Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other desinated leaders of his soon-to-be formed party Perjuang at the ceremony to introduce the candidate they will support in the Slim by-election. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hansoor Hussain, August 15, 2020.
The 65-year-old had just joined the growing number of regulars who gather at the local warung every evening to catch up on local news and gossip at Felda Gunung Besout 1 in Slim, Perak.

Today’s topic was about Dr Mahathir and his new party Pejuang, which will contest the Slim by-election on August 29.

As he drew on his keretek cigarette, Azrai said he had no issues with Dr Mahathir personally.

Azrai, who is known as the “chicken king” of the five Felda settlements in Gunung Besout 1-5, said the new government knows how to give out money.

“I don’t get any cause I don’t qualify, but others here get the Bantuan Prihatin and other handouts,” said the retired soldier.

“And that means a lot, when Dr Mahathir didn’t,” said Azrai.

A former policeman who wanted to be called Pak Badul, also said he had no issues with Dr Mahathir.

“But there were so many unfulfilled promises when he led the previous government. It is his right to start a new party, but I don’t think it’s going to do very well here,” said the 63-year-old Felda settler.

He described the 95-year-old former prime minister as “too stingy” although his children were millionaires.

When asked to compare Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with Dr Mahathir, Pak Badul had very little to say apart that he often heard Muhyiddin recite a prayer for the country during the Covid-19 lockdown.

But he believes that the Perikatan Nasional government, consisting of Barisan Nasional, Bersatu and PAS, has done a lot for the oil palm price since taking over in March.

“The price of sawit (oil palm) has gone up since Perikatan Nasional took over.”

A check on the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) website, however, showed that the local prices for crude palm oil was RM3,014 in January and has now fallen to RM2,519 in July. Local CPO prices were lowest in May at RM2,074.

But like many Felda settlers, Pak Badul believes that his finances have improved after the takeover in March.

Pak Badul’s sentiments are not unusual as more than half a dozen other Felda settlers gave the same arguments about why they would go with the Barisan Nasional candidate on polling day.

More than half of the votes cast in the 2018 elections in Slim were from seven Felda settlements, at 57%, or 10,587, of the total votes (18,574) cast.

Of that, 51.1% of settlers picked BN while 29.2% voted for PAS. Pakatan Harapan, which fielded Bersatu’s Mohd Amran Ibrahim, could only win 19.5% of the votes from Felda.

Slim residents at the announcement of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad's candidate on Tuesday. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hansoor Hussain, August 15, 2020.
Slim residents at the announcement of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s candidate on Tuesday. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hansoor Hussain, August 15, 2020.

In 2018, there were 23,377 voters in Slim, comprising 75% Malays, 10% Chinese and 13% Indians. The Election Commission said the Slim by-election will have 23,094 voters comprising 22,815 regular voters, 277 early voters and two overseas voters.

BN’s Mohd Khusairi Abdul Talib won the elections in 2018 with 8,327 voters, with 65% of his votes coming from Felda voters.

In the northern Felda area of Trolak Utara, retired settler Idris Hussein sighed as he watched the rain.

He didn’t like what was happening with the country’s politicians.

“Too much hopping here and there. There’s very little integrity left in politics,” said Idris on the fall of Kedah, Perak, Malacca, Johor and the almost collapse of Sabah.

“What Muhyiddin did to Dr Mahathir was also ‘tak sedap’ (not good).

“But the new government has been dishing out money. And that goes a long way in these parts,” said the 70-year-old.

The nomination for the by-election is today. BN has announced its acting Tanjung Malim Umno chief Mohd Zaidi Aziz, 43, as its candidate to defend the state seat.

Lawyer Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi, 38, is the candidate backed by Dr Mahathir.

Amir will contest as an Independent as Pejuang is yet to be registered.

The Slim by-election is held following the death of Khusairi on July 15.