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After nearly half a century under BN, Kepala Batas wonders if it’s time for change

After nearly half a century under BN, Kepala Batas wonders if it’s time for change

KEPALA BATAS, Nov 17 — For as long as the federal constituency here has existed since 1974, it has had a Barisan Nasional (BN) representative.

Yet, there was now an angst in the area that suggested all was not well with incumbent Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican’s standing with his constituents.

In 2013, Reezal inherited the seat from former prime minister Tun Abdullah Badawi who opted to go into retirement after having been the constituency’s federal lawmaker since 1978.

But while Abdullah had always enjoyed commanding wins in the seat — even in 1999 when many Umno stalwarts had come close to losing — Reezal did not appear to have come into the same unwavering support.

This was not for a lack of trying. In a Kepala Batas entering an election, his presence was inescapable.

Posters, flags, buntings, and advertising billboards bearing his image and touting his service were prevalent all across the constituency, even deep into the rural areas like Jalan Kedah, Permatang Tiga Ringgit all the way to Paya Keladi and beyond.

Unlike this near-omnipresence, there was not a corresponding level of affinity for the Umno lawmaker.

In Taman Bertam Indah, Malay Mail met residents who described themselves as former supporters of the BN coalition, saying they were disillusioned by the apparent corruption that has landed several Umno leaders in court.

Shahrul Effendi, 49, was expressive in his disapproval for Reezal’s party president, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and was unconvinced he would not try and claim the prime ministership himself.

“I’m definitely thinking about his court cases although many want to simply brush it aside, forget about it like it’s nothing. Imagine he gets the big seat (prime minister), he’ll squash all of us like insects,” Shahrul said when met at his house where he was smoking shirtless and in his sarong.

A vegetable farmer, Shahrul said everyone in Kepala Batas could see Reezal’s banners and billboards, but most just interpreted these as him being rich enough to spend lavishly on electioneering material.

Shahrul also said it only hardened his resolve to vote differently than in the previous three general elections, so he would not be accused of enabling yet further corruption.

“We cannot keep going like this and since you asked me what the undercurrent was, I’ll tell you it’s not going to be a walk in the park for BN,” he said.

Norshamira said many living in Kepala Batas are struggling to cope with the rising prices of goods. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Norshamira said many living in Kepala Batas are struggling to cope with the rising prices of goods. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Nearby, Malay Mail met Norshamira, 28, a storekeeper for a warehousing firm, and her colleague, Ah Seong, who said they have not decided how they would vote.

Norshamira noted that politicians appeared to be busy bickering over positions and not focused on matters affecting Malaysians, such as the cost-of-living crisis.

Expressing anxiety over stagnant wages coupled with skyrocketing inflation, she said she would like to vote for a representative who could address this, but did not see one available to her.

“For the residents here, we also see the kind of politics that’s happening and it’s so messy and we can’t help but wonder if these politicians want to work for the people or themselves,” she said.

Teacher Zailan Aboo Hassan opined that female MPs work harder than their male counterpart. — Picture by Shafwan Zaido n

Teacher Zailan Aboo Hassan opined that female MPs work harder than their male counterpart. — Picture by Shafwan Zaido n

For school teacher Zailan Aboo Hassan, who described himself as a staunch Muslim, he said he preferred his candidate to also exhibit this virtue, but explained that ultimately, he was leaning towards the Perikatan Nasional candidate, Siti Mastura Mohamad, because she was a woman.

Saying that Kepala Batas was no longer the BN bastion it once was, he explained that he would like a woman MP because he felt men were less hardworking.

“The PN candidate is a woman, young, a local. I hope she wins. If you look at the current trends, support for her is rising. So, if I had to compare between a man and a woman, I feel a woman can work way harder than the male so let’s see what happens.

“I am guided by the Quran so for me when the time comes it’ll be easy,” said the 50-year-old.

Housewife Yuslida Arshad, 42, was carrying groceries to her car when approached, initially declining to share her views, but relented to say she also wanted a change.

She explained that Kepala Batas has grown weary with the same representation for decades and seeing the same results, which were no longer acceptable with the residents’ worsening circumstances.

Still, she said change might be hard for the seat that has grown so accustomed to voting for BN, and was unconvinced this election would be when the streak would finally end.

“I feel PN is strong now, but to be honest the old people are brainwashed and they love to vote. They cannot change, cannot see the light, cannot see anything beyond the old ways so these pak cik and mak cik will be a problem.

“Now the youngsters, they are not as hard headed as the older guys and they will be the ones who will be able to influence this election, but, as usual, it’s a mystery what the kids will do.”

Chef Azman Yusoff lamented the high prices of essential food items. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Chef Azman Yusoff lamented the high prices of essential food items. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

For Azman Yusoff, 52, the frustration was not with Reezal personally, but with the government in general, saying he did not feel assured by national leaders who could allow the country to run short of staples such as egg and cooking oil.

A critical Azman said the government appeared to be dysfunctional and powerless to address the spiralling inflation and profiteers, leaving Malaysians to suffer.

While he said he was still undecided over which candidate to pick, he was certain it would not be Reezal.

“I mean what on earth are these people in government doing? It’s a mad government. We must bring in change,” he said when met outside a sundry shop in Taman Paya Keladi.

Adding to the uncertainty of Reezal’s defence was the addition of 6,317 voters between 18 and 20 courtesy of the Undi18 movement.

While they represented less than 8 per cent of the eligible voters, their numbers are greater than Reezal’s majorities in the previous two general elections. Including those from 21 to 29, the two age categories accounted for 25,695 votes or nearly a third of all ballots.

Hadi Zulkifli is eager to vote for the first time, but is unsure who he'll vote for. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Hadi Zulkifli is eager to vote for the first time, but is unsure who he’ll vote for. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

First-time voter Hadi Zulkifli, 22, said he was excited to head to the polls on Saturday, saying he would intuit his decision.

Saying he did not follow the news and obtained his political information from social media, Hadi believed a meeting with the candidates would allow him to decide.

“If my gut feeling tells me this is the person to vote for, that’s the person I’ll vote for. For now, I am unaware of these manifestos, policies and promises. I know the parties,” he said.

Muda's Kepala Batas candidate Danial Abdul Majeed speaks to Malay Mail during an interview November 15, 2022. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Muda’s Kepala Batas candidate Danial Abdul Majeed speaks to Malay Mail during an interview November 15, 2022. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

For Pakatan Harapan’s candidate in the seat, Danial Abdul Majeed from the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda), the rumblings of discontent were encouraging.

While he would be trying to woo young voters who were his party’s target audience, Danial said there were many older residents who were also on the verge of changing allegiances due to a perceived lack of assistance.

He told Malay Mail he has spoken to some farmers and fishermen in the area who complained they were struggling to buy pesticide, seeds and fertilizer. Some also alleged that political affiliation to a certain party was needed before fishing permits could be obtained.

“They tell me they don’t want money or handouts, they want this broken system to be fixed,” he said.

In 2018, Reezal saw off the challenges of PH’s Zaidi Zakaria and Siti Mastura, who was contesting for PAS then, to retain the seat for a second term.

Aside from Danial and Siti Mastura, he is also facing a challenge from Pejuang’s Hamidi Abu Hassan.

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