The Education of Nurul Izzah

By Danny Lim
Nurul Izzah at her Pantai Dalam walkabout, visiting the BN pondok. Photos by Danny Lim.

On the Monday after nomination on Feb 24, Nurul Izzah Anwar’s campaign for the Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat kicked off with a pasar malam visit at Kampung Kerinchi, followed by a ceramah at a Parti Keadilan Rakyat [PKR] pondok by the road side. It was not the most strategic of ceramah locations, as traffic skewered through a predominantly Malay crowd of 200 who hugged the side of the road. But framed between Pantai’s high-rise condominiums on one side and the Telekom Tower in the horizon on the other is the throng of high-density, lower-middle class flats and houses that is the tactical target of PKR’s appeal.

The crowd at the PKR ceramah in Kampung Kerinchi.

The warm-up acts to Nurul Izzah started off with Mat Zaman, chief of the Federal Territory Angkatan Pemuda PKR, whose shrill rhetorics took a long time to unwind his unwieldy points: one on education, went through a description of a PIBG [Parent Teacher Association] meeting in a school where only 13 out of 120 parents admitted sending their kids to religious school. This was because, he believed, it was unaffordable (RM200 per child, and without free textbooks), and this thus led to rising crime and other social problems. Ustaz Riduan Shamsuddin, Lembah Pantai Pemuda PAS committee member dealt with issues closer to home, citing uneven and unsettling development around Lembah Pantai. He also pointed out how in the early 1970s, during his Abim [Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia] days, Nurul Izzah’s father built a school at Pantai Baru for underprivileged children.

The roadside pondok ceramah where Nurul Izzah (next to her husband) awaits her turn to speak.
In doing so, Riduan made a point that PKR was trying to explicitly, if not implicitly, steer away from. He said, “Anwar (Ibrahim) has a history in this constituency. If we compare Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil [the Lembah Pantai incumbent Member of Parliament], there’s a big difference.” Which is just begging for the kind of allegations made by The Malay Mail on Feb 25, when it splashed the headline “Daddy’s Pawn” on its cover story, citing Anwar reportedly saying that Nurul Izzah had agreed to give way to him if she wins the Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat.

In a later interview, she would lament, “[Y]ou’re caught in a position where of course you want coverage, but you want equal and fair coverage. I don’t subscribe to (the maxim that) any publicity is good publicity.”

The first time candidate says she has been campaigning for PKR since 1998.
The proxy stigma were among the first matters Nurul Izzah dealt with at her turn at the mike. “I made my own decision (to stand in Lembah Pantai),” she told the crowd. She also addressed doubts over her inexperience by reminding everyone she’s been campaigning with her father – “turun padang” [on the ground] – since 1998. The beat of her speech covered nationwide issues, as is wont with PKR candidates, of rising oil prices, rising goods prices, and a rising crime rate. Her proffered solutions are simplistic but digestible: keep prices low by using Petronas profits and revenue generated from commodities; she also does not see the rationale in wiping out old subsidies whilst spending, she said, on mega-projects that amount to approximately RM800 billion in 20 years for five corridor projects.

As a speaker, Nurul Izzah did not falter, no nervy anxiety, all smooth delivery. She is nowhere yet as colourful and sharp-witted as her dad. But she managed to communicate forthrightness, an authoritative voice leavened with the gentle decorum of a Siti Nurhaliza.

Outside the KTM station in Pantai Dalam.

At this point, her mass appeal or at least the curiosity she attracts amongst the people and the media relies more on the “puteri” part of her than the “reformasi” tag. This celebrity status ensured some excitement when she went on a walkabout in Pantai Dalam, where ungainly rows of convenience stores, mobile phone shops and food stalls are braced by the KTM line and the New Pantai Expressway. The aim was to catch the 6pm-7pm crowd coming home from work.

View of Pantai Dalam from the motorcycle bridge over the KTM track.

The roadside food stalls of Pantai Dalam, just next to the railway track.

Nurul Izzah’s easy geniality and comfort in talking to complete strangers is a more convincing argument that she’s not some nervy rookie than any explicit contention. Her first port of call upon starting the walkabout is to go to the BN/Umno pondok [hut or centre] less than 50m away from the PKR one, where BN workers greet her politely and shake hands.

Meet 'n' greet with her toothpaste ad smile.

Flanked by her husband Raja Ahmad Shahrir Raja Salim, and her assistants, the aim is to introduce, meet ‘n’ greet, pass a pamphlet, and move – no message necessary. She doesn’t shake hands with men, leaving that job to her husband.

The photographers soon figure out that the best chance of getting that killer shot of Nurul Izzah shaking hands, flashing that toothpaste ad smile, is to stake out the next woman in line.

Passing pamphlets - no political message necessary.

Posing for cameras in between BN banners and posters.

As dusk approached, the convoy consisting of a Kia Rio, Suzuki Swift and some motorcycles moved to a secluded row of long-houses at Simpang Tiga, Jalan Kubur, Pantai Dalam. According to the locals, squatters had been moved here 13 years ago, and they complain of being neglected, the ramshackle conditions of their decaying households struggling to contain their growing families.

Meeting a family at the long house kampung in Pantai Dalam.

This was communicated through a teary-eyed resident in the first house Nurul Izzah is invited into. Right at the edge of development, the long-houses are surrounded by forestry which provide refuge for monkeys. These monkeys have been scaring residents with their constant raids into their homes.

The concerns here are purely local - residents want better, safer houses.

Nurul Izzah consoled the residents and promised action. PKR has already brought another low-cost housing community to meet with lawyers. But going to court, she admitted, won’t necessarily get what the residents want. Her best promise: vote for her, and she’ll get a chance to bring this up in Parliament.

The women of Pantai Dalam sizing up the candidate.

From house to house, the issues and the action-promise mantra is repeated. At one end of a row of houses, four women stand outside paying rapt attention to Nurul Izzah as she recited the residents’ problems, talked of meeting lawyers and the power of bringing this up in Parliament. They nodded quietly, but don’t seem to want to say much. Nurul Izzah, sensing there’s not much interaction to work on, bid goodbye and moved on. Amongst the four nodding women, one turned to the other and said, “Comel, ya!” [Cute, isn’t she?]

[Note: Nurul Izzah is in a three-cornered fight with BN incumbent Shahrizat and independent Periasamy Nagarathnam. Lembah Pantai has 56,650 registered voters. Malays (54%), Chinese (25%), Indians (20%), Others (1%).]

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