BARISAN Nasional’s Titiwangsa seat is surrounded by enemies.
The seat borders Batu and Pandan, which PKR won in the 2013 elections, as well as Bukit Bintang and Cheras, both controlled by DAP. Only the seat to the north is controlled by BN.
And Titiwangsa and Setiawangsa are the only seats in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur won by BN. The rest is divided among DAP (five seats) and PKR (three). The last seat belongs to independent Khalid Ibrahim after the former Selangor menteri besar was sacked by PKR.
DAP has Bukit Bintang, Kepong, Cheras Seputeh and Segambut, while PKR has Lembah Pantai, Batu and Wangsa Maju.
It was considered a major victory when PAS’ Dr Lo’ Lo’ Mohamad Ghazali managed to wrest Titiwangsa from BN’s long-held grip in the 2008 elections, winning by 1,972 votes.
In 2013, when BN recaptured the seat, the victory was considered less secure with an even smaller majority.
Dr Lo’ Lo’ died in 2011 and the seat was left vacant until the 2013 elections, when BN candidate Johari Abdul Ghani defeated PAS’ Ahmad Zamri Asa’ad Khuzami by just 866 votes.
The figures are a far cry from 2004, when BN retained the seat by 11,815 votes.
A GE13 post-mortem showed that BN could not rally support from Chinese voters, especially in the districts of Kompleks Damai and Jalan Cochrane. BN also lost several ballot boxes in Kg Baru, Jalan Pahang and Kg Pandan.
Titiwangsa comprises of 68% Malays, 20% Chinese and 10% Indians.
“I accept the results,” Johari told The Malaysian Insight in an interview.
“But the fact is, we didn’t anticipate there was going to be an urban tsunami. This urban seat, for me, was won with the skin of my teeth.
“And this was after I have served (the Titiwangsa community since 2010,” said Johari, who is also finance minister II.
According to data from the Election Commission (EC), Chinese voters are concentrated in Kg Pandan Tengah, Jalan Pahang, Kompleks Damai, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Kg Pandan Luar.
Malay voters are in Datuk Keramat Utara, Taman Maluri, Datuk Keramat Seberang, Kg Bharu Selatan, Jalan Haji Hussin and Jalan Raja Muda.
Johari said in the past four years, he has been trying all sorts of tactics to win back the non-Malay vote but admits great difficulty in doing so, as many voters do not live in their registered voting addresses.
“The voters in Kompleks Damai, for example, they don’t live there, in the shophouses. When we hold programmes, they don’t come. The ones who come are foreigners. But whenever issue arises there, I am there to help.”
Johari said he found that many voters are living in condominiums and there are no residents’ association to bridge them to him.
Kompleks Damai and Setapak Sentral are Chinese-majority areas. In addition to commercial shop lots, there are apartments, condominiums and land lots.
Despite the challenge, Johari believes his reputation is the key to victory and he plays on the fact that he is a born and bred Titiwangsa resident.
Caring and good MP
Every Friday, he sets aside time for a meet-the-people session at the community service centre in Desa Pandan. And every Friday, the centre is packed with people.
“This MP doesn’t care about race, he helps everyone. He’s a good MP,” said Jimmy Ho, a Titiwangsa voter.
Ho said Johari’s services would determine the election results of this seat and not issues that make the daily headlines.
“We don’t look at national issues, as I rather look at the service the candidates provide for the people,” he said while waiting to meet Johari recently.
A single mother, Maryam, 44, also praised Johari’s involvement in the community, especially the lower-income residents who are part of the housing project for the hardcore poor (PPRT) in Titiwangsa.
Aside from financial help to cope with rising living costs, Maryam relies on Johari to assist with her children’s schooling.
“When Johari helps, my groceries are settled for months,” she said.
“He is very easy to contact. He replies our SMSes. There’s no protocol and he’s very friendly.”
Johari’s personality and influence among the residents is acknowledged by Titiwangsa PAS Youth chief, Mohamad Suhaimi Abdul Aziz.
He admitted that BN has the advantage with Johari, who is regarded as a popular figure in Titiwangsa.
However, he believes with an election machinery manned with 500 volunteers, the Islamist party is able to give Johari a run for the money and is hopeful for a 2008 repeat.
“Johari is a big-name candidate and we hope to field someone similar in the next elections.”
A looming challenge remains for PAS, however. Following its break-up from Pakatan Rakyat, PAS is certain to lose non-Malay support.
“Regardless, we have a formula to focus on the Malay voters and less on the Chinese and Indian voters. We are also hopeful to get support from the younger voters.”
Asked who PAS would name as a candidate, Suhaimi declined to comment.
PAS sources have told The Malaysian Insight that among the names is PAS Muslimat chief Nuridah Salleh.
Nuridah’s candidacy is an attempt to repeat Dr Lo’ Lo’s 2008 campaign.
However, aside from Umno and PAS, the Titiwangsa seat is also eyed by Pakatan Harapan (PH), which may likely place a candidate from Amanah, a splinter party of PAS that comprises of moderate Muslim professionals.
According to sources in PH, Amanah’s candidate is expected to be Kuala Krai MP Dr Hatta Ramli.
Among the PH election machinery, volunteers said victory would depend on the calibre of the candidate named by the party.
Down to right candidate
Selangor PKR Youth secretary Syed Shah Syed Osman said PH’s chances would be slim if Amanah named the wrong candidate.
“In Titiwangsa, Pakatan has a chance to win because there’s an expected split among the Malay voters,” said Syed Shah, who is also Titiwangsa AMK chief.
“But Johari is anak tempatan (local). So, the candidate must be the right one.
“The sentiment for Malays to vote local candidates is strong. Dr Lo’ Lo’ was a national figure and she lived in Keramat. So, if you don’t field the right candidate, I’m not confident of victory.”
Like PAS, PH acknowledges Johari’s popularity, especially in Kg Baru and Keramat.
“Much of what I know is because I am in the surau committee. Many village heads are comfortable with him (Johari). They value local candidates,” said Syed Shah.
Motorcyclists passing by a shop in Kg Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur, which is part of the Titiwangsa constituency. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Nazir Sufari, November 6, 2017.
PH hopes to capitalise on a multi-cornered fight, as well as to ride on discontent regarding national issues, such as rising living costs, GST and the 1 Malaysia Berhard (1MDB) scandal.
“About 70% of the Malay voters will be split among Umno, Bersatu and the hardcore PAS supporters
“The fence-sitters will go to Amanah, while the 30% non-Malay voters will side with us (PH),” said Syed Shah.
Johari, on his part, said although national issues would have an impact on polling day, his performance in the past few years would carry him through.
“The non-Malay voters, who read the news, although they may not evaluate my performance at the ground level, they can evaluate my performance at the national level (as second finance minister).
“We live in a democracy. No one forces you to vote. I always advise people, when you vote, don’t vote with your emotions, don’t rely on sentiment.
“Consider the background, performance, sincerity and commitment (of the candidate).
“Let the voters choose. Trust them to make a wise choice.”