SUNGAI PETANI, Nov 18 – On paper, Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Datuk Shahanim Mohamad Yusoff has four opponents for the federal seat here, but the reality is she is also up against the corruption-tainted image of her coalition’s chairman, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Shahanim, or better known as Tok Anim, should be a strong contender for the Kedah seat. A former finance executive and the “Best Financial Executive for Maybank Finance in Malaysia” in 2001, she left the industry shortly after, having caught the political bug.
Currently the Sungai Petani Umno chief, she was state senator from 2017 until 2020. She has tried twice to win in Sungai Petani, losing to PKR’s Datuk Johari Abdul, who is not competing this term. Johari won with a convincing 21,569 margin in 2018.
Despite her personal appeal, she said she was aware of people’s suspicion towards her party and Zahid, who remains on trial for dozens of money laundering and corruption charges related to his family’s charity foundation.
“I see the comments on FB, they’re saying ‘Owh Tok Anim is good but…’ That stigma is there but my answer to that is, please leave him (Zahid) out of the equation and think about what we need in Sungai Petani and let’s look after ourselves by electing someone who will look after us by raising our issues in Parliament,” she said when met.
This time, she is in a five-cornered fight against Johari’s son representing Pakatan Harapan (PH) Dr Taufiq Johari, Pejuang’s Datuk Marzuki Yahya, Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) Robert Ling Kui Ee and Parti Rakyat Malaysia’s Tan Joon [email protected] Chow Kang.
“It’s a lot but the people here know who has been with them and who hasn’t. Taufiq is new and doesn’t know the locals, doesn’t know the directors of the government agencies, while I’ve been networking for nearly 21 years and I know the people and the area.
“In politics, your network and experience is important. Then, we have Tan who is almost 80. I am in no doubt the Malay votes will be split into three parties PN, BN and PH; hence, in my opinion, the Chinese and Indians will be the ones who will make the difference.
“This is where I believe I can shine. I’m the type who helps all communities. Recently the Indian leaders needed RM300,000 for Thaipusam, which is happening in December this year and I couldn’t get it for them. However, I managed to get the message to Parliament and the prime minister and we got them the money last week.
“I would like to emphasise here that I’m not someone who only looks after mosques, I care about the other races, too. So, despite the people’s negative perception towards BN it will not stop me from doing my job. I really want to prove to the people here that I care about them and that they are all Malaysians to me,” she told Malay Mail.
Tok Anim is one of just 22 women fielded as candidates by BN for the 15th general election. Unlike the typically robust campaigning style of men, she hit the trail with an infectious smile and a sunny disposition.
Datuk Shahanim Mohamad Yuso speaks with the fishmongers in Pasar Tikam Batu. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
She made the effort to talk to everyone she could and appeared to listen to those who came to her asking for help.
One such couple interrupted her while she was on a break, asking her why she did not reply to their messages on Facebook about their house that was damaged by floods. There, she gave them detailed guidance on what they had to do, where to go and which forms to fill to get welfare aid.
Another man came up to her and asked her how he could get some development funds for their kampung which needed maintenance and another person pleaded with her to bring some entertainment into Kedah, saying even busking was hard after PAS took over the state government.
“The Kedah mentri besar won’t even allow any concerts as if it will erode society. The youngsters here have nothing to look forward to, even busking is hard as the authorities will clamp down on you,” said pensioner Zainol Fitri.
“At least do something for them and we can have concerts we vet properly, maybe supervise it you know? Bring the arts back. People are dying, craving for some culture here, Datuk, so please organise one concert,” said the exasperated 55-year-old.
Zainol Fitri said Kedah needs more entertainment and wanted to see a concert held for youngsters. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Another voter and former town counsellor Ooi Beng Kooi, 68, said while most Chinese would support PH, he supported Shahanim as he had lost faith in PH. He said most candidates from other parties are not privy to local issues and have shown they were unwilling to engage with the residents.
“You can’t give the seat to your son and think automatically we will vote for you. You have to do the work and candidates don’t go around enough,” Ooi said alluding to PH candidate Taufiq.
“It’s not that I don’t like them and we don’t care about a local or outsider, these issues aren’t important. Right now the place is ailing. Roads are bad and need to be fixed while the traffic lights are not working, add to that some streets have no street lights and that is the reason why there are so many accidents in Sungai Petani,” Ooi told Malay Mail.
“We need big changes, everything needs a change.”
Ooi Beng Kooi said he had lost faith in Pakatan Harapan. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Tok Anim said Sungai Petani has plenty of potential for tourism. It has a working class as well as fishermen and farmers who work the palm oil and rice fields among others.
She said that for tourism to boom, they needed proper infrastructure.
“It’s sad that after nearly two decades we’re still like this. The bus station was already decrepit then it caught fire recently but the state government didn’t fix it. A lot of the community especially the Indians are eligible for welfare but they aren’t aware.
“That’s where I come in. I’ve been going to the Indian and Chinese communities to educate them on their welfare rights then we take them to the department to get the aid.
“This will be the first thing I tackle if I win. Check the welfare departments coffers and make sure the elderly, single mothers, those with chronic illnesses and the disabled get the money they so desperately need.”
Tok Anim has seven children, four of her own and three adopted. When asked how she juggled her family life and politics, she said she also did not really understand how she has managed.
“But one thing I’ll say is I feel blessed. When the welfare department came to me with my three foster kids one of them was a pair who’d lost their parents and their grandparents did not want to raise them so I took them in.
“The youngest came to me at 15 days and I said, ‘God sent them to me, I can’t turn them away.’ In return all of them are doing well. My eldest got 9As in SPM and he and the fourth child are now in London, the second is an account executive with Tenaga Nasional Berhad while the third is in Sunway College.
“As for the foster kids, one is a cadet with the Royal Malaysian Air Force and the other is managing a bubble tea shop, so all is well,” she said with a grin.