Dear Pakatan Harapan, here’s what I want as a ‘selfish’ middle-class urban Malaysian

 Part of the bicycle lane built by DBKL from Dataran Merdeka to MidValley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur, along the Klang River. — Photo: SC CHIN

Part of the bicycle lane built by DBKL from Dataran Merdeka to MidValley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur, along the Klang River. — Photo: SC CHIN

I am a “selfish” middle-class urban Malaysian. That’s why I want to feel more “love” from Pakatan Harapan.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad that they want to help our poorer Malaysian friends. 

The Pakatan manifesto promises great things like EPF for housewives, a RM1,500 minimum wage, private clinic subsidies for poor families, maintaining low-cost flats and providing electricity (at last!) for rural Sabah and Sarawak. 

And of course, I am happy that the big national issues - 1MDB, Felda, media freedom - are being tackled. If nothing else, the “entertainment” value of national news since the elections have been worth much more than a Netflix subscription.

That’s all well and good. But as a “selfish” middle-class urbanite, I still feel slightly neglected.

Recently, after GST went to zero, I still had to pay RM2.80 for a cup of “Horlicks C panas” at a mamak shop. And this was not even in Kuala Lumpur, but in Sungai Besar, a town in a far-flung corner of Selangor. 

Prices of drinks and food in Petaling Jaya (PJ), where I live, seem to keep creeping up too - a glass of hot barley now costs up to RM2.

For us middle-class urban dwellers who voted for Pakatan in overwhelming numbers, I suspect these prices won’t be coming down anytime soon.

This is because rentals of shops, or even of stalls within shops, are still very high (and businessmen will always squeeze the maximum profit that the market can bear). 

So as Johnny Ng, my bicycle shop guy suggested, maybe the new government can provide much more space for public food courts? 

This is what Singapore has been doing for decades - providing cheap rental space for food hawkers in every area of public flats. 

Of course, Pakatan’s bigger reforms, such as on the police force, judiciary, national education and a million affordable homes, will also benefit urban middle-class folks. 

But these issues will, I expect, take a long time to fix. Yet I’m still feeling the RM2.80 pinch for that Horlicks.

It’s fantastic that Pakatan wants to help poorer rural people, with payouts to Felda settlers for Hari Raya being a recent example. But will we urban folks see some direct and quick benefits too?

Apart from public food courts, another “selfish” middle-class wish of mine is that the new Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub will consider supporting organic farming. 

For too long, we Malaysians have been eating vegetables grown using chemical pesticides and fertilisers and meat laced with antibiotics and growth hormones. 

We have to ask: How much has this affected our long-term health? And our middle-class hospital bills? 

The irony is: it is us taxpayers who have helped subsidise all these chemicals for farmers for years. 

Sure, we want to buy organic food, but it’s much more expensive. 

Can our money be instead used to support organic farming? After all, it can also boost the incomes of rural farmers by value-adding their products.

Here’s where I have to make a confession: I called this wish list “selfish” just to grab attention. In reality, its benefits are very public, at least for the urban middle class. 

And this brings me to my other city dweller wish - to be free from traffic jams. 

Yes, there are now several MRT/LRT lines in the Klang Valley but Transport Minister Anthony Loke (who is from my hometown Seremban) has said that he’s still not satisfied with the ridership rates.

The biggest problem of the MRT/LRT is the “last mile connection”, namely getting to the stations from our homes. 

I love it that Pakatan has promised a RM100 monthly pass to use the public transport system. But when you need to spend at least RM10 daily for a Grabcar ride to and from the station, it doesn’t look so cheap anymore. 

As an urbanite who regards cycling as something healthy, useful and even, yes, trendy, I wish the MRT/LRT was connected to housing areas with simple bicycle lanes, say within a 2km radius of stations.

Near where I live in Bandar Utama, PJ, there is a Starling shopping mall, a First City University College and at least five condos/apartments (including in neighbouring Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL) all within 2km of the Bandar Utama MRT station.

Yet it’s difficult and dangerous to get there without a car -- so near, yet so far, as they say.

If a bicycle lane (or to be more “democratic”, motorbike lane) is built to link these places to the BU MRT station, surely more people will use the trains? 

The best part is that some bicycle lanes have already been built in these areas years ago, but some crucial links are missing. So it’s just a few short stretches which need to be constructed. 

For those who don’t want to sweat, nowadays there are options such as electric bikes and other PMD’s (personal mobility devices) such as mini electric scooters, hooverboards or small Segways.

Over RM50 billion was spent to build the MRT. Surely it’s not asking too much for just 0.1% (RM50 million) of that to be allocated for cheap, easy-to-build bicycle lanes to improve access to the stations? 

I believe this is a low-risk, low-cost experiment worth trying. If it works, at the very least, it will liberate urban parents from having to be taxi drivers for their teenaged kids.

If this basic wishlist on food courts, organic food and bike lanes can be fulfilled for urban folks, there are many other things that can be done. 

How about cheap music, art, cooking, martial arts or language classes at community halls? 

How about multiracial volunteer programmes where urban folks can go to help (and learn from) rural people? 

The good news is that it’s very possible some of these projects may be fully or partially funded by private sponsors. 

This is thanks to the new national spirit of volunteerism and charity, as seen in donations to Tabung Harapan Malaysia. In that case, the government will only need to facilitate and coordinate the projects. 

So there you have it, some of my “selfish” wishes.

All I can say to the new Pakatan Harapan government is: please don’t forget us urban middle-class folks who supported you in a big way. 

It would be nice to see some of these small-scale rewards coming our way soon.

Teh Tarik , Andrew Sia , Pakatan Harapan

Andrew Sia

Andrew Sia

Teh Tarik is a delicious brew of ideas that can be served ‘khau kurang manis’ (strong and in your face) or sweet, milky and frothy.