Voices of the ordinary in Bukit Gantang

Despite their mounting dissatisfaction with the BN’s performance over the years, the older generation among the rural Malay community appear to have softened their stance, which may signal their willingness to give the “scales” a second chance.

By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider

Long-time Blue Team supporters Adindan Salleh and his wife Sabehah Mohd Darus have grown disillusioned with BN in recent years. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

The Bukit Gantang parliamentary constituency has traditionally been a shoo-in for the Barisan Nasional (BN). But in last year’s general election, the seat was snatched by Roslan Shaharum from Pas who won by over 1,500 votes.

His sudden death from a heart attack last month has reopened the position. The two giants are going neck and neck at this point of the race with the finishing line in plain sight.

Despite suffering from election fatigue at the host of thorny issues brought up by both sides, Adindan Salleh, 60, and his wife Sabehah Mohd Darus, 53, from Kampung Bercat in Bukit Gantang are long-time supporters of the “Blue Team” and are not shy to admit it.

However, they have grown disillusioned by the Umno-led national front over the years. “I’ve asked them to build a proper road to my house so many times over the years. But until now, nothing has happened,” said Adindan, his shoulders slumped in resignation.

Sabehah added their village is frequently flooded by the heavy rain that the area is famous for, caused by the poor existing drainage system.

“It’s not that they don’t develop the villages, build roads and all that. They do. The problem is cronyism,” Adindan told The Malaysian Insider while waiting at the bus stop for a friend to arrive.

The couple have just returned from visiting their adult children in Kuala Lumpur. The children had migrated to the federal capital years ago in search of work and have since settled down and changed their voting stations. Only one son will be making the journey back to vote in tomorrow’s by-elections, they said.

Mohd Salleh Ibrahim, 55, an unemployed Indian-Muslim from Kampung Air Terjun in nearby Trong, desperately wants Ismail Saffian, the BN candidate, to win in tomorrow’s Bukit Gantang by-elections.

Unemployed Mohd Salleh Ibrahim wants BN to win so an ‘economic golden age’ will return.

“There are no jobs here. Only trees,” he said, gesturing to the long line of oil palms across the road from the petrol station where he and his wife were sheltering from the afternoon squall.

The father of two lost his factory job five years ago after a road accident left him with a metal plate in his abdomen, making it difficult to walk or bend over. He lives on a meagre welfare allowance of RM150 a month, he said.

He is worried for the future of his children: the younger is 13 and the elder is a college-age student working part-time to bring home the bread.

But Mohd Salleh is heartened and relieved to see Datuk Seri Najib Razak take control of the wheel after Tun Abdullah Badawi, especially as Malaysia appears to be headed right for the rocks amid the global economic crisis.

“Our spirits have recovered a little,” Mohd Salleh told The Malaysian Insider at a petrol station in Trong, while waiting out an afternoon storm.

He prays Najib, a protégé of the fourth prime minister, will mark a return to Mahathirism, which to him symbolised the economic golden age in Malaysia.

Despite the number of scandals linked to his name, Mohd Salleh believes Najib is a strong, decisive and capable leader, the right choice to steer the country out of trouble.

Lorry driver Zainan Mohd Arshad trusts BN candidate Ismail Saffian as he is a local boy.

But not all BN supporters are blind loyalists. Zainan Mohd Arsad, 40, is a lorry driver who travels up to Kedah daily transporting raw palm oil for processing at the factories.

He believes Ismail who lives in adjacent Kampung Kubu, will make a suitable MP for the constituency. He noted Ismail had been friendly on his rounds on the ground and acted quickly in bringing in help when asked, highlighting the importance of having a local boy as the representative.

The father of five schooling children was disinclined to talk about the takeover of the Perak state government or any other of the thorny issues raised by either Pakatan Rakyat or the BN at many of their recent public rallies.

“What’s there to talk about? It’s all the same,” he replied when pressed for his view on who was right and was wrong in the battle for the leadership of the state.

“It doesn’t matter who is right, who is wrong. We need good leadership to help us,” the man from Kampung Batu 2½ stressed.

He hesitated when asked what he thought of the new leadership under Datuk Seri Najib Razak, whether the sixth prime minister would be able to deliver on the promises of reform.

“It’s too early to tell,” he muttered.

For Zainan, the more important issues concerned getting land grants at an affordable rate. One lot of land, measured at between 40 to 80 square metres, could cost up to RM3,000 to purchase, if there was no assistance from a “sponsor”.

“How are we going to afford that much money?” he asked.

Despite their mounting dissatisfaction with the BN’s performance over the years, the older generation among the rural Malay community appear to have softened their stance, which may signal their willingness to give the “scales” a second chance.

The younger generation who have yet to migrate out of the constituency, however, do not seem as easy to persuade.

“All politicians are the same. It doesn’t matter which side they are from. You only ever see them on the ground when it is election season. They lack caring for the rakyat,” said a jaded 25-year-old motorcycle mechanic who wished to be known only as Khairul.

A registered voter, the disenchanted youth told The Malaysian Insider he may not bother to cast his ballot tomorrow. Or if he does, he will cross both candidates, and spoil the vote just to make a point.

Sadly, by doing so, he would have wasted his only chance to really pass the message of change to the people at the top.