Waiting for the day when top BN leaders stand in urban seats and PH in rural ones

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Why is it that come general elections, top Barisan Nasional leaders almost always stand in rural or semi-rural seats while their Pakatan Harapan counterparts in urban ones?

Hazreen Mohamad/NST

This perception is so ingrained that when Khairy Jamaluddin was fielded in urban Sungai Buloh in the upcoming general election, some pundits felt that the Health Minister was sent there to meet his political Waterloo.

This has been a trend for the longest time now and not a particularly healthy one. This election, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is defending his Bagan Datuk seat, PM Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (Bera), MCA president Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong (Ayer Hitam) and MIC president Tan Sri A Vigneswaran (Sungai Siput). These are all non-urban seats.

On the other end of the spectrum, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is standing in Tambun, just outside Ipoh city, DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke (Seremban), Amanah president Mohamed Sabu (Kota Raja, which is adjacent to Shah Alam and Klang).

This is why Khairy deserves utmost respect for his courage to move from his rural Rembau where he was MP for two terms to Sungai Buloh, located just outside Kuala Lumpur.

But why does it matter where top leaders stand? It does because it affects policy decisions and political leanings that can have a far-reaching impact in our country’s future.

If top leaders of a political bloc represent largely rural seats, they will tend to play to that gallery at the expense of urban sentiments. For example, they may give disproportionate weightage to rural infrastructural development while paying much less attention to issues like judiciary independence which resonate with urban voters.

Similarly, a political coalition which relies heavily on urban voters may be detached from the plight of folks in the interior, whose top concern is livelihood issues, not lofty ideals like media freedom or curbing China’s growing influence in the South China Sea.

Understandably, these are all a matter of political expediency. Leaders want to win in elections. Period.

But when two major opposing political blocs hold sway over voters along the rural-urban divide, it will only make this country even more polarised. This is made worse given how rural seats are largely Malay-dominated while urban ones have more non-Malay voters.

I think politicians from across the aisle should start getting out of their comfort zones. For a start, BN can start to field more mid-level leaders in urban seats while PH do the same in rural ones in the future. They can start as early as next year when several States will go to the polls.

I hope that in my lifetime, I will see an Umno president winning in seats like Bukit Bintang and Cheras while the DAP secretary-general winning in constituencies like Gerik or Pengkalan Chepa.

We need more Khairy Jamaluddins who have the courage to step into unfamiliar territories. But voters must also play their part and reward these leaders by voting them in. Only then, can we hope to have a more holistic development and bring down the political temperature which has unnecessarily dragged this country down longer than it should.

The views expressed here are strictly those of Zulkifli Mohd Salleh from Shah Alam.