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Monday, August 7, 2017

Mahathir ‘not a strong enough factor’ to attract Felda votes

Pro-government sentiment still strong in Johor's Felda schemes, despite the former PM switching from Umno to lead the opposition.
Abdul Halim A. Razak
Abdul Halim A. Razak
KLUANG: Pakatan Harapan (PH), with former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad leading them, appear confident to have successfully breached Umno’s strongholds in the Felda schemes.
But is it so?
A recent visit to Kampung Felda Ayer Hitam here discovered many settlers declaring their unwavering loyalty towards the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
The village chief, Abdul Halim A. Razak, 55, was one of them. He admitted to have been a staunch supporter of Mahathir, but the latter’s switch to the opposition changed his feeling to dislike for the 92-year-old.
“We used to love Mahathir, but not anymore,” he said.
Felda Ayer Hitam is located 15km from Kluang town. It has been around for almost 60 years, established soon after Merdeka in 1957. Among the earliest settlements in Johor, covering over 1,500 hectares, it now has over 2,000 residents.
Although pundits claimed the “Mahathir factor” would help the opposition secure votes from among the traditional government supporters, especially those in Felda settlements, Halim disagreed.
At least not in Johor, which was the birthplace of Umno, and also the “fixed deposit” for the Malay-based party, said Halim.
“In Johor, it would be difficult (for PH) to influence (the Felda voters). In Kedah, maybe.
“Johor folks wouldn’t accept Mahathir easily.”

Johor is among PH’s frontline states for the coming general election which must be held latest by mid next year.
Just last month, PH launched its nationwide “Jom Bina Semula Negara” (Let’s rebuild the country) campaign, which targeted 50 seats including those in Felda settlements. Fifteen of these target seats are in Johor.
According to Halim, Mahathir’s move to the opposition would backfire against the PH chairman, as it might result in “all the bad things” he did during his 22 years rule being dragged out in the open.
Halim’s views showed the tough road ahead for PH to win the hearts of Felda folks, whose votes ensured BN’s survival even when a big number of urban supporters turned their backs on the ruling coalition in 2008 and 2013.
Research conducted by Ilham Centre earlier this year revealed that Felda settlers stood strongly behind BN during the 2013 general election.
It found that in Kelantan where BN traditionally had the lowest support, the coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak still managed to receive 60% of Felda settlers’ votes.
In other states, the support level was said to be around 63% and above. In Johor, 90% of Felda setters voted for BN.
Halim also claimed that Mahathir’s new political outfit, PPBM, had little influence on Felda folks in Johor, although the Malay party did gained some acceptance in the early days of its formation.
“Based on the information I obtained from my friends in Felda, plenty of those who joined PPBM have now left the party. But I’m not sure which party they joined after PPBM,” he said.
He added that those who supported PPBM, in his area, “can be counted with fingers”. FMT, however, couldn’t confirm Halim’s claim.
“Maybe one or two youths living in the city. We have the list of names,” said Halim.
FMT’s random survey, however, found that there were others who sympathised with Mahathir.
Pak Samad was one of them. He told FMT that he disagreed with Umno bringing up Mahathir’s Indian lineage, and said that the former prime minister’s past contributions should be appreciated.
“We are Muslims, why do we need to tarnish each other’s reputations? Like Mahathir, they’re treating him like garbage.”
He was referring to the controversy sparked by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who showed an image of an old identity card, which purportedly bore the name “Mahathir a/l Iskandar Kutty”.
Pak Samad didn’t think this was appropriate.
“Why didn’t (Zahid) bring this up when Mahathir was the prime minister? What is the meaning of this?” he said. -FMT

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