Felda voters could be kingmakers in Malaysia GE: The Star

Malaysian opposition making headway, but analysts believes BN will still prevail

PETALING JAYA: A high-stakes battle in the 14th General Election will be fought in the Malay heartland for 52 parliamentary seats which have Felda settlements.

The focus will be on 20 seats in Peninsular Malaysia, where an intense fight will be waged. These mainly rural seats form a crucial Malay vote bank that could decide who wins power in the polls.

While the opposition pact believes recent developments surrounding Felda have given it an opening, analysts say Barisan Nasional (BN) has done enough with its GE14 manifesto to blunt the enemy's charge.

Those 20 seats are among 52 "Felda seats" the ruling BN is defending from a Pakatan Harapan (PH) onslaught.

Of the 52 seats, PH holds three: Pagoh, Raub and Kulai.

PAS also has three (Kuala Nerus, Dungun and Temerloh) and PSM has one (Sungai Siput).

Amanah supreme council member Mazlan Aliman, when contacted, said PH aimed to win 20 Felda seats this time around.

In the 222-seat Parliament, 114 are regarded as Malay-majority and rural. BN now holds 130 seats and PH has 72, followed by PAS (13), Parti Warisan Sabah (two), PSM (one) and independents (two).

Two seats, Jelebu and Paya Besar, are vacant following the deaths of their respective MPs.

The stakes are high because a big victory in Felda seats for PH and a corresponding loss by BN could tip the balance of power in the general election.

PH chairman Mahathir Mohamad, Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu would personally campaign in the Felda settlements, said a PH source.

Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayub said most Felda settlers used to be hardcore BN supporters who would not even allow the opposition to hold ceramahs (rallies) in their settlements.

"But for the past six months, we have been surprised by the numbers that turn up at our ceramahs," he said.

PH claims that recent issues, including the falling price of Felda Global Ventures (FGV) Holdings shares, the high debt among some settlers and Felda management problems have given them an opening to make inroads into Felda seats.

On the BN manifesto that contains many pledges to help Felda settlers, Mr Salahuddin said it would only help prevent hardcore BN supporters from switching sides.

However, political analyst Associate Professor Ismail Sualman from Universiti Teknologi Mara believes otherwise.

He said the BN manifesto would lessen much of the unhappiness among Felda settlers.

Two particular pledges appealed to the settlers, he added.

They are the RM300 million (S$101 million) special fund to write off extraordinary or extreme debts and the writing off of settlers' debts for the purchase of FGV shares.- THE STAR