No clear signal in Cameron

Philip Golingai

UNLIKE the four by-elections after GE14 where the opposition was trounced, Barisan Nasional has a slight edge over Pakatan Harapan in Cameron Highlands.

The Sungai Kandis, Balakong and Seri Setia state seats and Port Dickson parliamentary seat are constituencies that PH had won in GE14. Cameron Highlands parliamentary seat is different. Barisan won it. The by-election also pits the might of the PH federal government against the Umno-led Pahang state government. The other by-elections were held in Selangor and Negri Sembilan where Pakatan rules.

The four seats are also not a fair barometer to gauge Barisan’s support after its historic defeat in GE14 as they were held on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia where support for Pakatan is solid.

The voters of the previous by-elections consisted of Malays, Chinese and Indians. In Cameron Highlands, besides the three races, there is a sizable group of orang asli voters, who can tip the balance towards BN.


The by-election is a four-cornered fight: BN’s Ramli Mohd Noor, PH’s Manogaran and two independent candidates, Wong Seng Yee and Sallehudin Ab Talib.

There are 32,009 voters. The racial breakdown is Malays 33%, Chinese 30%, orang asli 22%, Indians 15% and the rest are others. Jelai and Tanah Rata are the two state seats in Cameron Highlands.

In GE14, Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan of Umno won Jelai where Malays are 64% and orang asli are 34% of the total voters. DAP won Tanah Rata where Chinese are 48%, Indians 24%, orang asli 14% and Malays 14%.

Roughly, here’s the math to win the by-election, based on the analyses of DAP’s Ronnie Liu and Umno’s Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki: If BN gets most of the Malay and orang asli votes (33% + 22%) with a small percentage from Chinese and Indian voters, Ramli can win. If PH gets most of the Chinese and Indian votes (30% + 15%) and a sizable percentage of orang asli votes, Manogaran can win.

In GE14, BN and PAS grabbed 70% and 20% respectively of Malay votes. Barisan got almost 90% of the orang asli votes, with 15% of the Indian votes and less than 3% of the Chinese votes.

PH, according to Liu, the Sungai Pelek assemblyman, is “a little behind” in the by-election.

It is because of the unique structure of Cameron Highlands, he says. About 22% of the voters are orang asli. And in GE14, PH only got 10% of their total votes.

Many of the Malay voters, Liu says, live in Felda settlements and PH only managed to get less than 15% of those votes. Liu notes that PH’s voters are mostly from the Chinese and Indian communities in the Tanah Rata seat.

However, “quite a fair bit of them” are working “outstation”. It is unlikely they will return home to vote on Jan 26, as a week later it will be the Chinese New Year homecoming period.

“It is tough. It is very, very difficult for us to convince the youngsters to come back to vote,” he says.

Of course, he adds, PH has some plus points, as it is now the government and voters, in general, tend to support the ruling coalition. “We are New Malaysia. If you give your vote to Barisan, it is as if you want old Malaysia,” he says.

Asyraf, who is Umno Youth chief, is very positive that there is a high chance of Barisan retaining the seat.

The sentiment on the ground, he says, is anger, especially among Felda settlers and orang asli in Jelai, towards the PH government.

“They feel that PH has given them false hope and empty promises that it did not honour and fulfil after getting into power,” he says.

The orang asli, says Asyraf, are loyal to Barisan. Most importantly, he says, the Barisan direct candidate is an influential Semai born in the constituency.

Ramli’s father is a respected figure in the orang asli community and many Tok Batin (orang asli village headmen) are his relatives.

“It is an advantage to Barisan, which for the first time has chosen an orang asli as a candidate. If Ramli wins, he will be the first in his community to be an MP,” he says.

Liu disagrees.

“Some think it is significant but I don’t think so. Because when you talk about New Malaysia, we are talking about anak Malaysia so whether the candidate is an Indian, Chinese, Malay or orang asli is insignificant,” he says.

Some of the orang asli, according to Liu, are beginning to realise that with PH in power, there is a difference especially with the change in leadership in the Orang Asli Affairs Department.

The Felda settlers, according to Asyraf, are unhappy with the PH government because of the rising cost of living and the drop in the price of oil palm and rubber.

“They are also angry over the false promise of the PH government to settle their debt if it won,” he says.

Asyraf is confident Barisan can get most of the Malay votes as PAS has mobilised its machinery to campaign for Ramli. The Islamist party has about 2,000 hardcore supporters in the constituency. In GE14, its candidate received 3,587 votes. The additional 1,500 plus votes came from Umno members who didn’t want to vote for an MIC candidate, he says.

Liu is confident the Chinese will remain loyal to PH even though there are grouses in the community about the government’s frequent U-turns and broken promises, such as failing to curb the rising cost of living.

“We tell them that we haven’t abandoned our promises. We will still deliver. Hopefully, they will be convinced that we need time to deliver our promises,” he says.

“After all, after so many years under Barisan, things were still not right and we need time to right the wrong.“

Asyraf isn’t putting any high hopes on a significant number of Chinese supporting Barisan. There’s no clear signal from them that they want to shift to Barisan, he says.

It is the same with the Indians, conceded the Umno politician.

“In GE14, we only got about 15% of the Indian votes. I hope that PH, which fielded an Indian candidate, will not tell the Indians to vote only for an Indian. We are concerned that the Indians who voted for MIC in GE14 might vote for DAP,” he says.

Hopefully, Asyraf says, MIC machinery can corral at least 20% to 25% of the Indian votes.

Barisan will try to persuade the Chinese and Indians to vote for Ramli to send a message to the PH government that they are unhappy with its false hope and empty promises.

“Whatever the results of the Cameron Highlands by-election, it will not change the political landscape in Malaysia. So why don’t the Chinese and Indians take this opportunity to signal their disappointment?” he says.

Barisan badly needs a Cameron Highlands victory to boost morale, especially as PH swept all the other by-elections so far.

Source: The Star Online


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