SEMANTICALLY speaking, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) did not lose the Cameron Highlands parliamentary seat in the January 26 by-election.
The seat did not belong to it in the first place. The results were a status quo. The Barisan Nasional (BN) retained the seat.
What is significant is the ruling PH lost to the opposition BN with a larger majority.
In the last May 9 General Elections the PH candidate, Manogaran Marimuthu (from the DAP), lost to BN’s Sivarraajh Chandran (MIC) by 597 votes (2.45%) in a 79-per cent voter turnout and a 5-way fight.
Sivarraajh subsequently lost the seat after an election court on last November 30 found him guilty of vote-buying.
On January 26, Manogaran, who was contesting the Pahang seat for the third time, was unequivocally defeated by the BN’s novice candidate, retired police officer Ramli Mohd Nor, 61.
Ramli is “first” on at least three counts. He is an Orang Asli. He does not belong to any political party. He successfully contested on behalf of the BN.
He polled 12,038 votes against Manogaran’s 8,800 to earn a majority of 3,238 votes or 15.11 per cent on a turnout of 68.79 per cent.
There are several factors that contributed to BN’s larger victory.
Choice of candidates
The BN’s high stake poker game paid off. Taking away the traditionally MIC seat and giving it to an independent Orang Asli had minimised acrimony between Umno and the MIC.
Being an Orang Asli, it was easier for Ramli to garner the support of his community that makes up 21.56 per cent of the electors.
No one ethnic group is in majority in Cameron Highland. Apart from the Orang Asli, there are the Malays (33.5 per cent), Chinese (29.48 per cent) and Indians (14.91 per cent).
Ramli, being a Muslim Orang Asli, was naturally favoured by the Malays as well. Since Pas opted out, he also benefited from the party’s votes.
In the nutshell, the BN got a boost from three sources namely the Orang Asli, the Felda Malays and the Pas supporters.
It is wise for the PH strategies and planners to take note of the readiness of Umno to innovate and its growing friendship with Pas.
Taking away the seat from the MIC and giving it to an independent Orang Asli candidate was a master stroke. In so doing it reduced the disenchantment among its minority Indian supporters.
The PH, on the other hand, started the race with a disadvantage. For a start Cameron Highlands was not its seat and its candidate wasn’t exactly everybody’s first love. Twice defeated he wasn’t also a fresh face.
The highland seat has always been a BN stronghold dedicated to the MIC. It is said that whenever an MIC leader felt unsafe he would run up the mountain to seek refuge in Cameron Highlands.
Additionally, the PH suffered what all government parties went through after a successful general election – the honeymoon ended and the dissatisfaction set in.
The PH record in the last eight months has fallen short of the expectation of even its most realistic and loyal supporters.
Granted that it took over from the kleptocratic BN government a crippled economy and a corruption-riddled administration, the people are yet to feel the real fruits of their labour.
They had expected former Prime Minister, (Datuk Seri I Mappadulung Daeng Mattimung Karaeng Sandrobone Sultan Abdul Jalil) Mohd Najib Abdul Razak, to be jailed months ago.
They were upset seeing him behaving as if he is still the Prime Minister. His supporters are regaining their confidence and are urging him on – the latest being with the “apa malu bosku” campaign.
Without depriving him and his co-conspirators justice, the people will be happier if they are assigned to the prison for their offenses as soon as possible.
Then there are the more fundamental things like the prices of goods and services, unemployment and affordable homes.
The complaints are familiar. Ministers, deputy ministers and their political aides are not as friendly and as hardworking as when they were in the opposition.
Now that they are in the government, they are bureaucratic, distant and unfriendly. Some even picked up fights with their own supporters. This is suicidal.
After promises upon promises being broken, the people don’t anymore buy the “akan kaji” (will study) excuses and blaming the last government.
I am forced to give poor marks to minsters responsible for food production, supplies, transportation, pricing, monitoring and enforcement. Affordable food is becoming an issue. Old people had been reported dead fighting for free food!
Ministers responsible for national unity, rural development, education and tourism too must roll up their sleeves or continue to face the call for their removal.
During the Cameron Highlands campaign I saw Ministers and their deputies crowding around the VIP’s tables instead of mixing with the people.
PH leaders must be seen mixing with the rakyat more often if they want to continue to stay in power.
As a government, they must be united and act decisively against racism and extremism being openly instigated by the oppositions.
The people who took the risk voting for the PH during the last general elections deserve better than what is currently being offered.
As I put it in my Facebook posting on January 27, the Cameron Highlands results suggest that there is a clear and present danger for the PH. So be forewarned.
If the people could vote the PH in, they could also vote the PH out.