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Friday, July 7, 2017

Breaking Umno's hegemony in rural strongholds



Raya this year has truly been an interesting experience for me.
Five years ago, when I criticized Umno for defending the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (AUKU), which was a law meant to suppress student activism, my family members rallied against me.
I remember being called an “ungrateful child” for biting the hand which purportedly feeds us all. I didn’t even say that we should vote for the opposition, but that mere criticism of mine was sufficient to invite a strong emotional reaction from my family members.
Today, I witnessed the impossible - a complete reversal of their ideological stance. I visited about 30 different houses, filled with family and friends. Not one of them defended Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak when it came to the mother of all scandals, 1MDB. I didn’t even need to say anything for comments against Najib to be made. They were all in “self-driving” mode when it came to speaking truth to power.
These are not the typical “urbanites”; instead they are those who live in Pulai, Muar and Batu Pahat. Most of them have voted for Umno before (a small segment voted for PAS). I asked if they were aware of the intricacies of the 1MDB scandal, but most of them said no.
However, they have invested strong trust and faith in former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, which has led them to conclude that Umno today has lost their moral compass.
These are people who were raised during Mahathir’s era of rapid economic development through the industrialisation machine. Issues of cost of living and corruption were never at the forefront of voters’ minds back then.
While this was new to me, I was not shocked. Throughout my travels around Malaysia visiting multiple rural and suburban constituencies, I have witnessed the conspicuous shift in support from Umno to Bersatu.
Two years ago, it would have been impossible for any opposition party to rally a 10,000-strong crowd in Kedah outside of election period, yet Bersatu managed to do so last month. This number was quoted by the police and Sinar Harian. In Ketereh, Kelantan, the crowd numbered more than 8,000 people, despite it being a PAS stronghold.
Uniquely, for the first time, we are seeing thousands come out when we conduct programs in Felda. This was even acknowledged by DAP leaders like Tony Pua and Anthony Loke.
I do acknowledge that turnout does not necessarily translate into votes, but it does indicate genuine interest in Bersatu. This was during our nationwide tour through “Jelajah SEMARAK” which featured the 3Ms - Mahathir, his son Mukhriz Mahathir, and Muhyiddin .
When I was campaigning in Pulai, I met up with Makcik Faizah, a 56-year old lady who was once a hardcore Umno supporter. She told me that Umno today is not the same Umno she once supported. Now, she said, it’s Najib’s party, run by an allegedly corrupt elite who steal from the rakyat. She added that it had lost its sense of purpose.
I asked Makcik Faizah if it was possible for Bersatu to break Umno’s hegemony as they have the 3Ms - money, machinery, and media. She responded calmly by stating that we had our 3Ms as well - Mahathir, Muhyiddin, and Mukhriz. We laughed together and parted ways.
In Bersatu, 55 percent of its party members come from the youths, or those below 35 years of age. What is more interesting is the fact that the three states where Bersatu is strongest are Kedah, Johor and Perak. These states were once considered Umno strongholds.
In Johor, for example, Tebrau and Pagoh have the highest numbers of registered party members. Both were previously seen as Umno strongholds.
Almost all of our activities in Johor have been received well, as indicated by the large turnout. We don’t need to build machinery from scratch as a lot of the members, especially those above 35 years of age, are ex-Umno members who have had a wealth of experience running their respective “cawangan”(branches) and “bahagian”(divisions).
These are the selfless members working day and night to promote the party to friends and families in what had previously been seen as typically unreachable areas for the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat.
Umno had to spend millions and purportedly compel university students to fill a stadium to commemorate their 71st birthday. For Bersatu, in less than 3 months and on a negligible budget, we were able to fill up Stadium Melati with our members.
I believe that Najib will not call for elections this year due to Bersatu’s momentum. According to data collected by Bersatu and the Merdeka Center, as of April 2017, we are polling nationwide at 32 percent among the Malay electorate. In December last year, we were only at 17 percent. Umno is only polling at 36-38 percent.
If we include Malay support from other component parties of Pakatan Harapan and the overwhelming support from non-Malays, we would be ahead of Umno-BN.
Despite this fact, Bersatu cannot become complacent. The fact that Umno attacks Bersatu every day is indicative that they fear Bersatu’s rise the most. The fact that countless Bersatu members have been baited with cash and positions to leave the party is also indicative of Umno’s fear. The fear of losing power is real.
Umno’s fortresses have been broken into. Soon, its king and queen will be dethroned. Dethroned by people like Makcik Faizah who were once hardcore Umno supporters.

SYED SADDIQ SYED ABDUL RAHMAN is Bersatu Youth chief, and is Asia’s best debater, having won the United Asia Debate Championship in May 2015.- Mkini

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