54 BN seats in Felda areas now under threat due to FGV

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PETALING JAYA: The state of affairs affecting Felda Global Ventures shares over the past five years now risks costing the government the fixed deposit of votes that had helped it win 54 out of its 86 parliamentary seats in the last general election (GE13).

That is due to these 54 seats having Felda plantations, with thousands of Felda settlers and their children, who had made the initial investment in FGV shares now seeing it worth about half the original listing price, The South China Morning Post reported.

With rumours that a delisting will only further undermine the trust of many first- and second-generation Felda settlers in the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, the report said it could prove to be the chink in the armour of the Barisan Nasional in the Malay heartland.

FGV was listed on Bursa Malaysia on May 2012 amid a lot of hype but it soon fizzled with the price gradually tumbling. Only a management reshuffle earlier this year saw some respite, with the price of the stock gaining back some ground.

According to the Hong Kong-based daily, the political disillusionment was most evident in a by-election held in Najib’s home state of Pahang in May 2015.

The Rompin by-election was held following the death of former Umno minister Jamaluddin Jarjis in a helicopter crash.

While Jamaluddin had won the seat with a 15,114-majority in GE13, the BN candidate from Umno in the by-election took the seat, which was previously considered a BN fortress based on its Felda population, with only a 8,895 vote majority.

Two of the 16 polling districts, even showed the PAS candidate had received more votes than BN. It was the first time in history a district in a Felda constituency had not backed the BN candidate from Umno.

The SCMP report points to the dissatisfaction in Felda areas towards the Umno-led government being the result of the Najib administration’s own missteps in taking FGV public.

“Critics say Najib’s government was oblivious to the risks when it placed 360,000 hectares – out of Felda’s total of 508,000 hectares – on 99-year leases as collateral for the listing on the stock exchange.

“And it’s hard for Najib to claim he wasn’t warned, because when the initial public offering (IPO) was first announced in the budget of 2011, more than 65% of senior officers working in FGV were opposed,” the SCMP said.

According to Anak, a group founded by the children of Felda settlers, the listing has also exposed Felda to a perpetual cycle of debt-servicing.

The party can ill afford to lose the vote of Felda settlers, aside from the rural vote in general, in light of the emergence of splinter party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) led by former Umno stalwarts, Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Muhyiddin Yassin.

“Settlers on Felda land have remained fiercely loyal to Umno and have played no small part in defending Umno’s grip on power.

“But the signs are showing that Umno’s grip may now be loosening with opinion among its erstwhile diehard support base now deeply divided by the government’s handling of the listing of FGV,” according to the SCMP.

The opposition coalition pact of Pakatan Harapan are not letting go of the opportunity, courting Felda settlers, in an effort to capitalise on the FGV debacle that has weakened Umno’s previously impenetrable fortress in Felda areas.