Wooing the Malay heartland vote


Joceline Tan, The Star

AMANAH president Mohamad Sabu finally rolled into town yesterday. The Pakatan Harapan campaign team had wondered where he had gone to because he is, after all, the party’s commander-in-chief. Besides, he is their most en­­ter­­taining ceramah speaker.

There had been lots of speculation that he would be the candidate. He has name recognition and is very likeable even if he tends to go overboard when making fun of his opponents.

It was a tempting idea but Mat Sabu, as he is known, was not in the mood to lose again and besides, Amanah cannot let its president fall.

Both of his party’s candidates need all the help they can get.

Azhar Abdul Shukur in Sungai Besar and Dr Ahmad Termizi Ramli in Kuala Kangsar are highly qualified individuals but they are newbies and heavily reliant on the DAP machinery and resources.

Earlier on, there were people in the remote areas in Sungai Besar who had never heard of Amanah.

Some of the DAP leaders are still stumbling over his name, sometimes addressing him as Ustaz Shukur instead of Ustaz Azhar.

Local DAP strongman and Sekinchan assemblyman Ng Suee Lim has coined a creative Hokkien reference for Amanah – “sar kak tong” or three-sided party due to the triangular shape of the Amanah logo.

In short, Amanah is like a new, untested product that Pakatan Harapan is trying to promote among the voters.

There is a hard sell going on in the Chinese areas to ditch the more familiar brands like Barisan Nasional and PAS for the new orange brand.

But it will be hard to sell Amanah among the Malay voters. It lacks the network of Umno and PAS.

In the searing afternoon heat yesterday, a group of Wanita Umno members were making house-to-house calls in a coastal area known as Kampung Nelayan.

The low-lying village would probably be swamped at high tide if not for a high embankment separating the houses from the polluted sea where, as one local-born put it, “you go in white and come out black”.

Some of the ladies carried rolled mats under their arms and one was clutching a broom.

Apparently, they did not want to inconvenience their hosts and the household items were to tidy up the porch so that they could roll out the mats for a good sit-down session.

These soft-campaign visits often involved registering poor families for welfare aid and sending the sick to hospital.

Sungai Besar’s Malay heartland is where the ballot power lies.

Just 10 minutes off the trunk road that cuts through the constituency, one gets that in-the-middle-of-nowhere sensation – ripening rice fields as far as the eye can see and not a soul in sight.

The kampung homes are far and few between and it is obvious that the “dacing” and “bulan” dominate here.

These are the areas where the religious rhetoric of PAS resonates deeply and also where the slogan, “Umno membela rakyat” (takes care of the people), is most meaningful.

Umno has a reputation of taking care of Malays from birth to death while PAS is there to prepare them for the afterlife.

These two parties do have a symbiotic thing going on.

Selangor is a Pakatan Harapan state but in this part of Sungai Besar, the kampung folk carry on as if Umno is still the state government.

There is even a school built smack in the middle of a padi field to cater for families living in the area.

The farmers are not rich, neither are they in dire straits.

A basic padi plot of three acres brings a return of about RM20,000 a year and many of the farmers have more than three acres.

The pure air and tranquil beauty have also drawn the fabulously rich.

A stylish Malay house with layers of curved roofs is perched amid the golden fields.

The house apparently has a helicopter pad and is said to belong to the owner of a public-listed company and one of the richest men in Malaysia.

There has been a lot of action in the town area in the form of nightly ceramah and the billboard and poster war. That is the part that makes the news.

But a different kind of action is happening out there in the kampung heartland.

It is discreet, less visible but very powerful in securing and sealing the Malay votes.

The heartland folk will determine who wins and who loses.