am a boy from Yan, Kedah. But the reality is, I don’t live here. I’m not from here.”

Akhramsyah continued: “When it comes to politics, the people here can tell that you are not local, and they give you some credit that your father was not only a local but a famous son. But you need to do more. You need to earn the right to represent them as a non-local.”

My conversation with Akhram­syah helped me see that politics in rural Malaysia is not about placing a non-local candidate in a village setting and expecting him to win. As a non-local, the politician can’t pretend that he is one with the voters.

Akhramsyah will be facing the Jerai incumbent Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Sanusi was born in Kampung Acheh. His son, however, was born in Petaling Jaya and grew up in Kuala Lumpur.

When he was between four and nine years old, Akhramsyah spent some time in his father’s village but he doesn’t consider himself a local. At the age of 13, he was sent to a boarding school at MRSM Balik Pulau in Penang.

“I spent a smattering of my younger days here. This is my kampung, where I go back to for leisure. I don’t live here.

“Living here means that you go out every morning and do the things that the people here do,” he said.

“I now, for instance, have a ritual where some mornings, I go for pek nga (a local dish) in Taman Guru. That actually gives me some credit that I am starting to be a local but that doesn’t make me a local yet. It is just a smidgen of what living here is.

“Even how I speak. When I speak the Kedah dialect, you probably can’t tell that I’m not from this place, but the locals can,” he said.

The conversation in the rural parts of the Jerai constituency, which is dominated by padi planters and fishermen, revolves around what they do for a living.

Akhramsyah knows that he can’t pretend to have a deep understanding of their lives.

“The conversation can be as simple as what the harvest is going to be like. What is the quality of the padi? Do I know the difference between padi and padi angin (literally, wind padi)?” he said.

(Padi angin was originally a padi that evolved into a weed and is now a nuisance.)

“I can’t talk to the fishermen as if I know where the best fishing areas are,” he added.

Akhramsyah knows that the non-locals have no idea about the lives of the fishermen and padi planters.

He knows that no matter how much a non-local tries to empathise, he will not know the feeling of sowing seeds and later finding out that the seeds were of poor quality and the rain had swept them away.

He knows that the non-locals do not know the feeling of spending the whole morning out at sea and returning to shore to find that your catch cannot fetch a good price because you had caught low-grade, small fish.

So how does a non-local politician close the gap with the locals?

“If we are going to win here, it would be because of the team members who are locals. I have the distinct pleasure and honour of leading a team that is willing to accept a non-local on the back of his late father’s reputation. They have built a machinery for me now that I have become a candidate,” he said.

“I now rely on them to complete me. It is not a corny line from the movie Jerry Maguire. They really complete me in terms of my understanding on how best to interact with the voters. And how to convince them that this stranger will fulfil his promise to bring them hope.”

The 44-year-old politician said it was a journey towards realising that rural politics is different from urban politics. Many assume that kampung politics is simple but it is actually subtle with its own complexities, he added.

He believes that the voters will penalise him because he is not a local. But he feels that they will forgive him as “I am my father’s son and hence the son of a local. And my dad is the only mentri besar to come from Jerai”.

In GE14, Akhramsyah will have an outside chance of ousting Jamil Khir, the Jerai political giant.

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