AZLINA Harith lives in a Felda scheme in Johor. She is convinced that no matter how bad things get under the Barisan Nasional government, she can never trust the opposition to be in charge.
This is because DAP failed her when she needed help, she said.
She said she had asked her Kulai parliamentary MP for aid, but it was Umno who helped her in the end.
Her appeal for help was turned down at the DAP MP’s service centre, Azlina said.
“DAP did not help at all. And he was my MP (Teo Nie Ching). I don’t know why. It was the Kulai Umno division and (Bukit Permai assemblyman)Ali Mazat Salleh who helped me.”
Azlina, who is in her 40s, claimed that friends her age, who represented the second generation of Felda Taib Andak settlers, have had similar experiences with the opposition.
The sample indicates the difficulty Pakatan Harapan faces capture the Felda women’s vote which make up almost half of the one million votes in Felda’s ,many settlements.
Felda is a critical vote bloc in at least 54 rural seats in peninsular Malaysia and PH leaders have been working overtime to win over the voters ahead of the 14th general election.
Towards that end, the PH women’s wing recently launched the Feldanita movement in collaboration with Anak, a second generation settlers’ group.
Feldanita is PH’s answer to Gerakan Persatuan Wanita Felda (GPW), a women’s support group that has been instrumental in keeping Felda women loyal to the ruling Barisan Nasional.
Anak president Mazlan Aliman said PH only needed to increase its female settlers’ support to 25% from 0% to tip the scale in its favour in contests for rural seats.
It is hoped that Feldanita and inflation will sway the Felda women but interviews in Felda schemes in Johor and Selangor show this may be a tall order.
“With this government, prices have gone up so much. They don’t match our wages. Petrol prices are a burden for us low-income folk,” said Azlina, on cost of living pressures.
Still, she and her friends are not putting their hopes in the opposition.
“Look at Kelantan which Pas has governed for so long. What have they done? What has the opposition done in the states they govern?”
GPW was a big reason why Felda women would vote only for BN, said a leader of the group who wished to be known as Mariam.
As a support network, GPW is embedded in the Felda women’s lives which revolve around the settlements, said Mariam, who is of Felda Gedangsa in Hulu Selangor.
“I myself hold monthly and weekly activities such as quran recital classes, religious talks. If there is a kenduri or when a VIP visits, we will get together to volunteer.”
GPW also funnelled aid to women and their families and this placated any anger they might feel towards the government over inflation or their debt problems, said Mariam.
“At the end of the year, they get about RM700 to help them prepare their kids for school. During Raya, there is also a special incentive.”
Over the past few years, GPW’s ranks had been filled with more and more Umno Wanita activists, said Mariam, compared with when she was first appointed a leader in 1992.
This had helped Umno and BN to get their message across to the women, and to play up communal fears, she said.
“The politicians who visit will say things like, if you vote for the opposition, you will get a Chinese prime minister.
“Because many Felda women are sheltered, they will easily believe these allegations.”
Rozita is the rare Felda woman who does not have a bad opinion of the opposition.
This, said the pisang goreng seller, was because she had ventured outside of her Felda scheme to work in a factory in nearby Batang Kali.
Most of the Felda women in Selangor and Johor The Malaysian Insight interviewed supported BN, despite complaining of lean times.
“The opposition? No thanks. There’s no point talking about them,” said zariah Zakaria, 86, of Felda Taib Andak.
“BN gave us all these amenities. There wasn’t a road here but now there is a tarred road. And this village has come up. The opposition is only good at opposing.”
Rosnah Ramlan, also of Felda Taib Andak, will vote for none except BN.
“The only people who consistently help us are from Umno and our YB (Ali Mazat).”
Another Taib Andak settler, who identified herself as Siti, said she and her friends supported BN as thanks to second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein, who set up the Felda land reform scheme in the 1950s.
Feldanita, the new women’s group created by PH, admitted that getting the Felda woman’s vote was a stiff challenge.
“We know that even most of the second generation settlers are pro-BN. Which is why have we set up Feldanita, to break the dominance,” said Feldanita chief Anis Afida Mohd Azli.
“This (loyalty to BN) is not surprising and we take it as a challenge to try to make the Felda women aware of what is going on in both Felda and out in the wider world.”