Segambut 2MAY 4 – The question of who should be Member of Parliament for Segambut, a constituency where I vote in, is a tough one.

This is because while Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate Hannah Yeoh has experience as Selangor Speaker and appears to have done solid work as the Subang Jaya assemblywoman for two terms, it is Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Datuk Loga Bala Mohan who explicitly says that he supports restoring local council elections and enacting anti-discrimination legislation.

Loga Bala, who is MyPPP vice president, also has a written manifesto for Segambut, in which he pledges to provide free food to poor students and to resolve floods in the constituency, among others. 

I asked for both Segambut candidates’ manifestos and posed to them five questions: their stand on the condominium project encroaching on Taman Rimba Kiara in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) where I live; restoring local council elections so that Kuala Lumpur has an elected mayor and local councillors; how they plan to improve public safety for women in the streets of KL; whether they support enacting anti-discrimination legislation to protect people from discrimination based on gender, sexuality, age, race, religion and belief, disability etc; and whether they support making Malaysia more secular, such as by reducing or eliminating public funds for religious purposes, including religious departments.

I did not bother interviewing the Segambut PAS candidate, Mohd Solleh Ab Razak, because I believe that any political party formed with the explicit purpose or ideology of furthering a particular religion hurts nation-building in a multi-cultural country.  

It is even more dangerous than race-based parties because racism, at least, is somewhat socially unacceptable, whereas it is far more difficult, perhaps even criminal in Malaysia, to criticise religion.

On the question of the monstrous Taman Rimba Kiara project, Loga Bala told me: “If I have the mandate, I’ll certainly revisit all of this development”.

On enacting anti-discrimination laws, he said, “Yes I’ll certainly do for the betterment of people”, and as for my question on promoting secularism by reducing the usage of public funds for religion, he said, “I’ve not thought of it as of now. Making it more secular a big ‘YES’.”

On restoring the third vote, Loga Bala told me: “Yes but it needs change of law.” When I asked why he, as the then-Federal Territories Deputy Minister, did not publicly advocate for local council elections in the past term, he said he had been talking about it “within the BN group.”

He also denied that the Federal Territories Ministry controlled the KL mayor or questioned the mayor’s decisions, “only that we show the direction.”

“We still need a FT ministry to drive forward FT towards success stories. Local council elections are meant to resolve localised issues and grow the local council.”

Yeoh told me that she would reveal her manifesto bit by bit through ceramahs, but pledged to look at the accountability of the Federal Territories Ministry and to implement tools for education, children’s well-being, security, and to curb corruption.

“My experience as Speaker leading select committees at the Selangor State Legislative Assembly will help me in my work as MP, oversight over the government, and holding the executive accountable to Parliament.” This is a particularly nice pledge.

She also said she would address the Taman Rimba Kiara issue at a ceramah in TTDI tomorrow.

On whether she supported restoring local council elections, Yeoh said: “I believe in elected positions for anyone who is making policies affecting taxpayers. This includes ministers and deputy ministers, i.e. no to backdoor appointment via senatorship”.

When I pressed further, she referred me to PH’s manifesto, which merely states that local councils’ “accountability to the local community will be improved.” 

Yeoh was also disappointingly vague on enacting legislation against discrimination, telling me that she supported “any effort that is consistent with provisions in our Federal Constitution.”

On promoting secularism, she said she did not “see anything wrong with religious departments being funded by the public”, nor with using public funds to help build places of worship for all faiths, which she said the Selangor state government under Pakatan had done.

“I also do not condone religious departments imposing their beliefs on Malaysians or forcing [the] public to subscribe to any religious practices. I believe in a God who has given mankind the gift to choose i.e. free will,” Yeoh said, adding that atheists should not be discriminated against either.

Both Yeoh and Loga Bala pledged to improve public safety, though the former was far more detailed in her response, saying she would push for “greater engagement with the local police force, initiating citizens' empowerment effort, pushing for prosecution no matter how small a crime, eg snatch theft which is often not reported, push for upgrading of infra eg CCTV & lighting. We have done all these in SJ (Subang Jaya).”

Yeoh’s plan on boosting public safety is very much welcome, as I sometimes don’t feel safe going out at night in my own neighbourhood.

Despite both candidates’ nice-sounding pledges, their actions also need to be measured. If Loga Bala was serious about “revisiting” the Taman Rimba Kiara condo project, the FT Ministry’s Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan should have cancelled it a long time ago.

His belief that the FT Ministry is still necessary, despite his support for local council elections, also seems to indicate a continued desire for some form of federal control over the biggest local authority in the country.

Yeoh’s stand against backdoor appointments of unelected people for ministerial and deputy ministerial positions seems to be contradicted by a video of a ceramah of her saying: “Rafizi Ramli is not contesting, but we have ways to make sure that he has a place in Putrajaya, because he’s a corruption fighter”.

As a conclusion, I have decided to endorse Loga Bala for Segambut, mainly because of his explicit backing for local council elections and anti-discrimination laws.

If he is MP and can convince fellow lawmakers from both BN (should they retain federal government) and PH to reintroduce the third vote, that would strengthen democracy and empower KL voters to push for a city they want – whether it’s better urban planning, environmental protection, or public safety.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would think twice about approving property projects that affect residents’ quality of life, as the mayor’s and local councillors’ fear of losing their jobs come the next election cycle hangs over their heads.

Segambut is a generally affluent constituency that doesn’t need much “servicing” by its Member of Parliament, as its voters and residents should be capable enough to contact DBKL on their own to resolve any local issues. The Segambut MP should instead be more focused on making good laws and policies.

I do not hold Loga Bala’s or BN’s previous inaction on Taman Rimba Kiara against him because if I were to do that, then PH should also be held accountable for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s lack of action on – or in some cases, direct violation of – democratic reforms during his time as prime minister when he had immense power.

There will also be some who think BN’s corruption scandals supersede everything, or that the federal government must change no matter what.

That is fine, though we must also keep in mind that on the national scale, Dr Mahathir’s Malay-only party, founded in 2017, sets back the quest for equality and will perpetuate race-based politics for decades more.

On Wednesday, we are not electing our prime minister. Nor are we responsible for electing the entire government. We are only voting for our Member of Parliament and, for everyone else except KL voters, our state assemblyman.

If we want a strong Member of Parliament who best serves our interests in the constituency, then we should elect that person.

I believe that BN’s Loga Bala, with his pledge to restore local council elections that will benefit not only KL voters but improve democracy as a whole, fits the bill.