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Fight for Malay vote in last leg of election campaign

Najib's ruling coalition counting on rural vote bank to hold off a late opposition surge

KUALA LUMPUR With two days to go for Malaysia's general election, politicians are fighting for the crucial ethnic Malay vote that Prime Minister Najib Razak is counting on to hold off a late surge from the opposition and win another term.

The opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH) is led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister who was once Mr Najib's mentor but turned against him and quit the Umno party.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition, which is dominated by Umno, and PH are both vying for the votes of Malay Muslims, who account for about 60 per cent of the population .

An Islamic group, Parti Islam seMalaysia, is also chasing these votes but - unlike the last election - it is not standing with the opposition alliance.

Mr Najib and his deputy have taken their campaign to the Malay rural heartland, playing up BN's role in protecting Islam and promoting Malay interests.

"If we look at the behaviour of one or two people (in the opposition), we cannot be confidentthey will look after our interests, especially the people in the rural areas, the interests of Islam and interests of the Malays," he told a rally on Sunday, according to state news agency Bernama.

Historically, Malays have largely been in favour of Umno and BN because of the decades of policies favouring them.

Many in the ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indian minorities favour the opposition.

But a recent survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center said BN's support among Malays has dropped by 8 per cent in peninsular Malaysia since the 2013 general election.

The fall in BN's support varied across states, it said. In Johor, it was down as much as 21 per cent.

"There will be significant movement of Malay voters across the (political) divide. I expect the margin of victory to be fine," said Mr Rashaad Ali, an analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Mr Najib is expected to retain power, thanks to a first-past-the-post system that does not require winning the popular vote and support in rural areas, despite worries about the rising cost of living and the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal.

His aide yesterday urged Malays to stay loyal to BN, and said the largely Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP) was using Dr Mahathir, 92, to divide them.

"DAP are using the nonagenarian as camouflage to split the Malay vote. Should they win, they will never let Dr Mahathir become prime minister - they know him too well," Mr Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad said in a statement.

TOUGH TASK

Swinging the Malay vote from Umno will not be easy, especially in areas of Felda settlers, Malays who work for the national palm plantation operator Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) and have been a rock-solid vote bank for BN.

At Gedangsa, a Felda settlement, a rally by local opposition leaders on Friday struggled to attract more than 70 residents.

Mr Zainal Amri, a 63-year-old settler, said: "Even without thinking, they will vote for Umno. Voting Umno is a tradition for Malays."

Still, corruption scandals, allegations of mismanagement and delays in payments to settlers by Felda have prompted some to switch to the opposition, a few people told Reuters.

Felda chairman Shahrir Abdul Samad, an Umno division chief in Johor, said the government-run agency has offered grants and will restructure debt to reduce the burden on settlers.

He said the opposition's hopes of unleashing a "Malay tsunami" by "attacking prominent Malay institutions" would not succeed. - REUTERS

Foreign workers fear going out on polling day: Malaysian NGO

PETALING JAYA Many foreign workers are worried about going out on polling day for the fear of being attacked due to being mistaken for phantom voters, said Migrant88 Program Director Khadijah Shamsul.

"Migrant workers have been used time and again as scapegoats by politicians to distract the nation; the association of migrant workers to phantom voting being the latest in a long series of accusations.

"We need to bear in mind that there was no conclusive evidence of migrant workers being used as phantom voters in GE13, a fact recognised at the last Peoples Tribunal organised by Bersih," she said in a statement yesterday.

She added that the non-governmental organisation had received evidence of several audio and video threats made towards migrant workers regarding this, saying that Migrant 88 had conducted over 120 interviews with migrant workers in five states and found that no worker had ever been asked or offered a national identity document in order to vote for the upcoming GE14.

The interviews had been conducted with the assistance of the North South Initiative (NSI)

Ms Khadijah said that as the most highly contested election in the history of the country, it was convenient for many to resort to using religious and racial sentiment to fuel political agendas. She added that during GE13, there were many reports of voters being harassed and manhandled for not looking "Malaysian".

- THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK`

Malaysian election: These hot seats have hot eats

PETALING JAYA Some of the most heated political showdowns in Malaysia's general election are expected to take place in smaller towns. Fortunately for voters, these places double as great foodie hubs.

Here are some of the delectable dishes you can find at three hotly contested constituencies.

SEREMBAN, NEGERI SEMBILAN

The culinary flavours of this town are predominantly influenced by the cooking style of the Hakka, which forms the majority of Chinese people here.

An obvious recommendation is the iconic Seremban siew pau. People travel here for a taste of the buttery pastry buns filled with juicy roast pork. The siew pau is best consumed when it is fresh out of the oven.

Two big establishments here are Empayar Seremban Siew Pow and Siew Pow Master.

TELUK INTAN, PERAK

A famous dish in this town is the Mastan Ghani mee rebus.

It is so good, even Prime Minister Najib Razak talked about the dish on social media.

The third-generation establishment serves its mee rebus and rojak with a special sweet-and-spicy gravy.

BENTONG, PAHANG

Besides durian, the town is also home to many Chinese restaurants that use the famous Bentong ginger in their dishes.

Whether it is steamed fish or stir-fried wild boar, you can be sure of an aromatic taste, thanks to the ginger.

Some dishes to look out for include yellow rice wine chicken, claypot frog, cereal fried tofu and pumpkin yam abacus.

After a hearty lunch, how about ice cream for dessert?

The more than four-decade-old Kow Po coffee stall serves refreshing and smooth housemade ice cream in a range of flavours, such as strawberry, chocolate, pandan, coconut, coffee, corn and peanut.

- THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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