Malaysia Paddy Fields Are Najib’s Battlefield to Woo Voters

New York

June 20, 2016

Malaysia Paddy Fields Are Najib’s Battlefield to Woo Voters

by Shaminadam@shaminadam

Standing near paddy fields that stretched to the horizon, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had one message for voters of the rural district of Sungai Besar: My government will take care of you.

Fairuzita Mohamad Amir, who was in the crowd Najib addressed earlier this month in the state of Selangor, voted on Saturday in a by-election that saw his United Malays National Organisation crush the competition. The 51-year-old widow grows rice on 2.5 acres of land with the help of subsidies plus access to fertilizers and pesticides, for which she credits UMNO.

Fairuzita Mohamad Amir
Fairuzita Mohamad Amir
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

“I learned to say UMNO along with my ABCs,” Fairuzita said. Over the years, they have helped me a lot. I need their support and they have mine.”

Najib needs to keep smallholders like Fairuzita happy as he seeks the votes of rural and semi-urban areas to retain power in the next general election due by 2018. Farmers — many of them ethnic Malays — are a linchpin for his party, which leads one of the world’s longest-ruling coalitions. Their votes have a higher weighting than their work, which contributes to less than a tenth of gross domestic product.

Najib Scandals

“Even as Malaysia becomes more developed, the importance of the farmers and the rural voters remains intact,” said Khor Yu Leng, an analyst who has published papers on Malaysia’s political economy including voting trends in the 2013 election. “The concentration of seats in farming areas is quite big for Malaysia, and UMNO will want to strengthen that.”

At stake for UMNO is the unbroken rule of its Barisan Nasional coalition since independence in 1957. The party is watching Najib’s ability to shake off a year of political turmoil and focus on bolstering a slowing economy.

UMNO’s victories with bigger majorities in Sungai Besar and a northern state on Saturday indicate Najib passed the first test of public support on peninsular Malaysia since the scandals broke. Cabinet ministers made daily trips to the districts before election day, shaking hands and at times handing out bags of rice to the poor. An opposition in disarray, which fielded multiple candidates in each seat, also assisted UMNO.

Najib Razak
Najib Razak
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

Malaysian farmers have been hit by falling commodity prices, rising living costs and a stock investment that hasn’t always delivered what was promised. Najib has responded by pledging bigger subsidies for rubber planters and rice farmers in the 2016 budget. He announced monetary handouts this month for rubber farmers totaling 194 million ringgit ($47.5 million).

Farmers, Fishermen

Najib, 62, has battled graft accusations since July, and denies wrongdoing. He was cleared by the attorney general this year over revelations that $681 million appeared in his accounts before the last election in 2013. The money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most was later returned, the government said.

The premier has also been embroiled in probes into the finances of troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, while former leader Mahathir Mohamad and opposition groups sought to whip up anger over a goods and services tax that was imposed in 2015.

“Farmers and fishermen are from the mainstream Malay heartlands and those heartlands are key to Barisan Nasional regardless of any issue, whether it’s about GST or 1MDB,” said Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, dean of the college of law, government and international studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia. “If the prime minister continues to provide support to these groups, they will continue to support him in the future.”

Electoral Map

The importance of rural voters can be seen in Malaysia’s electoral map. Settlers under Malaysia’s Federal Land Development Authority — a government agency known as Felda formed in 1956 with World Bank funding to help steer the rural poor out of poverty by providing them with land to plant — are backbone voters in over 50 districts, according to the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

Farmers clear a path between rice fields in Sekinchan, Malaysia.
Farmers clear a path between rice fields in Sekinchan, Malaysia.
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

In the last general election there were 125 rural seats and 54 semi-urban ones, of a total of 222, said Khor.

“State assistance touches every aspect of their lives — an education grant for their children, an entrepreneurial grant, a house, or do they want to choose to go on their own,” Khor said of smallholder farmers, who number more than 600,000. “It might appear illogical to vote for the opposition because what if you get punished?”

‘All Because’

Still, some farmers have expressed unhappiness over a decline in the value of their shares in Felda, while others have criticized management’s investment decisions. Shares in Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd. have fallen 67 percent since its listing in 2012.

“They make investment decisions without thinking them through and we are the ones paying a price,” said Saifuddin, a Felda settler who would give only a partial name. “I understand there’s nothing they can do about the price of palm oil because that’s world prices. But that doesn’t explain enough why the shares are doing badly.”

Najib in March asked second- and third-generation settlers to continue backing the government, saying he wants the group to be a “political powerhouse” and without that influence, Felda could cease to exist. The Felda leadership has backed UMNO’s claims of its role in helping settlers out of poverty.

“No one thinks about the Malays except UMNO, we must remember that,” Felda Global chairman Mohd Isa Abdul Samad said last month. “Our successes are not because of our own cleverness. Many Malays forget. It’s all because of UMNO.”

At the next election, Najib will probably further target the bottom 40 percent of the population who can swing votes in tight races.

Isman Abdul Karim at the oil palm plantation.
Isman Abdul Karim at the oil palm plantation.
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

Isman Abdul Karim, who grows palm oil on a 5-acre plot of land near Sungai Besar, won a manual oil palm roll picker at an event organized by the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities in the days before the by-election. Other prizes included bags of fertilizer, and a motorized palm oil fruit cutter.

The father of nine settled on the land in the early 1960s, and says his life has improved over the years. One child received a government scholarship to study in the U.S. and is now a computer engineer. Independent smallholders like him make up about 13 percent of palm oil planters, according to the Economic Planning Unit.

“I’ve been a UMNO supporter from way back,” the 78-year-old said, resting in a shed at his plantation. He works the land alone though gets help to pick oil palm fruits. “We used to get a lot of support for the land but now not so much. But there is no other party but UMNO for me.”


13 thoughts on “Malaysia Paddy Fields Are Najib’s Battlefield to Woo Voters

  1. It’s not 1MDB; it’s the rural economy and the realistic Chinese voters who are unhappy with the opposition especially with DAP’s fancy politics. Najib’s scandals have become stale news for voters. It is time for the Prime Minister to call for snap national elections to hit Pakatan Harapan before they can regroup. What do you guys think? Semper Fi? Conrad? Veritas? Tok Cik? Isa Manteqi?

    Kamsiah thinks Najib is only interested in being in power, not government. He will not hold elections, maybe occasional by-elections, which he can control like in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar. And right now, let us admit it. Najib’s in full control of the levers of power and seeking for more repressive powers.

    As someone who is now looking at Malaysia from the outside, I feel that there is no hope for real change for as long as the Malays in the rural heartland and UMNO support Najib. So Ambiga and Maria eat your hearts out. For this state of politics, as I have said before and say it again today, we have to thank Mahathir for creating a state dependent Bangsa Melayu and UMNO which he has rejected for not listening to him. –Din Merican

  2. DAP’s “fancy?” politics? The Chinese voters deserted Pakatan because of Hadi’s PAS – they see the DAP as helpless to do anything against and begging UMNO/BN to do something..AND its the truth is DAP can accuse MCA, Gerakan and everyone else of political castration and treason all day long, it will not change the fact went it comes to anything slapped with the label Islam, the Chinese have limited option – either work with UMNO or PAS or run..

  3. Like what I told the opposition coalition via the Secretary General of DAP, YB Lim Kit Siang before, in order to gain votes either for GE or by-elections (if it happens in a rural area like Sg. Besar and Kuala Kangsar, for example), address the needs of the rural people, there’s no need to spend too much time and money on urbanites as they already know what they all the want , you can’t change them. Unlike the urbanites, the minds of the rural voters can be fickle and they are only interested to see that their basic needs and wants looked after and of course, have enough money to distribute to them during election campaigns. RM30 – RM50 would be enough to do the job, that’s how cheap they all are.

    There’s no other way but they just won’t listen!

  4. UMNO Baru like Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party — depends on rural support to stay in power; massively corrupt with all sorts of expensive & unnecessary public works projects

  5. ” And right now , let us admit it , Najib is in full control of the levers of power and seeking more repressive powers….” – Din Merican.

    Yup, especially after the thumping victory of Sg Besar & Kuala Kangsar , he’s thumping his chest by saying aloud ( to the effect ) : ‘ ….See, these people who were trying to put me down…..they have to eat the humble pie….’ Wah ! so much of disdain after victory.

    But wait….as happened to Tun Dr Mahathir of ‘ what goes round comes round ‘ , this very same natural law will in due course , matter of time , come stealthily to catch Najib from the tail….not long more….coming …..

    Come on Hindu friends , is that called ‘ karma ‘…..?

  6. Standing near paddy fields that stretched to the horizon, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had one message for voters of the rural district of Sungai Besar: My government will take care of you.


  7. Malaysia is strange indeed.

    One would have thought that bribing voters to vote for you would be a really stupid thing to do. It is a secret ballot, after all.

    That means there is no way anyone can know how the voter voted. So, why give the voter money when there is no guarantee that he will vote for you?

  8. Ai tze, the problem is the ballot ain’t secret!
    In GE-12, i got a a sms on my cellphone to thank me for voting the Oppo.
    Now if the Oppo can get my cellphone no., insignificant as i am, can you imagine what the Establishment dogs can do? The E.C is a ‘royal’ sham.

    You can bet your bottom pence, these Goons know what’s the favorite color of our underwear. Orwell ain’t seen nothing yet..

    • Politicians in power may be using unlimited public funds in the name of Government assisting the rakyat but this is normally done whenever there are general elections or by-elections. After the elections are won then the ‘recovery’ process starts via increasing tolls-levies-taxes or some new taxes as the currently proposed tax on tourists visiting Langkawi.

      But the opposition will have to use their own funds which not many may have or those who do have may want to risk.

      Look at US Presidential Nominations where the current combined estimate of costs may have exceeded US$Billions and the Presidential elections may be even higher.


      This has evident from elections of many countries where most of the candidates had little if any wealth but within a few years many became multi-millionnairs.

      and this may be an INTERNATIONAL CULTURE.

  9. hak55 are you suggesting that the Oppo also start playing money politics and pay RM 30-50 for each vote? When will this stop or what amount will satisfy or ensure that Oppo gets the vote?

  10. Speaking of which, did anyone do the math of where did the Felda IPO go?

    Hak55, I like this quote from Dato Din’s favorite.

    “What benefits the enemy, harms you; and what benefits you, harms the enemy.”

    — Niccolo Machiavelli, The Art of War: Book VII

    Corruption and vote buying benefits those in power. It harms all of us. Not doing so benefits us all.

    With or without God, a pragmatic ruler would do the above.
    Tok Guru is popular and well loved simply because he would not do vote buying.

    Vote buying is a lose-lose proposition. Rather than vote buying with your own money, perhaps, you could consider joining UMNO and run with money from 1PM. Then, you will realize how much you have lost.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s