Public transport, please

MANY Malaysians have expressed reservations about the Third National Car project and have urged the government to focus on improving public transport, connectivity and ensuring smooth traffic flow.

Rafizi Ramli and lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar have both spoken out on the need to reconsider the car project.

Discussions have touched on past promises to remove excise duty, reduce costs and the idea to include Indonesia to build an “Asean” car.

For me, it’s a question of cost and resources. First, what will such a project cost this government and the government-linked corporations?

If the new national car is to be established right after or during the abolishment of toll charges in stages, where does the government see the potential income to make up for lost revenue and kickstart the project?

Second, the cost to consumers. The average urban household has an estimated RM6,000 monthly from salaries to spend on everything from groceries, their homes, and hopefully their insurance plans and savings.

Do we want to add on the need for a car, petrol, car insurance, maintenance and toll charges to the mix, or can we add it to whatever savings they have at the end of the month?

Now, let us move on to resources part of the discussion – it will be a petrol, diesel or gas-driven car. We are a net importer of petrol; thus putting the government at risk of increased spending on the finite resource due to subsidies, which is again another expense on the government on top of wanting to build the car.

In fact, how much has the government spent on maintaining petrol prices for the past three months?

If we are going into electric vehicles, feel free to get in touch with the need to buy into rare earth to develop the batteries.

Another limited resource we need to talk about is land. Do we want to pave more land for roads, highways and parking lots? We do not have enough parking space in towns and cities.

It has been observed that building more roads eventually causes more traffic congestion.

More traffic jams lead to more carbon emissions; and more roads and parking lots means lowering the means to balancing those emissions if we do not replant trees and create new green areas to replace the cleared land.

Of course, a lot of time is wasted in traffic jams and contributes to various costs.

To those romanticising about Proton, I have to say it was not always a success. The carmaker took a dip when it took the front of a Wira, glued it to a hatchback and called it a “new model” targeting the dusty dunes of Australia.

Proton was also reported to have had problems with its parts suppliers, leading to what some believe was a reduction in quality which affected its sales. Remember the “failing power windows” claim.

Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister Ong Kian Ming is correct in saying we need a new National Automotive Policy that looks beyond electric and energy-efficient vehicles.

There is a need to define an energy-efficient vehicle in terms of kilometres per litre of petrol with a traffic light system. This was proposed ages ago by the UK Nudge Unit (Behavioural Insights Team) to the United States, but it didn’t fully take.

Ong also points out the need to venture into electronics, the internet of things and adopt a more holistic approach.

If we are to continue building cars, the technology will have to include cameras on all sides to help drivers park safely, side sensors, automatic anti-collision braking sensors and even Bluetooth to connect devices to a computerised console.

Some models even come with built-in vacuum cleaners.

It’s time to look beyond the national car and focus on improving public transport and how to fill up trains. Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad said ridership on public transport was only 20%.

This is good because it would mean endless potential in pushing people to use trains and trains with a RM100 public transport monthly pass proposed by Transport Minister Anthony Loke, rather than getting them to buy a car.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments:

Change, but change meaningfully

THE prime minister said last week that a government-linked investment company did not achieve its aim of furthering the bumiputra agenda.

I’m not sure if Khazanah Nasional Bhd even had the duty of furthering the agenda but the board needs to explain how on earth a venture into women’s lingerie was considered a good deal at RM80 million. But more importantly, which company?

However, when you vacate the entire board of directors and then place the prime minister and a member of his cabinet on the board it leaves a bad taste.

Yes, it is a government-linked investment corporation but so was 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

1MDB had a board with political patronage as well – a mix of politicians and corporate sector individuals – it still did not bode well. Thus, why involve politicians in these investment corporations?

Surely after saying that there was enough talent within Pakatan Harapan and its corporate allies; there must be enough people to fill those posts and be professional about it?

There must be a separation of government and business to avoid patronage and nepotism, and remove the risk of conflict of interest. It must be said that GLCs as well as their investment corporations – Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), Khazanah Nasional, and even the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) – should be free of political influence. This is especially important for the PNB and EPF because these are the savings of Malaysians.

One excuse is that this is how the companies have been run. Well, the majority of Malaysians voted to change things that have gone awry.

After all, for many years we witnessed Pakatan lawmakers facing the accusation that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he was finance minister made the decisions that they opposed. And during those years, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah would say “if it was bad, why not change it?”

The same question now applies to Pakatan Harapan. Why not change decisions that do not tally with their internal beliefs of reducing the power of the prime minister and removing every single thing they opposed when they weren’t in power?

Why do we still debate child marriages when some 40-plus-year-old marries an 11-year-old, claiming he has been in love with the girl since she was seven?

How can you promise EPF deductions for housewives from their husbands’ accounts without knowing the law doesn’t allow it?

Why is it more important to amend the constitution to guarantee internet access when no one has been held responsible over a telco leak reported ages ago?

How is it that we can cancel public transport projects and yet, still go about reconsidering a third national car company, forcing people to pay for fuel, maintenance, road tax, insurance and even the tolls which are supposed to be abolished in stages?

There are a lot of things still pending for this government and while we do want to give them leeway for being new at their jobs, the ideas being generated are outdated and some are silly. Do we really need to debate black versus white school shoes when we need education reform?

The new ruling coalition needs to buck up soon because the changes promised to its supporters look sillier by the day.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments:

Cities allow you to be yourself

I READ disbelievingly that our Ministry of Youth and Sports believes that just creating jobs in rural areas will somehow drive the younger population to remain in the heartlands.

Nothing could be further wrong when it comes to why there is a huge migration pattern of people drawn to urban centres.

It isn’t all about jobs. Why would someone from Malacca insists on driving a GrabCar or even be a delivery man in Kuala Lumpur if he could make the same amount where he lives? Or why are people from out of town happy to open a stall in Cheras selling nasi lemak when they could be doing the same in Kota Baru?

There are a lot of things going against living in cities – higher crime, high cost of living, transport costs, rental and even food compared to rural areas. And there is no space in cities to plant a sustainable garden.

So, why are people drawn to cities?

Cities give many opportunities that rural life does not, and that is the need to be human and seek out a sense of belonging among other Malaysians and even foreigners.

Cities provide the ability to mingle be it at a job, on a train, or even have a chat with Grab drivers. Of course in Kuala Lumpur, such chats about daily happenings are reserved for late night mamak sessions.

You will find similar discussions at a bistro in Paris or a pub in London.

Cities are teeming with events – forums, concerts, standup comedies, nightlife and even fundraisers.

The draw to a city is very much Sinatra-esque in the mindset of those who come here: “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” is not just a line of a song, it is a mentality of those believing that coming to a city and earning enough will make them happier.

Though, for those brought up in the cities and their suburbs, having more free time seems to be catching up with the need to earn more money as the city draws in more and more people.

The rat race is no longer about earning enough, but more about finding the best schools for children, the latest trends among the youth, the newest fad and restaurant, or even seeking out the latest bargain in warehouse sales.

Fret not, it’s the same in every cosmopolitan city in the world, even if the items are different.

But more importantly, cities drown out individuality and allow people to get lost in the crowd. Away from the gossiping neighbours who would tell your parents of your behaviour, away from prying eyes who would insist that it is a communal issue that requires the intervention of a local imam or bomoh, or even a visiting preacher from India with permanent residence.

Cities give you the opportunity to be yourself and not alert the entire population of your transgressions, and find people who actually do the same thing. Thus, whatever quirkiness you have individually will be acceptable and even find those who are in the same category.

This is the major draw of cities – it allows people to be themselves, in a crowd of like-minded people, without the same fear of being the black sheep of a village or even be treated like someone in need of an exorcism.

That is why youths continue to come to cities it isn’t about the want of a job, it is in spite of the need for one to make ends meet even if it means renting a single room in a cheap flat and sharing it with three other Malaysians.

There is a draw to the hustle and bustle of city life, looking for like-minded people from all around the country and the world, in the hope of finding a place to belong. You won’t find that just by creating jobs in rural areas.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments:

The real deal behind oil royalty

THERE’s still some gross public misunderstanding about the formula of oil royalty paid out to the three oil producing states of Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu.

This has, by and large, led to regular demands from these states for Petronas to increase the 5% royalty they have been getting all along to 20% and has become the hottest point of contention between them and the national oil company.

To the public at large, when one talks of a 5% royalty to the states, the impression one gets is that what happens to the other 95% and on paper, the formula seems very lop-sided.

But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

This is how it actually works out – both the federal government and oil producing states get 5% royalty each.

Of the balance, up to 20% goes to what is known as “cost oil” to recover the cost of production.

This leaves a balance of 70% that is split between the operators and Petronas.

The operators are multinational companies, both foreign and local, that invest billions into drilling oil in the fields awarded to them by Petronas under the production sharing contract (PSC).

Like all investments, there are risks involved and more so in the oil and gas (O&G) industry as at times they spend billions without striking oil of the volume required to make it commercially viable.

In oil barrel terms, for 100 barrels the PSC split is five barrels to the state treasury and up to 20 barrels claimed by the operator as cost oil.

The balance of 70 barrels is split 70:30 with Petronas getting 70% or 49 barrels and the operator 30% or 21 barrels.

If the federal government, for instance, is to accede to demands for a 20% royalty, this time-tested formula that’s been working very well with foreign investors like Shell, which has been drilling oil for over 100 years in Malaysia, will be in jeopardy.

And it will undermine our direct foreign investment attractiveness in the O&G sector and worse, might very well kill the goose that lays the golden eggs for Malaysia’s most critical and biggest revenue earner.

Today, there are more than 40 investors in PSC of which 80% are foreign.

And contrary to general perceptions, Petronas pays these cash royalty payments to the federal government and the states irrespective of whether the production from the fields is profitable or not.

These cash payments are paid twice a year.

There have been quite regular outbursts by Sarawak politicians in demanding for a higher royalty.

But in actual fact, Petronas has invested so much in the state, about RM183 billion in the upstream sector alone.

Beside this, it has paid out cash worth RM33 billion since 1976 with another RM18 billion payouts from Sarawak’s stake in the Malaysia Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Bintulu.

On top of this, Petronas is employing some 5,000 professionals from Sarawak in its operations worldwide, apart from RM411 million worth of scholarships.

The bottom line is, let us be fair and objective when discussing oil matters and not be swayed by emotions.

Giving a 15% hike to the producing states will also undermine Petronas’s own sustainability to contribute to the nation because it would result in lower petroleum income tax receipts.

According to Petronas, for five years from 2012, planned projects with a total capital expenditure of RM170 billion are at risk of being cancelled if the royalty payment is increased.

Furthermore, any such hike will also reduce the profitability and economic viability of all current and future O&G projects under development.

What this also means is that Petronas and the PSC contractors will be discouraged from further investing in looking for new fields that are critical to making up for depleting oil reserves.

And naturally, a reduction in O&G production could result in lower instead of higher payments to the states themselves.

In other words, acceding to their demands would backfire economically especially with world oil prices no longer hovering around US$100 (RM407) per barrel like in the good old days of the oil boom.

We all have to remember that about 30% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product comes from Petronas’s output and it contributes over 40% of federal government revenue.

Strictly speaking, according to a former senior minister, it would be impossible for Putrajaya to raise the royalty to 20%.

“Perhaps a few percentage points might be okay but certainly not a 15% hike,” he told me.

And even with 5% royalty, these three states are getting a cool few billion ringgit annually while the states that don’t sit on oil reserves get none.

More clarity and transparency on the oil royalty poser was revealed in Parliament on Wednesday by Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.

He warned that Petronas might “cease operations” if it acceded to the 20% royalty based on gross production as demanded by the states, instead of net profit.

“Our position is, if you want 20% based on gross value, then we have to cease the operations of Petronas,” he said, warning of the serious implications on the financial position of both the oil company and the federal government.

Azmin has promised to engage the oil producing states on this crucial issue.

As for these states, it’s time for them to get to the bottom of how the distribution of income in the industry works out instead of pursuing demands that are beyond what the industry itself could afford.


Get set for constitutional reforms

WITH a full Cabinet to be announced by July 2, the next order of business for Pakatan Harapan would be to convene Parliament and push for reforms with a mandate granted by the people.

The first session of Parliament for the Pakatan government will take place in the middle of July, and there are a slew of reforms promised that should be the priority. With Sabah and Sarawak lawmakers now out of the Barisan Nasional, it is possible for the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad-led government to get the two-thirds majority required to amend the Federal Constitution.

That being said, reforming the laws as read in the Buku Harapan, as well as constitutional reforms to make government appointees answerable to Parliament, can be achieved in this “new Malaysia”.

From abolishing the laws allowing detention without trial, usurping the power of the king to declare an emergency, restricting the freedom of the press, to the reintroduction of local council elections within three years, most of this are now on the table for the next session.

There is also the need to consider who is the head of Opposition and whether or not this new government will actually give him or her an allowance as mentioned in the PH manifesto.

At the same time, amending the EPF law to allow deductions for housewives can also be introduced in the new session. However, there are a few more bills pending approval.

First, the anti-racism bill, which was put aside after years of study, is still pending. Similarly, a bill on political financing reform never saw the light of day. Regulations on crypto-currencies must also be looked at seeing how the Bitcoin boom has now gone bust.

A lot of reforms have been promised from the legislative side that will probably take two sessions to pass, and even longer to implement. Of course, two sessions could extend to three or even four, if Pakatan keeps to its word to allow extended periods for proper debate.

A lot has happened without a full Cabinet thus far, or even a parliamentary hearing in terms of appointees, which some will look at as a breach of Pakatan’s manifesto. Perhaps it was a necessary evil that may be corrected in time with proper amendments to the Federal Constitution.

That being said, the ball is now in Barisan Nasional’s court to do what Pakatan couldn’t from the opposition benches: to form a shadow cabinet. This should be done once Umno settles its general assembly and presidential election.

While Umno is going through a reform phase that has seen a radical conservative win its youth wing leadership and proposing the concept of religious oaths to stymie the outflow of parliamentarians switching sides, it is clear that whatever party reforms might be a shift further to the right rather than towards moderation.

This seems in line with its delegates’ desire to cooperate with PAS rather than the wish of Khairy Jamaluddin to become more liberal and open up Umno to all races. Meanwhile, the silence from PAS over what the party is going to do is deafening.

In Kedah, PAS is dealing with Pakatan to elect a speaker for the state assembly. This seems to showcase the party’s ability to work with anyone and claim independence from either side even with allegations of donations.

The bottom line is this – the nation is still divided and the change of government with promises of reform needs continued public scrutiny, lest it stalls due to either infighting or a total regression due to the outspoken conservative side gaining a louder voice.

Either way, it is clear that come mid-July, BN will be asked about its shadow cabinet and Pakatan will come under pressure to fulfil its pledge on reforms. PAS and lawmakers from Sabah and Sarawak will be the kingmakers to determine whether those reforms come to pass.

For myself, I’m just waiting for the RM100 monthly rail pass to ensure a faster commute into the city compared to the increased traffic congestion expected with the boom in car sales triggered by the zero-rated goods and services tax.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comment:

Rail commute works best for me

NOW one month into a new government, Malaysians have been told a few harsh truths about the state of the country’s finances. While national debt has remained steady, the government insists on selling a narrative of financial distress.

Due to this, the government has decided to shelve the high-speed rail project, scrap the MRT3 Circle Line and put on hold the Klang Valley double tracking project until an open tender is cleared.

Expect the KTM to be on 45-minute intervals for an even longer period, then.

Meanwhile, the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) hangs in balance. It seems a straight answer is still pending on this one.

This rail network would have the start of further public transport initiatives in Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, initially by bus before moving towards rail or even a streetcar network (it would be fun to see streetcars running on the flatlands of Terengganu).

All of this will delay the growth of rail and public transport in the peninsula. At best, the delays will make future projects cost more. At worst, we will be going back to cars, further congesting roads while building more roads and parking lots.

This, of course, fits into the prime minister’s vision of starting yet another national car company in his continued “Look East” policy which seems to be oblivious to the fact that Japan has more people travelling by train than car.

Speaking of which, an electric car stuck in traffic is still yet another car stuck in traffic. Only difference is the electric car will probably run out of power faster than a petrol-driven car. That is unless, the electric car is a Tesla.

Are rail projects costly? Yes, they are. They always have been.

The initial investments for public transport, coupled with the subsidised rates for passengers will always be expensive to governments. And this is why it is coupled with land assets and in some countries, coupled with congestion charges and toll collection into one entity and offsetting the cost of one for the other.

Though the way the government is working, tolls may soon no longer be applicable at all and thus, there will be a need to come up with a new funding model for public transport.

Pakatan may just be delaying such projects until they get a grasp of what to do to reduce the traffic with buses and keeping to their manifesto of an additional 10,000 units nationwide. But here’s the catch, a bus stuck in traffic will just add on to the problem.

There will still be a need to make it easier for people to take a train and walk to stations, rather than use buses with no exclusive lanes which will just be snagged in the same congested roads and highways.

What kind of society do we want? Rail projects coupled with a bus network, will increase national productivity by removing time spent on travelling – this seems to be misunderstood.

This means you have your hands and brain free from focusing on the road, to focus on something else. It does not necessarily mean shorter commutes, it means you are able to focus on other items while commuting.

Similarly, having public transport is supposed to undo the need for a car thus saving costs. It does not mean you take the train. It means selling off your car and freeing up that income to spend on a monthly pass on the train, taking the bus, and even using ride-sharing apps whenever you need to ride a car. And this is where you can have either an electric or hybrid car play a role.

On top of that, it will cost less for local governments when compared to roadworks if the traffic is reduced. It will also mean less land being left idle for parking lots. For some cities, roads are altogether closed up to allow pedestrians to walk.

Heck, we could all do with more exercise and more plazas and open spaces reclaimed from the tarmac.

So while the government has decided to hold rail projects and keep mum on buses, we will just have to wait for a plan of giving cities back to pedestrians, bolstering public transport and moving away from cars.

Till then, the idea of connecting Malaysians across the country will remain limited to either a flight, or a highway, by car or express bus, with traffic congestion, land used for parking, and more angry people flailing steering locks.

We need to stop paving paradise to put up parking lots.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments:

Grappling with gender, race and religion

I TOOK some weeks off to see how the Pakatan Harapan government was coming to grips with power and I must say, it suits them well enough despite the initial hiccups.

That being said, the first sign of friction over appointments in the new government was not over whether or not Tommy Thomas being a non-Malay, non-Muslim could become attorney-general.

A question came up earlier with the appointment of Lim Guan Eng as finance minister. If the Straits Times from Singapore is to be believed, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah objected to the appointment because the minister “needs to be a Malay”.

The second sign that this issue would come up was when Hindraf 2.0 asked for places in UiTM and Felda to be offered to the Indian community. Now, this is a tricky one. Apparently, Hindraf and Hindraf 2.0 are different entities. And you also have Makkal Shakti, the MIC and the Indian Progressive Front.

I have no idea how many more organisations represent the Indians.

Again, this triggered another outbreak of detractions from UiTM and its large alumni. For myself as an alumni member, I’m still wondering why we would open up the university to foreign students to meet ranking standards before admitting Malaysian citizens of other racial descent.

And now, on news that the King and the Council of Rulers had reservations about the AG’s race and religion. To their credit they also brought up their preference for someone with judicial experience.

But here we come up to the more than 60-year-old issue that everybody wants to change, but nobody wants to change themselves to accommodate it.

Do we want to remove the privileges, special treatment and segregationist policies based on race and religion?

Bear in mind, this won’t just be about opening up the bumiputra university, or even giving Mara loans to everyone. It would also mean abandoning the UEC certification, ending all vernacular schools and integrating all of these into one school system.

I include religious schools under vernacular schools. Thus, a total reformation of the education system without segregation by race and religion. No more Chinese or Tamil schools, no more Islamic schools, as this will also be absorbed into the national school system and be open to everyone.

It will be either a national public school or a private school as well as either a public university or a private university.

Can this be done? Would everyone accept it? Why or why not?

The argument against abolishing Tamil and Chinese schools is that they aren’t racially exclusive. Well, fine. Then they should not have any problem being absorbed into the national school system.

If it is about language, then have language classes in national schools. If it is about syllabus, then update the national school syllabus and see if there can be similar results nationwide.

If it is about salaries and support, then call for a review to match the salaries, and for the government to give the equivalent amount of support.

Thus, there should be no objections in achieving such equity in the school system.

At the same time, racist and religious discrimination should be taken out of the working world as well as the property market. No more bumiputra discounts, and no more racial preference in renting out properties.

This is a lot harder when it comes to the fact that it will then be more of a covert discrimination which would require people to then entrap would-be property owners and future employers to show racial preference and discrimination.

But let’s face it, there is an underbelly of racism when we talk of employment and even renting out a property, or even an office for that matter. It is easier to look at the racial discrimination of listed companies if there was a requirement to show a diversity report on every level of their human resources.

Now we come to the issue of merit over gender, an issue highlighted by a quote from Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz: “No matter the gender, go for the merit”.

Sadly, this raises a question. Half of our population are women. Yet, women make up close to 30% of corporate Malaysia.

And in that three out of every 10 Malaysians, we cannot find a similar ratio of women with merit in the workforce? Or is it the sinister fact that women are looked down upon and discriminated against for long maternity leave requests, as we saw earlier this year with the Malaysian Employers Federation?

With that, we must go back to addressing the three elephants in the room – gender, religion, and race. This will take more than just a change of government and a donation drive, I’m afraid – it requires a renaissance.

The writer is a public relations practitioner. Comments:

Ramadan reflections

TYPING this at 4.30am on a Thursday, there is a lot to reflect on in the spirit of Ramadan. If anything, this month of fasting for Muslims is also a month of reflection, but more importantly self control.

And for myself, that control is sorely tested over two things – coffee and cigarettes. Early warning, there will be withdrawal symptoms, and I won’t be the only one.

Consider it the month of a test of patience among all Malaysians, awkwardly enough drawing in non-Muslims as well. How, you may ask?

Well primarily, the Ramadan bazaars will be a feast for the eyes, the tongue and sadly the wallet of everyone who ventures there. The seasonal foods of the month are a main attraction.

That would be the positive side. There is sadly a negative side as well as some would have experienced. In the last decade or so, we have seen the religious authorities raid eateries serving non-Muslims and aiming for those of a certain skin tone on suspicion of being Muslims eating in the open.

I know it’s an awkward thing to experience when you go out and tapau food for a late lunch only to end up being harassed by a guy in a vest with four letters clearly marked, demanding your identity card for the simple act of eating.

At the same time, expect tempers to flare up a bit for the most irrational little things, such as eating a curry puff on a platform while waiting for a train, or watching a waiter being yelled at by fathers and mothers for being slow in taking orders, or even demanding they be given priority to be able to break fast on time.

Even newspapers are not exempt from the silliness. Thankfully this year’s Raya Aidilfitri will not coincide with the Chinese New Year, thus avoiding the need to promote alcohol as a wrap advertisement which could yet again trigger another fiery reaction.

Yes, I’m sure many reading this are starting to see the silliness behind all of it – and yet in the last five years, these have actually happened on social media and mainstream media alike.

So, reminder number one – for the Malaysian Muslims who are fasting, non-Muslims are not supposed to cater to all your whims, whines, wants and needs just because you are fasting. And that also includes the restaurant staff of the eatery you choose to dine in to break your fast.

You will not get a guarantee of priority treatment just because you’re breaking fast and those around you aren’t. At the same time, the test of fasting also applies to your itchy fingers in snapping photos of people with food and haranguing them for your ability to see it while they’re hunched over eating like it’s some secret cache to stop themselves from being lynched for eating.

Another aspect of fasting, and let’s be honest here, is the need to also fast from overspending on food. While this year may have less corporate buka puasa events or maybe more, with the change in government after 60 years, there is a need for some semblance of self-control.

June will see petrol prices maintained, GST zero rated and a budget review, all of which might point to the ability to spend more as consumers while the government foots the bill to keep the price of goods low like the “good old days”.

But at the same time, it also opens up to the need to consider wastage, to see whether or not we will inevitably create more waste of unfinished food because the percik chicken was too salty, or maybe even the Ramadan halal roast duck sold at the Shah Alam stadium bazaar being no longer crispy.

Or perhaps even the variety of colourful kueh bought the night before is taking up too much space for the incoming platter of treats for the next. I kid you not, this has happened. Though thankfully, this happened less and less with a consumption tax imposed in the last few years which will be defunct soon.

In the end, the fasting month is not just to emulate the life of the less fortunate in terms of wealth, but also to emulate the joy of ending the day after frayed nerves and patience throughout the day among those you care most about.

So, have a blessed Ramadan everyone. Good luck to the smokers and caffeine addicts, may the Maghrib prayer time be ever in your favour.

And hopefully this time around, we won’t go through any of the embarrassing flare-ups of the past – or at least avoiding one triggered by curry puffs on a train platform.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments:

A new govt of hope

MALAYSIANS have proven that the country can in fact change hands. And I spent two days eating crow and humble pie. I have made my peace and apologies for the words said if it offended anyone.

There were about 2.5% spoiled votes in this election, a lot less than what I expected as an #UndiRosak campaigner. But on the other hand, 15 out of 222 parliamentary seats had more spoiled votes than their majorities.

Was this due to the spoiled vote campaign? There’s no way to tell.

Among those who lost their elections due to this were former Perak MB Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir, former religious affairs minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom (no, we’re not related) and Amanah candidate Khairudin Abu Hassan in Jasin.

It also impacted the elections of Liew Chin Tong and even Jeffrey Kitingan – both of which I personally feel some regret.

I stand by my decision of spoiling my vote and not voting for either side, because I do not believe in either side. I’m sure that many are glad more Malaysians thought otherwise, and to some extent I am too – but I am wary.

It is now up to Malaysians to do two things – keep being the critical monitors of your elected leaders and voice out your thoughts louder than you thought you could.

And if anything, we are seeing that voice of dissent now forming in Sabah since the state government is being formed by BN.

A lot of questions still linger, particularly if the Hudud bill will still go through. Islamic party PAS has in fact become the state governments in Kelantan and Terengganu, and hold both Kedah and Perak in their sway.

Similarly, with the promise of oil royalties to be paid to both Kelantan and Terengganu – both now under PAS – it will be necessary for the federal government to keep its word.

At the same time, there are 10 promises by Pakatan Harapan to be done in 100 days, which means the end of the goods and services tax. Also, the Printing Press and Publications Act Fake News Act and others will be reviewed.

I believe the police will now face an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.

This is a time needed to rebuild bridges among Malaysians. A heated election has frayed many a relationship – friends and even families have somehow ended up in disarray over politics.

Brothers should make peace among themselves. Parents and their children should do the same. Friends need to sit down and have a drink together and leave the shame and insults out the door and move on.

More importantly, we will be living in very interesting times where it will be differences of opinion between the liberals and conservatives, the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, and the multiple races and ethnicities – need to come together to once again push this country forward.

This new government, is an opportunity for Malaysians to once again end the division wrought by politics and religion for far too long.

To Pakatan Harapan and their supporters, I wish them congratulations and good luck running the government. I have hope that they will have the expertise and people to do what is necessary to take this nation to further heights as promised, even if I’m wary of how they will do it.

To PAS, I congratulate them on beating the odds that many thought they would be wiped out.

For Barisan Nasional, it is time, in the most ironic of ways – for a reformation. There will be an exodus among their membership, but they must retain their most loyal cadres and push for better leadership with the hope that they become an effective Opposition.

And to all Malaysians, this victory is yours. Stand tall and be proud of our country. Keep faith in our Jalur Gemilang, people.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments:

Drama in Shah Alam

HAVING grown up in Shah Alam and stayed there for 33 years, I often joke that as a person from the city that we don’t get fooled by politicians.

Why? Because we are well versed and trained to handle roundabouts.

Another joke is that nothing interesting ever happens in Shah Alam. Of course, there was that one time some people marched with a cow head from the mosque. And yet, the general election may change that.

Shah Alam became an opposition seat in 2008, when Khalid Samad ran as a PAS candidate under the Pakatan Rakyat alliance. It was the time when the majority of voters in Selangor decided to change the ruling coalition.

And unlike what happened in Perak, we did not flip flop.

Although, some believe that the “important announcement” at PWTC in September last year of Tan Sri Muhammad Md Taib joining Umno again was rumoured to be a coup in Selangor after certain elected representatives decided to switch sides.

I guess many of us will never know about that one.

Analysing the past results for Shah Alam, Khalid Samad increased his majority from 2008 to 2013, from a majority of 9,314 to 10,939. My view is that it was also because in 2013 BN did not take Shah Alam seriously by picking Zulkifli Noordin to be the candidate.

However, a lot has changed since 2013. But we must note that Shah Alam did not fall under the “Malay Tsunami” in 1999 when Keadilan (now PKR) contested the seat.

For one thing, there is now a schism between Pakatan Harapan and PAS. And contrary to popular belief PAS has strong support in some urban areas like Shah Alam, Gombak, Kota Raja and Sepang.

PAS has announced that Mohd Zuhdi Marzuki, the head of its internal research centre, will be contesting against Khalid. Barisan Nasional has yet to announce its candidate.

For me – and I am a very, very liberal Malay – Shah Alam was the hometown where you got away from distractions and just relaxed. Many see Shah Alam as boring for its lack of entertainment outlets and even cinemas.

Yet another Shah Alam joke – if you have a cinema, you’re probably not recognised as Shah Alam.

But there is plenty of irony. Nobody knows how to describe Section 8. No alcohol or booze is sold in the city openly, yet a brewery is on our doorstep and it perhaps houses the only bar in Shah Alam.

More importantly, Shah Alam has a conservative Malay majority, and many students from private and public universities.

It is a showcase of young versus old, conservative versus moderate, a growing consumerist society judging by the malls being built and higher-income housing. Yet it also has a population that now gets angry with traffic congestion.

It is a city that has a police contingent, religious authorities right across the state mosque, and is the mamak restaurant capital with many becoming places for the youth to socialise while watching wrestling or football telecasts.

It is a city divided by class, with clearly marked out middle class, wealthy and poor areas.

Similarly, the industrial zones and the residential areas are segregated. It is made up of civil servants, police personnel, hospital staff from the government hospital and the state-owned Darul Ehsan Medical Centre.

Many residents are lecturers at UiTM, Unisel, Medina University, the PTPL College and MSU in Section 13.

GE14 will see a three-way fight between PAS, Umno and Amanah – it will be interesting to see whether the PAS old guard still holds sway or the grassroots has shifted its support to Amanah?

Or, will the split between the two benefit Umno enough to swing victory its way? It is an open question that has many worried.

But hey, why would we need a cinema in Shah Alam with this drama. Hold on to your seats and stock up on your popcorn. It’s going to be an exciting election.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: