IT’S still a long way from victory for Pakatan Harapan but there is a disturbance in Umno’s Felda force in Johor.
For while support for the opposition has existed in Felda schemes since 1998, when Anwar Ibrahim was sacked as deputy prime minister and then jailed, his supporters have always kept a low profile.
But not any more, as Reformasi otai (veteran) Mohd Noh A. Karim held his first public programme for another sacked deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin in Felda Belitong yesterday.
“When I tried to hold a programme here in December 2012 for Nurul Izzah Anwar (Lembah Pantai MP), we were stopped by the local Umno people,” said the 61-year-old first generation Felda settler.
“They blocked the main road to my house and threatened to stop us, prompting the police to tell us to cancel the programme,” said Noh, who manages his own 10-acre oil palm smallholding.
Noh, who decked his fenceless garden with Pakatan flags, said this was a good sign although only a handful of Felda settlers came to the event.
“Although, there are only a few settlers who came for this, I think it’s a good sign for Pakatan,” said Mohd Noh as Muhyiddin fielded questions from some 70 people yesterday.
Felda is long known to be a vote bank for Barisan Nasional, particularly Umno. After the 13th general election, a Universiti Sains Malaysia study noted that Felda schemes panned 54 rural and semi-urban parliamentary seats and are estimated to contain 1.2 million voters.
According to the study, 179 of the 222 parliamentary seats can be classified as rural and semi urban seats.
Of this, Barisan Nasional won 128 of its 133 seats in rural and semi-urban areas, or 96% of ruling coalition’s seats.
An ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute report this month, also said 26 out 37 of BN’s state seats in Johor were predominantly rural and Malay-majority seats. At the extreme end, it won Senili and Penawar with more than 85% of the votes.
But a survey conducted by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research last month, however, showed BN is in danger in Johor, as half of Johoreans polled said they were open to a change of state government.
More alarming for BN is that 48% of those who were open to a change in government were rural voters.
Both sides to a Felda family
Shortly after Muhyiddin attended the noon event at Felda Belitong, he went to Felda Kahang, where he was hosted by former PAS member Bohari Gani.
Bohari, who joined PAS in 1999, said this was also his first time hosting an opposition event at his home.
“I have given up on PAS,” said the 70-year-old Felda settler.
Although it was a shorter programme, where Muhyiddin spoke about his sacking and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s nomination as Pakatan’s prime minister, the event attracted more Felda settlers.
Across the street, Sobandi Yusof listened to Muhyiddin attentively with his son, Azahari, while his wife Norma was at Bohari’s house.
“I have always been an opposition supporter,” said Sobandi, who moved to Felda Kahang in 1979 from Gelang Patah.
“But I’m not so sure of Dr Mahathir, as he was stingy to the Felda settlers and kampung people,” said Sobandi, who has 10 children.
His son, Azahari, 47 said it was good to listen to both sides although he was an Umno branch committee member.
“The opposition is important in any system and it’s okay to listen to them. But for me, I will support the ruling government as things are good now,” said the former Umno Youth (branch) chief.
Azahari, who earned RM1,500 a month, said he wasn’t affected by the economy or higher cost of living.
“We have everything we need in Felda and the economy is still good,” said the security guard.
His mother, Norma, however, disagreed and said her aunt who lived in Felda Belitong still does not have her own land title despite settling in Felda 30 years ago.
“And prices just keep going higher and higher,” said the 58-year-old woman.
“Nothing wrong with changing the government. If Pakatan is no good, we can change again,” she added.
Felda Belitong and Felda Kahang sit under the federal seat of Sembrong, which has two state seats – Kahang and Paloh.
Sembrong is currently held by Defence and Special Functions Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, while Kahang is held by Vidyanathan Ramanadhan (MIC) and Paloh by Teoh Yap Kun (MCA).
For GE14, Sembrong will be contested by PKR while Paloh has been allocated to DAP and Kahang to Bersatu.