Politics

In Rantau, humbleness wins votes

Tok Mat Streram

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

RANTAU, April 8, 2019: It was an amusing moment when eatery owner Shafie Mohamad teased one of his customers by singing to him the age-old Malay nursery rhyme, Suriram.

It was an obvious pun at Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) candidate for the Rantau by-election, Dr S. Streram.

“Keep singing that and I won’t pay for my meal,” quipped the customer, who was wearing a red PH t-shirt in raspy Negeri Sembilan dialect whilst enjoying Shafie’s famous duck egg turmeric chili stew.

Shafie who was cheekily grinning retorted: “You know I can’t help it right? Who asked your candidate to have such a funny name. We both know he had it coming.”

After a moment of awkward silence, Shafie and his customer burst into a fit of laughter. Others at his homely eatery which is in Felda Sendayan here, also chimed in.

The customer later paid for his meal and bade Shafie good day before going off on his weather-worn motorcycle.

Long-time resident of Kampung Linsum, here, Zainol Talib, said such a banter was normal in Rantau as the locals were mostly not fond of overzealous politickings.

“Almost everyone knows everyone here. When the election ends, we’ll be seeing each other every single day. We don’t want to sour our relationships.

“BN will likely bleed more support if they let people like Lokman Adam and Papagomo run wild here,”said Zainol, referring to two Umno personalities, well-known for their aggressive campaigning style.

“BN needs to be humble nowadays. It can no longer afford to act all high and mighty,” he added.

Though there are four candidates, the contest for the Rantau state constituency is primarily between BN’s Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, who is the incumbent and Dr Streram and by the looks of it, the latter has a daunting task to win.

Unlike Dr Streram, Mohamad was born and grew up in Rantau. On top of that, most of the locals are well aware of Mohamad’s contributions to Rantau despite attempts by especially PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to persuade them otherwise during his nightly ceramah from the start of campaigning.

For example, they know that the town’s fire station has yet to have any fire engine – which Dr Streram had politicised – because Mohamad had requested for a brand new one for it instead of accepting an old one from the Seremban fire station.

“When a medical professional of his (Dr Streram) age needs to sell the fact that he had served in Afganistan as proof of his openness in helping Muslims, it literally exposes how little local credibility he has in Rantau,” commented Dr Pamela Yong of the Institute for Strategic Analysis and Policy Research.

The sea of BN’s blue flags that drowned those of PH in Rantau also strengthen the notion that Mohamad will win.

Nonetheless, while many are confident of his supposedly inevitable victory, Mohamad appears to be well-grounded about his chances.

Two weeks ago, he said that there is no such thing as a guaranteed victory and this was a peculiar take given BN’s impressive victories in the past two by-elections in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih where it regained much of the Malays support.

Mohamad’s cautious stance was not without basis as, unlike in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih, the Malays make up only 53.43 per cent of constituents in Rantau, which is the lowest among the other three state seats in the Rembau parliamentary constituency.

Racial breakdown of the state seats in Rembau parliamentary constituency

State seats

Paroi

Chembong

Rantau

Kota

Malay

75.45 per cent

81.18 per cent

53.43 per cent

87.17 per cent

Chinese

8.24 per cent

7.33 per cent

9.85 per cent

6.98 per cent

Indians

15.65 per cent

9.85 per cent

27.01 per cent

4.62 per cent

GE14 winner

PH (PKR)

BN (Umno)

BN (Umno)

BN (Umno)

In fact, of the four state seats, Rantau also has the highest percentage of non-Malay voters and BN is known to yet win over significant votes from them in previous by-elections.

As it is, the Malay groundswell against PH of late looks strong enough to enable Mohamad to win with the only probable chink in his armour  being the alleged dirt dug from his  previous administration.

Among others, his opponent in the general election in 2004, Badrul Hisham Shahrin had claimed to have unearthed quite a sizeable skeleton out of Mohamad’s proverbial closet.

However, it is well-known that few in Rantau take Badrul seriously with PKR even went to the extent of canceling a press conference on March 29 in which Badrul was supposed to reveal Mohamad’s alleged wrongdoings.

At almost every ceramah, the two sides have consistently been pleading for votes.

Whether to vote for a strong opposition or the ambitious reform agenda, those in Rantau have only five more days left to decide.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at [email protected]