Politics and Policy: The hilltop battle

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 14, 2019 - January 20, 2019.
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INDIANS make up only 15% of the voters in Cameron Highlands. Yet, BN saw it right to field candidates from the MIC in the general elections from 2004 to 2018. And it was proved right on all occasions. BN won each time with different candidates, but all were from the MIC.

Apparently, the strategy was to do reasonably well with Malay and Chinese voters and win solidly among the Indians and Orang Asli community. That did the trick. Most of the time, the Malays came out in full support. Hence, Cameron Highlands became a BN stronghold .

Malays have always comprised the majority of voters in the highland, at 36% in 2004 and rising to 43% four years later. In 2013 and 2014, they formed 34% of the electorate.

For the 14th general election, the Chinese made up 30% of voters, the Indians 15%, and others — that would be the Orang Asli, mostly the Semai — at 22%.

In GE14, BN won 42.32% of the total votes while Pakatan Harapan, represented by the DAP, got 39.87% — just a whisker away. The court has declared the result null and void because of election fraud, hence the Jan 26 by-election.

Now, there has been a change in the BN’s strategy.  Its fielding of Ramli Mohd Noor, a Cameron Highlands-born Orang Asli, has been hailed as a brilliant move that will be favourable to the coalition, or whatever is left of it.

Even DAP’s Lim Kit Siang says so, conceding that the odds are now against Pakatan Harapan.

Ramli is said to have had an illustrious career as a police officer. And by being picked as candidate via direct BN membership, he is seen as free from the tainted components of the coalition, in particular, Umno.

Needless to say, the Orang Asli votes will be crucial. The community has traditionally voted for BN, if not for anything else, because they preferred voting for the government of the day — for obvious reasons. Which coalition can best take care of the community’s well-being and cater for their needs?

But Pakatan Harapan is now the government at the federal level. The state is still with the BN. Which will they see would be best for them?

The federal government, with all sorts of resources at its disposal, can “do wonders” for the Highlands, say observers. PH has fielded M Manogaran from the DAP.  As the name suggests, he is Indian.

It is sad but in this by-election, and Malaysian politics for that matter, race plays a big part in mustering votes.

In all probability, many of the Orang Asli votes will go to Ramli, a former top police officer from the Semai tribe.

The bulk of the Indian votes, also crucial, will likely go to Manogaran. The DAP man is also a familiar face, having contested in Cameron Highlands previously.

With the issue of the Indian and Orang Asli votes seen as settled, more or less, the Malays and Chinese are left with a big role in deciding the winner.

The votes will be further split, as political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian points out, with the entry of veteran politician Tan Sri M Kayveas.

Kayveas claims to represent MyPPP but another faction in the party says he cannot use its logo to contest. That speaks volumes of his chances of winning.

For the MIC, failing to get the BN’s nod to field its candidate is not doing its cause any good. It is seen as yet another big blow to the already ailing party. Forget all the bravado about making sacrifices and seeing the big picture.

A political pundit reminded me that although MIC has won in every election since 2004 during the good old days of the BN, it has always been very close, sometimes with a slim margin of only about 300 votes. Based on its current situation, obviously the BN felt the MIC would not be able to deliver this time.

The PH election machinery seems ready to hit the ground running. But several insiders say the main concern is out-of-town supporters not wanting to come back to vote. Now, Lim wants them to be miracle workers to canvass votes and to “surpass the miracle of GE14 when Pakatan Harapan beat BN at the national polls but not in Cameron Highlands”.

In the midst of all this, one question is who the PAS voter will back now that the party is not contesting. They can go to BN considering the so-called PAS–Umno electoral pact, and the fact that Umno is a Malay party. The BN candidate is neither Umno nor Malay, but he is a Muslim nonetheless. A point to note — PAS leaders showed up when BN unveiled its candidate.

Expect race and religion to be exploited, taking into account the recent developments in the country .

One thing is for sure — it will be a tight race, despite Lim’s glowing tribute for the BN candidate.


Mohsin Abdullah is contributing editor at The Edge. He has covered politics for more than four decades.



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