With the dust from the recent Malaysian general election now settled, what is next in the pipeline for Iskandar Malaysia?
By Khalil Adis
The recently concluded Malaysian general election was one that was closely watched and had both Malaysians and Singaporeans on the edge of their seats.
With a more savvy generation emboldened by social media and a strong desire for change, the 13th general election saw opposition parties fighting tooth and nail alongside the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) party as Malaysians far and wide call for a more transparent government.
Even states with a strong base of UMNO supporters like Johor witnessed the opposition gaining ground with the fall of Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman’s seat in Gelang Patah to the Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) Lim Kit Siang.
DAP’s win in Gelang Patah, the closest constituency to Nusajaya, Iskandar Malaysia, perhaps echoes Johoreans sentiments that they feel increasingly alienated by this special economic zone.
Gelang Patah has a huge Chinese community that helped the DAP win votes.
Mooted in 2005 by former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, Nusajaya boasts million dollar landed homes with top-notch security and infrastructure – a weekend playground for Singaporeans and expats from Singapore.
In contrast, Gelang Patah, located in the second most southern town in Johor, is still very much a small town where ‘kampungs’ can still be found.
This inherent difference had perhaps translated to protest votes in the ballot box.
“The prices of homes in Nusajaya are way out of reach for most of us here. While the government has provided for low cost housing for locals, we feel that Iskandar Malaysia is for foreigners,” said Mohd Jufri a Johorean who works as a mechanic.
“We feel that we are unable to take part in Iskandar Malaysia’s success. Ticket prices for the theme parks and prices of food and drinks in the malls are beyond the budget for locals. Corruption and the need for a transparent government are issues we are concerned with,” said Don Goh, a Johorean working in Singapore.
Amid reports of violence and elections irregularities, BN managed to retain Johor with a two-thirds’ majority.
It won 38 out of 56 state seats while the opposition secured 18 seats – 14 by the DAP, three by Islamic Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and one by Party Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Impact on Iskandar Malaysia
For the newly initiated, Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) is the governing body that is responsible for bringing Iskandar Malaysia to life.
Established in 2007 by a Federal Act, Iskandar Malaysia is jointly chaired by the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Johor.
This Act ensures Iskandar Malaysia will still go on even if the state of Johor should fall to the opposition.
This measure will, in some ways, help to silence criticism that Iskandar Malaysia will be another white elephant.
Analysts say Iskandar Malaysia is a key ticket that will transform the once sleepy state of Johor.
“Both the opposition and the ruling party are business oriented people. I don’t see them shutting down just out of spite because they will be out in the next election. This is not going to happen. No government taking over will never shut down a very good business that provides taxes especially when Iskandar Malaysia is growing so well. In addition, they also want a good relationship with the Singapore government,” said Kumar Tharmalingam, CEO of Malaysia Property Incorporated (MPI).
Indeed, Iskandar Malaysia is helping to boost the GDP for Johoreans with a spillover effect experienced in Flagship A – Johor Bahru.
Figures from IRDA showed that as of May 2013, Iskandar Malaysia has attracted over RM111 billion worth of investments.
Analysts from across the causeway also echo the same sentiment.
“It will not make any sense for anybody to halt the relationship or the bullet train or the core infrastructure because at the end of the day these infrastructure and the growth will directly benefit the state of Johor – their coffers in terms of revenue and their business growth. On that basis, whether the opposition or the current political party, people will take a very logical and win-win approach. There may be some adjustments for people to consider but I don’t think it will be a loss for any investor even if the opposition wins this election,” said Mohamed Ismail, CEO of PropNex.
Locals have also benefited
While Johoreans have complained about high property prices in Nusajaya, analysts say they need to examine things in context.
“The rise in property values is only in Iskandar and not the rest of Johor. If you want to live in Iskandar, it is like you are living in Kuala Lumpur City Centre. You have to pay the RM1,000 per sq ft. However, you can very well live away in Shah Alam where it is only RM200 per sq ft. You cannot grow an area with a fantastic infrastructure with high quality design and features and still say I want it cheap. However, there are alternatives,” said Tharmalingam
Indeed, Tharmalingam added that savvy locals who had bought properties in Nusajaya back in 2006 would have by now be sitting on a handsome profit.
“They would have trebled their money over the last five years. The first terraced house sold by GamudaLand was RM230,000. Today it is RM1.2 million. Look at the appreciation over five years! That came across because of the billions spent by Khazanah Nasional in building the highways and improving the connectivity. The acceleration in the last two years was because of Singapore and Malaysia’s excellent bilateral relationship,” he said.
In addition, figures from IRDA showed that 554,769 jobs have been created since 2006.
Of this only less than 40 per cent has been filled up.
LEGOLAND MALAYSIA, for example, has created 560 jobs.
In an interview with Park World Online, its general manager Siegfreid Boerst said he expects to have 1,000 staff during its first year of operation.
This includes its water park that is set to open in 2013.
With the completion of LEGOLAND Hotel by the end of 2013, the figures are set to rise.
As we speak, IRDA is working closely with local schools and tertiary institutions to fill the demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers for the opening of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios in June 2013.
This creative industry is set to employ more than 2,000 locals starting this year.
With the transfer of knowledge from such a renowned film studio to locals, it could possibly bring about a renaissance in the Malay movie industry.
The Malay movie industry, while still active, has not produced enough artistic content that it was renowned for during its golden era in 1950s.
Back then, the film industry, situated in Jalan Ampas, Singapore, produced cultural icons like P. Ramlee whose impact on the film and media industry continue to be felt today.
More check and balances
Still reeling from the closely contested seat in Gelang Patah, government officials are reticent to speak on record.
One, however, has agreed to share his thoughts but on the condition he remains anonymous.
“Iskandar Malaysia is protected by the Federal Act so investors need not worry. In terms of DAP’s win, it will provide more checks and balances for the ruling party when it comes to brokering deals in Iskandar Malaysia,” says a civil servant.
What this means is, the opposition–led leader Lim Kit Siang will have the power to check on the decisions tabled by IRDA’s chief executive, Datuk Ismail Ibrahim before it gets approval from the new Chief Minister of Johor Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Abdul Razak.
Locals also applaud the move.
“It will definitely allow for greater transparency. This is something that we need,” said Cheryl Lim, a Johorean working in Singapore.
This article was first published by Yahoo! Singapore