RANTAU: Housewife Malar Rajaram is in the thick of the campaign for the Rantau by-election here, meeting with people and making up for the first two days of the campaign period when she was on a silent protest over candidates who are not allowed to speak while canvassing for support.
But it was the death of a friend that pushed her into contesting in the first place, she tells FMT.
Malar was born in Port Dickson but spent the last 25 years in Canada where she worked as a radio broadcaster and translator. She returned home a few years ago to help her sick mother.
“When I first moved here from Canada in 2016, I wanted to know what the community was like. So I decided to get a job at a BHP petrol station,” she told FMT.
There, she realised that things in Rantau had not changed since she left for Canada 30 years ago. Communities were still divided, development was poor, and poverty was still an issue.
Along the way, she befriended a taxi driver who regularly chided her for working at a petrol station after spending 25 years in Canada.
“That bothered him very much,” she said.
When the Port Dickson by-election rolled around on Oct 13 last year, Malar was excited to cast her vote. But she discovered that the last redelineation exercise meant that her village, which was originally part of Port Dickson, was now just inside Rantau.
“I was disappointed that I could not vote with my relatives,” she said. “Since I couldn’t vote with them, I decided to vote for myself in Rantau.”
Still, it was a while before she fully committed to running in the Rantau by-election. It was only after her taxi driver friend died last month that she decided to contest.
“It was for this man. I wanted to tell everyone in Rantau and Malaysia what I couldn’t tell him: that I was happy working at BHP and I always want to help people.”
Now, armed with her manifesto and cheery spirit, Malar hits the ground running each day, often on her own or with her husband and two or three others from her team.
Her job at BHP brought her face-to-face with the problems that Rantau folk go through on a daily basis. Most of the roads have no streetlights, while recycling – and even regular garbage collection – is a problem.
Flash floods are a common occurrence, and efforts to boost local tourism are fledgling at best. There is only one government health clinic in the constituency, which means long queues.
Malar intends to do what she can, although addressing some problems will require her to be in office first. Others, like cost of living woes, are also for Putrajaya to solve.
“I cannot help if our problems are because of their decisions,” she said. “I can only work with the state and see how to go around it.”
As an independent candidate, she does not have the support of a coalition. She is also well aware that she isn’t even from Rantau to begin with. But she is nonetheless fully focused on her campaign. Her message to voters?
“Your problems are my problems. I go through the same things, too.”
Malar faces fellow independent candidate Mohd Nor Yassin, Pakatan Harapan’s Dr Streram Sinnasamy, and Rantau incumbent Mohamad Hasan from Umno in the April 13 polls.