Disinterest, indifference mark rural sentiments over 1MDB affair

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PETALING JAYA: Barisan Nasional may have something to fear if Pakatan Harapan is successful in humanising the 1MDB issue to show voters that it has plenty to do with the increasing difficulty they face in trying to make ends meet.

The opposition alliance has embarked on a roadshow that is focused on the 1MDB scandal and actions taken by US prosecutors to recover, for the Malaysian people, money allegedly embezzled from the state-owned corporation.

Pundits have been questioning the vote-catching value of harping on the 1MDB affair, saying that voters, especially those in rural areas, appear to be more concerned with bread and butter issues. This is in fact reflected in the results of a nationwide survey carried out by PKR-linked Invoke.

So, how effective is Pakatan’s 1MDB-awareness roadshow campaign going to be?

Nurul Amalina, a stall operator in Bukit Rotan, said she’d probably attend the talk if the campaign itinerary included a stop in her neighbourhood, but only if she had nothing else to do.

Her lack of interest in 1MDB-related matters appeared to be shared by many in predominantly Malay areas in Selangor, as FMT recently found out.

A 70-year-old retired fisherman in Sekinchan didn’t even know what 1MDB was, mistaking it for the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M).

Others claimed they knew about the scandal but said it had little to do with their main concerns.

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Ramlah Zainal of Felda Bukit Cerakah is more interested to hear about ways how lives could be made easier, like bringing down the prices of goods.

“Not interested,” Ramlah Zainal of Felda Bukit Cerakah, when asked if she would attend Pakatan’s “anti-kleptocracy” talk. “What I want to hear about are ways in which our lives could be made easier, like bringing down the prices of goods.”

Political analyst Ahmad Atory Hussain told FMT Ramlah’s sentiment was shared by the generality of rural and semi-rural voters.

But he also pointed out that the opposition had lately been trying to simplify the 1MDB scandal by linking it to bread and butter issues.

This was evident during Pakatan’s 1MDB talk in Sungai Acheh, Penang, on Friday.

Some 1,000 people turned up for the talk, which Penang PKR chief Mansor Othman called the “Tony Pua Course in 1MDB”.

Speakers alleged that the daily struggles ordinary folk had to go through had much to do with alleged wrongdoing at 1MDB.

The approach seemed to work, at least with members of the audience interviewed by FMT. A man who identified himself as Mohamad said he could see a possible connection between 1MDB and the rising cost of living. He even speculated that the GST and other new taxes were imposed because of 1MDB’s troubles.

Raymond, a shopkeeper from Sekinchan who attended a similar talk, said: “I’m more interested to hear how the political parties plan to solve the rising cost of living. But I also want to know about 1MDB, if it’s really the reason for it.”

If the opposition can cultivate such an attitude among rural Malay voters, Prime Minister Najib Razak and BN may really have cause for concern.

Such a fear may have been one reason for Najib’s recent announcement of RM1.4 billion worth of incentives for Felda settlers, who account for a significant portion of rural Malay votes.

Atory said he didn’t believe the incentives would suffice. With Felda’s management and integrity under question, he said, the opposition now had a golden opportunity to swing the Felda votes its way.

“That’s why a big number of Felda voters now welcome the opposition into their areas,” he said, referring to Pakatan’s active campaigning at the settlements.

However, Pakatan still has much work to do in countering Barisan Nasional’s narrative of the 1MDB affair, especially among staunch BN supporters in the rural areas.

Noraini Mahmud, a voter in Sungai Besar, said: “Much has been said about 1MDB. But it’s a nonsensical issue. I will vote for those who speak about our bread and butter, but I will not go to any of the opposition’s talks. I don’t want to hear what they have to say at all.”

The 58-year-old said she had been voting for BN since she became eligible to vote and would continue to support it.

A Bukit Rotan resident who gave her name as Waheedha said she would hesitate to trust the opposition.

“They say our economy is really bad,” she said. “I know it’s not at its best right now, but we’re still doing better than a lot of countries.

“And if Najib really has taken money from 1MDB, how come he or others have not been arrested? How come the government still has money to give BR1M and build a very good MRT system?”

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