Malaysia votes 2018

Malaysia election: Rural voters worry over bread and butter issues

The party that can alleviate rural voters' daily struggle and has been present in times of need and celebration will get the vote.
The party that can alleviate rural voters' daily struggle and has been present in times of need and celebration will get the vote.ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

How might rural and urban residents vote on May 9? Two observers give their views.

Rural voters are often seen as Barisan Nasional (BN) vote banks, but few realise that their sentiments are not homogeneous.

Malay principles of loyalty and hierarchy influence voting decisions, and the need to preserve Malay rights and Islam as the primary religion are eternal concerns. But how much these affect rural Malay voters varies between communities.

The common issues affecting all rural voters are increased costs of living, stagnant wages and lower earnings. The party that is able to alleviate rural voters' daily struggle and has consistently been present both in times of need and celebration will get the vote.

In Johor, rural folks will take special note of any signals of preference from the palace and will constantly remember their indebtedness to the party that made their lives better.

Umno is almost synonymous with Johor and the state BN coalition is very popular with the people. All problems are attributed to the federal leadership. It seems highly unlikely that Johor will lose the entire state to the opposition.

In Kedah, loyalty lies with the Mahathir family; younger voters are excited about Datuk Seri Mukhriz, and older voters are torn between the elder statesman they deeply respect and the party he used to lead.

The PAS factor complicates the situation. While there is a social need to demonstrate one's religious credentials by voting for PAS, they do not seem to garner the favour that they used to.

Nonetheless, Kedah seems to be on the brink of going back to the opposition.

• Serina Rahman is a visiting fellow at the Malaysia Studies Programme at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'Rural voters worry over bread and butter issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe