The battle for Malaysia starts with Selangor

By Shannon Teoh, Clara Chooi and Sheridan Mahavera, TMI

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 7 — An inscription on a monument in Malacca describes how important the port city was to Europe in the 16th century: “Whoever holds Malacca, holds the throat of Venice”. Four hundred years later, the same could be said of Selangor and its relation to Putrajaya.

In May, Barisan Nasional supremo Datuk Seri Najib Razak told a gathering in the Selangor capital, Shah Alam, that the coalition must win the state back “with any weapon”.

Besides being the country’s richest state, a quarter of Selangor’s population are migrants as far as Perlis, Sabah and Kelantan. The money and the ideas that gestate in the Klang Valley are taken back to the most remote corners of Malaysia where they can be translated into votes.

It is why Pakatan Rakyat (PR) activists are passing out packets of propaganda to youths and families travelling back to their kampungs so that the pact’s message gets spread far and wide.

“One of the ways we get old folks in the kampung to support us is to get our supporters, who work in the Klang Valley, to persuade their parents and relatives when they balik kampung,” said Rosli Md Nor, a PAS activist in northern Johor when talking about strategy in rural areas.

Political odds-makers like to claim that the PR can still retain Selangor. Their arguments are based on the assumption that the more urbanised a state, the more its residents have access to new ideas, hence the more pliable they are to PR propaganda.

But this claim underestimates the complexity of the state’s social landscape. As the movement of people, the competition for opportunities and the legacy of racialism interact in unexpected ways to influence how a Selangor resident votes.

So while the profile of a Selangor voter can still be broken down by race, class and geography, the state’s unique landscape makes it hard to stereotype them.


The industries and businesses in the Klang Valley pull between 20 and 25 per cent of the populations in what is considered the state’s countryside such as Sabak Bernam, Kuala Selangor and Hulu Langat to work and reside in central Selangor.

Dr Badrulamin Baharon, of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), said these migrants, 60 per cent of whom are young adults, are still registered as voters in their kampungs.

Living in cities exposes them to new ideas and experiences which shape their political attitudes or, in many cases, challenge the presumptions that they were taught in their villages.

During weekends, these youths bring these new perspectives back to their villages and spread them to their parents and relatives.

This makes every area in Selangor a mixed constituency as the divide shrinks between urban and rural in terms of political attitudes. 

PKR deputy president Azmin Ali said that many urban poor in Batu Caves and Shah Alam, for instance, have been retrenched. This has consequences when they return to the rural areas to vote.

“Those working-class Malays and Indians who come to the city have no other way out. They are affected most directly by inflation,” said the Selangor PKR chief.


At the same time, being exposed to new ideas does not guarantee their acceptance as PAS and PKR has found out among urban, young Malays.

The core PR concept introduced in the 2008 elections is its needs-based, colour-blind approach to policy, whether it’s awarding contracts, civil service positions, scholarships or welfare handouts.

This is in contrast to the BN, whose policies involve carving out allocating quotas based on race.

Despite promoting its non-racial philosophy in Selangor, the PR still finds it hard to change mindsets rooted in the BN race-first paradigm, says Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad.  

“Malays can see the corruption and the wastefulness in BN. But they are unsure that voting for PR is the right solution. They have been told for 50 years that only Umno can help the Malays,” said Khalid.

The insecurity runs across racial boundaries. DAP central working committee member Gobind Singh Deo said poor Indians also feel the same way.

“The fact is they cannot communicate. Poor Indians cannot speak anything but Tamil and it’s the same with other races so it still leads to racial insecurity,” the Puchong MP said.

Many band together in their ethnic groups as they come from mono-racial villages and are thrust into a landscape where they come face-to-face and must compete with other races for opportunities, said Gobind.

He added that the lack of mutual understanding at close quarters led to conflicts that voters looked to both BN and PR to solve.