SABAK BERNAM, June 1 — Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Sungai Besar hopeful, Budiman Mohd Zohdi has a simple but grand dream for this parliamentary seat on the northwesterly fringe of Selangor, home to generations of farmers and fishermen.
“I have a dream that every house here must at least have one graduate, minimum,” said the 44-year-old making his maiden parliamentary run in the June 18 by-election.
“Education can change the fate of a family, other things can’t,” he told Malay Mail Online in an interview in his hometown this week.
Currently pursuing a Ph.D in political science at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Budiman is a fervent believer in education as a game-changer.
“If we bank on education, we can change the whole system of this community. Imagine a family that lives in the low-cost government housing, if I can push just two of their children to be graduates, imagine the change it can bring to the family,” said the eldest of six siblings.
His father was a former teacher who managed to see Budiman and his other five children further their studies to at least a diploma level.
Now a father himself to a 16-year-old girl, Budiman is also fully aware of the challenges and frustrations facing parents from low-income households in the 21st-century to put their children through school, let alone college.
“The teachers here are good, the infrastructure here also is good but how to change the attitude of the people? That is the biggest challenge,” he said.
He related that it was not uncommon for parents to negotiate a deal with their teenaged children seeking greater freedoms. The parent will cover the downpayment for a new motorbike and the child will have to pay the monthly instalments.
“For the 16 to 17-year-olds to pay their monthly, they will need to work part-time and sooner or later they will quit school. These are the issues that I have and will need to tackle more consistently,” Budiman said.
The Sungai Panjang assemblyman is no stranger to controversy and has no qualms speaking out against Umno seniors and even ministers to protect his kampung kin, whom he said had certain expectations of their elected representatives.
“The people want someone to fight for their own issues. They [politicians] must be seen as a fighter but in their own issues.
“If the paddy farmers have a problem, they want you to bring it to the state assembly. They are expecting you to do the same thing at the Dewan Rakyat. They are expecting the MP to bring this up and be seen to be fighting for it.”
The Sungai Besar boy with a penchant for dressing in checkered shirts—indeed he has earned the moniker “YB Baju Kotak” among locals — described himself as “crazy headed”, saying that few from BN would dare lead a delegation of farmers to hand over their demands to Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Datuk Seri Shabery Cheek like he did last January to protest what they claimed to be an unfair paddy grading system by Padiberas Sdn Bhd (Bernas) and other paddy factories in Selangor.
“You can look at my track record. I am part of the BN state assembly that has brought the paddy issue to a protest and handed over a memorandum to the agriculture ministry. It is very rare doing this from the BN side but I am crazy headed that way,” Budiman said.
Despite his intellectual pursuits, Budiman is also a pragmatist and is always looking for ways to help the villagers strengthen their economic position, like getting a bigger market for local products such as kerepek.
“For me, being community based is very important. Firstly, if there are things that can be made into an income and can be sold, it is good we improve on it.
“What I am trying to do is to help them, we form a cooperative, we start up a consortium, we call up FAMA to help with their branding and packaging. They can up the quality and price of the product. This is what I want to do here,” he said.
The author of “Propaganda Power”, Budiman has high hopes of winning Sungai Besar for BN, which its previous MP the late Datuk Noriah Kasnon gained by a slim 399-vote majority in Election 2013.
But he is level-headed enough to know what drives the Sungai Besar voter.
“If their rice bowl is affected, they will get angry.
“They want a simple way to find an earning, that’s all,” he said.