According to academic Serina Abdul Rahman, the ruling coalition in Malaysia, Pakatan Harapan (PH), may face some difficulty in the next General Elections, if they do not start reaching out to Malays in rural areas, specifically the fishing community in Johor, in order to gain greater support for the future.
Serina, who is a visiting fellow from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, lives with the fishing community in Johor. According to the academic, the community does not know that financial assistance has been made available for the bottom 40 percent of wage earners in Malaysia. Neither are they aware that they’re qualified for discounted housing plans, or even where to turn to for help.
More importantly, Serina emphasized that disgruntled voices within the community have expressed regrets concerning voting for PH in the elections earlier this year.
The Malay Mail reported that at a seminar organized on Thursday, December 13, by the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs, a think tank, Serina said, “The rural Malays need someone based at a local level to inform them of the benefits given by the government. Otherwise, they will remain unaware of what forms of assistance are available to them.”
According to Serina, the fishing community traditionally received assistance from their ketua kampung, or village heads, who had been appointed by then ruling-party UMNO.
UMNO has its roots in Johor, which had been the party’s bailiwick until this year’s elections.
This year, much of Johor voted for PH, which meant the loss of power for local UMNO leaders, leaving the fishermen and their families at a loss, since these leaders and ketua kampung used to help the fishing community by showing them where they could get financial aid on the state or federal level when needed.
Serina expressed concerns for the remote fishing community, implying that PH’s power was centered too much in urban areas.
“Now under the new PH rule they are lost, they feel despair. Many now can’t put food on the table and they don’t know where to go.
The PH government needs to place someone at a more local level where these people have direct access.”
The academic recounted that after the May elections, the fishing community was concerned about where they could access financial aid.
“Back then, those in power wanted them to remain dependent to obtain votes but despite everything, they still helped these fishermen.
Now, six months later their worry has translated into reality as they have no idea where to go for help. Some of them still don’t know who their ketua kampung is because the old ones were changed with the change of government.”
In the village where Serina lives, the community only recently discovered who their ketua kampung is—half a year after the elections.
She mentioned feelings of ‘buyer’s regret’ within the community. “Now some of the villagers are wondering and regretting their decision to vote for Pakatan Harapan.
They knew when they voted Pakatan Harapan it was to teach the political elite a lesson. Now the younger ones are wondering if they should have listened to their parents and voted for BN.”
It is important, Serina emphasized, for the PH government to do more for the rural Malays in these communities. “The Pakatan Harapan government needs to do more to engage with these people. They need someone at a local level where these people will have direct access to assist, otherwise they will be left behind.”
Serina’s assessment of PH’s lack seems to echo the sentiments of other critics, including retired Singaporean diplomat Bilahari Kausikan, who has expressed his concern at the “intrinsically unstable” new governing coalition.