Voters in sleepy district do not know candidates

Amanah, BN and PAS are contesting the seat in Sungai Besar, but their candidates are not well-known to voters.
Amanah, BN and PAS are contesting the seat in Sungai Besar, but their candidates are not well-known to voters. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

The usually sleepy district of Sungai Besar is seeing a big spike in activities with many breaking of fast events during Ramadan, political rallies every evening, and trucks with big loudspeakers blaring messages.

The real test here for the three political parties, observers say, is not about their candidate's appeal but which party's machinery is able to bring in the votes needed on June 18.

The candidates from the three competing parties are little known to locals, although two of them are Selangor assemblymen.

"I have no idea who the candidates are. I guess my family will be voting based on the party," said Ms Tan Mui Chen, 31, a housewife. Her words are echoed across the board, regardless of race.

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition is featuring Mr Budiman Zohdi, and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is putting up Dr Rani Osman.

Parti Amanah Negara is putting forward a newbie politician, local businessman Azhar Shukur.

Sungai Besar, 130km north-west of Kuala Lumpur, is a coastal area lined with paddy fields. Its Chinese town of Sekinchan is popular with tourists after being featured in several Hong Kong and local movies. But its neighbouring towns and villages have not replicated its success and remain largely undeveloped.

There was a buzz earlier in the week after allies of Amanah put up posters attacking Umno-led BN and PAS, but everyone is now stressing that they need to focus on bread- and-butter issues.

Ruling coalition BN flexed its might this week, with more than five federal ministers descending on Sungai Besar, making off-the- cuff remarks about the electability of its candidate and promises of development. "Since we are in power, why don't we help? The people here need the facilities given by the government," Acting Plantations Industries and Commodities Minister Nancy Shukri told reporters.

Amanah, a new splinter party of PAS, draws help from coalition partners Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Its candidate, Mr Azhar, has focused heavily on Chinese areas with the DAP helping to increase his visibility.

However, his challenge is to secure votes from the Malay communities, where BN and PAS have predominantly made their name after years of historically contesting this seat.

The seat has 42,655 registered voters, with about 66 per cent Malays, 31 per cent Chinese, 2 per cent Indians and other ethnic groups.

Residents who spoke to The Straits Times complained of rising costs of living and stunted growth in their area. "They can play politics among themselves as long as they don't burden the people," said storekeeper Saedah Saari, 48.

And not everyone has a dim view of BN. "Of course the blue party is better. Our licence comes from government," said 43-year-old fisherman Wong Ah Wang. "It's only when we have a stable country that we can go out to sea."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline Voters in sleepy district do not know candidates. Subscribe