PENGERANG – May 1, 2018: Ask any politically savvy Malaysian about Felda settlers and the likeliest reply will paint them as being nothing more than a safe deposit for Barisan Nasional.
Such is the perception that these settlers are often called the darlings of BN.
It is against such a backdrop that the sight of PKR flags fluttering about at Felda Adela was so eyebrow-raising. Felda Adela is one of the four settlements under the Adela cluster.
Since it was opened in 1956, Felda or the Federal Land Development Authority, has resettled thousands of the rural poor into newly developed areas where they were given the opportunity to be owners of smallholdings to grow cash crops.
Financial incentives and aid are the most popular forms of government assistance that the settlers are often given, such as last year’s RM73.75 million duit raya handout.
The consistent assistance by BN won it support among the settlers, turning the settlements into its strongholds.
However, the PKR flags decorating the streets within Adela seem to suggest that BN’s clout there is not as imposing as in other settlements.
“This is the first time non-BN flags are hoisted in Adela,” said a worker at a restaurant.
A store keeper from a nearby stationery shop echoed this view, adding that the disgruntled settlers have been getting help in putting up the flags from outsiders.
While the two were unable to think of any factor that could trigger such a dissatisfaction, several settlers who spoke under the condition of anonymity said their frustration mostly stems from the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
“We don’t care about 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Berhad) or any other national issues. What we really care about is our livelihood. Things are getting more expensive.
“Many of us still love BN but they better step up their game or risk losing support from their safe deposit,” said Kak Midah who sells fritters by the side of the main road.
Several other traders who joined the conversation nodded in agreement, with some stating that they were worried about their children’s future given the ever-increasing cost of living.
“Here, Pakatan usually hold its ceramahs at secret meeting places. The time and venue is told through WhatsApp and Facebook groups,” another fritters trader explained how it’s done at the settlement.
Also crying foul over GST-related price hike was a second generation settler called Zul who added that many in Adela were also put-off by some of Felda’s peculiar dealings with them.
Zul, who also peddles fruits whenever he could, claimed that many felt cheated when they realised that Felda had cumulatively deducted more amount from the settlers’ off-season allowance to repay their replanting loans.
“I’ve never trusted the opposition but with Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed as the opposition leader I think I may give them the benefit of the doubt,” said Zul.
Adela is one of the many settlements that also doubles up as a voting district for the Pengerang parliamentary constituency since the seat was created in 2004.
BN’s Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said has been winning the seat since the last three general elections, where she won uncontested in the earlier two before beating PKR’s Tengku Intan Tengku Abdul Hamid by 22,508 votes in 2013.
As it is, it is unlikely that BN will lose substantial support but the sight of countless PKR flags in Adela raises questions about BN’s supposed invincibility here.