More than a year has passed after one of the most exciting general elections in Malaysian political history. The general election has not brought many changes at the national level as the ruling party has been in the government for more than 57 years. However, the elections have brought some changes at local level or state politics.
The political discourse of Johore, the southern state of peninsular and neighbouring state of Singapore, has remained stagnant since the people used to have only the Barisan National dominating everything. Hardly had the opposition broken through at the birthplace of United Malay National Organisation (UMNO).
Hence, it was a biggest ever breakthrough for Pakatan Rakyat to win 18 state seats in the 13th general election in Johore. However, does the result show that Johoreans are slowly abandoning racial politics that have been played by the BN to solidify their ruling ground?
Sadly, we are still far away from the Malaysian Dream we want to achieve, there are even a few Malaysians regardless of their political affiliation who are brave enough to admit they are racists. For instance, the tussle between mostly Malay small business holders and Chinese shop owners at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee over the Johor Bahru Bazaar.
MCA and their friends in certain NGOs made the issue of JB Bazaar and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee an issue of racial right over the street. Undoubtedly, the Jalan Tan Hiok Nee street is one of the streets in JB that reminds people about the earlier history of the city when the downtown was developed mostly by influential Chinese business tycoons who have good rapport with the Johore royal family.
Johor Bahru has never been like other cities in Malaysia where mostly the residents are Chinese. From the very beginning until now, Johor Bahru has been always the city with more non-Chinese population.
Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, a street named after one of the Kapitans and Chinese merchants, was slowly left behind the development tide after the JB checkpoint was relocated. The street where used to be busy and congested in its earlier days is now very quiet during the daytime; it only comes lively again at a corner every weekend evening after JB Chinese Association decided to develop it into a Chinese cultural street. Yet, most of the time, it remains as an abandoned old street.
The quiet place is now in the midst of an argument about who owns the street because of JB Bazaar that is slowly crawling over from Sungai Segget area and “penetrating” into the street.
Small traders, who are mostly ethnic Malays, sell second-hand stuff, handmade art works, fashion accessories and a lot of things you would not find anywhere else in the market while Chinese business holders who rent or own the pre-war shop lots try to make the place an artistic cultural spot.
In fact, they don’t necessary conflict with each other and should be able to achieve a win-win situation if local authority does have a good planning about fleet market. Sadly, the Johor Bahru City Council has neither city planning nor political will to enforce.
Therefore, the problem between the Malay majority small traders and Chinese majority shop lot owners has suddenly been made into a racial issue when it is actually an outcome of bad urban governance.
First of all, the street doesn’t belong to anybody or specific group of people but should be owned by the whole Johor Bahru community regardless of race, skin colour, language and cultural background although it is named after a powerful Chinese figure.
The history of Johor Bahru should be acknowledged and taught in the schools so that everyone would have a sense of belonging to the city.
Secondly, JB City Council should take the responsibility to plan the local market, especially a market like JB Bazaar where attracts both locals and foreigners. Anyone who has visited Bangkok or any bazaar overseas could tell how bad and poor is the imagination of our city councils on the planning of the bazaar.
A huge fleet market like JB Bazaar can easily be categorised into second-hand, fashion, artistic/creativity, local food and etc., yet, our JB Bazaar is more like a “rojak” market where people who like to do treasure-hunt would definitely like as it is seems so challenging.
Since the business holders along Jalan Tan Hiok Nee intend to develop that area as an artistic spot, the local council should just follow the trend that has been set by the market and make the street strictly to artistic and creative small traders that actually provide a huge platform to our local artists.
Besides that, the local authority has no planning over the cleanliness, traffic flow and parking issues brought by the JB Bazaar. Therefore, shop lots business holders are frustrated that their interests are jeopardised since even urine can be found in front of their shops, and trash is everywhere.
It’s not surprising it becomes a problem when the local authorities not having the political will to plan, and the group of small traders feel ridiculed that the shop lots owners try to ban them from coming into the street, where it should be a public owned place, to make money.
Moreover, MCA who labels themselves a party representing Chinese community said that the street belongs to Chinese community, which worsens the situation and suddenly becomes a racial issue when it should not be in the first place.
Don’t forget that this is a city developed not only by the Chinese and also other communities. Masjid India, Hindu temple, Gudwara Sikh and the old Chinese temple are all within one kilometre of each other.
The tussle between JB Bazaar and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee is clearly a result of bad urban governance and not a racial issue, however MCA tries to act as hero to show to JB Chinese society that they can voice out on their behalf while Pakatan Rakyat parties are trying to bring about new political ideas, especially with regards to urban governance.
We can be sure that the MCA and their followers would definitely ignore the issue if the shop lot owners are mostly Malay although it is still a result of a big urban governance problem in the town.
While the JB heritage zone shows how diversified our local cultures is, it is unfortunate that there are still a lot of people who make their judgments based on skin colour and race.
Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, a street where Malaysians can be proud of our diverse culture or be ashamed of our racism.