Najib kicks off campaign in Pahang

He launches initiatives to improve settlers' lives in his home state

Supporters of Mr Najib at the launch of an industrial and recreational complex in Chini, Pahang. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

BARISAN Nasional (BN) leader Najib Razak and other candidates for Malaysia's General Election on May 5 fanned out across the country for their first full day of campaigning yesterday.

Datuk Seri Najib kicked off his campaign with visits to Felda (Federal Land Development Authority) settlements in his home state of Pahang, where he officially launched several initiatives aimed at improving the lot of settlers.

This included a RM22 million (S$9 million) industrial and recreational complex to create jobs in weaving and food production.

At one gathering attended by 5,000 residents in Chini, which falls within his Pekan federal seat, Mr Najib pointed to such initiatives as proof that BN could deliver economic transformation, and promised even more if the people continued to give their support.

"Give us five more years and we can do even more projects like this," he said.

The 112,000 families living in Felda settlements throughout Malaysia represent a crucial vote bank for BN. The first generation of Felda settlers - rural Malaysians given homes and land to farm cash crops - have been loyal to BN. But it is not necessarily the case with their children, many of whom still live in poverty.

Yesterday's initiatives were the latest in a series of efforts by Mr Najib to woo these voters and address their problems. Since May last year, his administration has given RM15,000 over three phases to each Felda family. The RM1.69 billion total payout began ahead of the June public listing of a Felda company. Some of the shares are owned by settlers.

Mr Najib also launched a housing project for 100 second-generation Felda settlers in Chini.

Though the price of their shares has hardly appreciated, second-generation settlers say they are more concerned about finding a job and having their own home.

Said Mr Zarir Zainal, 30: "I just got married, and we want to have children soon. I hope to get a house of my own." The stationery shop owner lives with his parents in their Felda-provided house.

Yesterday's tour was also aimed at preserving local support for Mr Najib, who has been the MP for Pekan since 1976.

Last Saturday, shortly after filing his nomination papers, he told supporters he would not make many appearances in Pekan and asked for their understanding.

"I'm sorry I cannot be here often. But this time is different, as I am contesting as the party chief. I need to help candidates nationwide with our campaign," he said.

Meanwhile, in Johor, candidates such as former army general Hashim Hussein, Parti Keadilan Rakyat's "weapon" to unseat incumbent Shahrir Samad in the Johor Baru parliamentary constituency, turned up at markets to hand out leaflets and greet residents.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was in BN-held Perak, where he pledged that the Pakatan Rakyat would cut oil prices.

Today, both Mr Najib and Mr Anwar will campaign in Selangor, Malaysia's wealthiest state. Mr Najib will woo pro-opposition voters in the urban areas while Mr Anwar will be in the Malay heartland which is seen as pro-BN.