As the 14th general election approaches, The Malaysian Insight looks at new and young politicians who are being groomed by their parties to stand as candidates. One of the biggest grouses among the electorate is the lack of young leaders as the heads of political parties, even in the opposition, are those who have been in politics since the 1980s. Where are the young to take Malaysia forward? The Malaysian Insight speaks to Akhramsyah Sanusi who left Umno because he felt the party could not be saved.
WHAT prompted Akhramsyah Sanusi finally to leave Umno, which is beyond saving, he said, is money politics.
Akhramsyah, the son of former Kedah menteri besar Sanusi Junid, said those who left the country’s largest Bumiputera-based party felt that they had tried everything to fix it.
“Umno is a party that cannot be fixed. The groundswell of revolt that we prayed for never happened,” the Bersatu founding member told The Malaysian Insight.
Akhramsyah was first exposed to money politics when he entered the Umno elections in 2008, contesting a Youth exco post.
“It was unsuccessful because I refused to participate in money politics. On the last day of the elections, I was told that I was on the verge of winning.
“The evening before the votes were cast, I was advised to spend the night ‘pumping’. I was naive, and I come from a family that didn’t get involved in money politics, so I didn’t understand what ‘pumping’ meant. What it meant was… buying votes.
“You basically needed to fork out money to secure votes. That’s insane.”
In the party’s 2013 polls, Akhramsyah again tried contesting, this time, challenging Khairy Jamaluddin for the post of Youth chief.
“I was never active in Umno until I felt compelled to provide my services. I ran for the post of Youth exco in 2008 to help Mukhriz Mahathir, who I thought was the right candidate, win the post.
“I later ran for the post of Youth chief not because I thought I could win, but because I thought we needed to give Khairy a nice tight slap, even though he was the undisputed winner.”
The 2013 elections proved that despite structural changes, corruption had reached the grassroots level, the father of six said.
“I’m not saying that grassroots members are corrupt. But leaders at the branch level find themselves under pressure to run their branches with meagre assistance from the divisional and national levels.
“The party became corrupt because branch leaders didn’t get the structural support from the party to do what needs to be done during elections. That’s why they hold the leaders at ransom.
“It’s the only time when money comes from the party or individuals. It only comes with the pledges for votes, so the party becomes corrupt,” said the 45-year-old.
To join politics is to serve
Joining politics was a kind of calling for Akhramsyah, given his family’s involvement.
His maternal great-grandfather and grandfather were politicians in Aceh, Indonesia, while his father served as menteri besar from 1996 to 1999, and was a minister prior to being appointed as menteri besar.
Akhramsyah was the head of Umno Youth’s Bendang Baru branch in Langkawi before he left to join Bersatu.
“We joined politics to serve. Two years ago, I left Shell with the idea of doing a PhD on sustainable development and I saw myself as being a sustainable development expert in Malaysia, both in academia and business. My life plan has changed several times.
“But I never dreamt of being a prime minister or even a minister. My family were never brought up that way. We were brought up to serve,” said the Jerai Bersatu division chief.
Akhramsyah, who has 18 years’ experience in the oil and gas industry, and holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Imperial College London, said he pledged to the party leadership that the election machinery in Jerai would be ready by March.
“The machinery is growing organically. Whatever we have now, I think, is quite solid, but there is a lot more to be done.
“I need to prepare my division to contest in the next general election. Whether or not I become a candidate depends on the party.
“If the party nominates me, I don’t think I have a choice, because the truth is, we are a young party, and if the party thinks I’m the best choice, I will have to accept.
“But in the end, if we have a better, more winnable candidate for Jerai, I’m willing to concede.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom is the incumbent Jerai MP, having defeated PAS’ Mohd Firdaus Jaafar by 1,196 votes.
The constituency comprises 79% Malay, Chinese (15%) and Indians (6%).
The three state seats in Jerai are Sungai Limau, Guar Chempedak and Gurun.
PAS retained Sungai Limau in the November 2013 by-election after the seat fell vacant following the death of five-term assemblyman Azizan Abdul Razak.
Barisan Nasional’s Ku Abd Rahman Ku Ismail is the assemblyman for Guar Chempedak, while MCA’s Leong Yong Kong is the Gurun rep.
“We are facing quite a battle in Jerai because the three state seats are PAS, Umno and MCA fortresses, and we are going against a minister, Jamil Khir,” said the former Shell Malaysia senior staff member.
He wants to focus on several issues in Jerai, such as the welfare of farmers and matters related to agriculture.
“At the national level, there are a lot of issues related to how the economy is run, and I’m particularly concerned about the issue of fuel subsidies. When I was in Shell, I was one of those the Finance Ministry referred to when it came to fuel prices.
“I know how the mechanism is supposed to work.”
Akhramsyah said his political ambitions are geared towards fixing the state of the country, and that it is his aim to return hope to Malaysians.