Outsiders running campaigns

Sensitive and conservative are the key words in Kuala Berang. Amidst old rubber trees and cows basking along the roadside, the farmers and smallholders hold fast to the traditions of their forebears, observes SUHAINI AZNAM.  

PAS’ answer is a quiet, subdued campaign, for fear of overwhelming the residents. Umno, almost by definition, cannot be as low key but it does try to use as much local talent as possible. 

Kuala Berang is one long main street, a padang behind the shophouses, a few kampungs going deep to the interior before town, and then a host of kampungs spreading beyond the bridge over the river that gave this town and constituency its name.  

Kuala Berang is just a place name, said Idris Che Mat, the district officer overseeing the administration of 63,000 people living under his jurisdiction. A cab driver, however, suggested it was named after a type of bamboo, the buluh berang. 

A solid 99% of the 11,430 voters are Malay. They plant maize, fruit and sugar cane from which they eke out a humble living of RM500 to RM600 per household per month.  

Each household comprises six or seven members; some own their land, some rent it. 

At a pisang goreng stall, the villagers evaporate when strangers appear. The lone old man sipping his teh tarik refuses to talk to reporters. 

The locals resent what they deem to be interference in their territory. This, apparently, is typical of rural Terengganu.  

This is one by-election where it is the leaders from both parties and party workers from other states who seem to be driving the campaign. In Kuala Berang town, Puteri Umno deputy chief Noraini Ahmad handed out 2,000 Jalur Gemilang flags at the market on Saturday; on Sunday it was Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad’s turn to slap coffeeshop patrons on the shoulder on his walkabout. 

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak has visited thrice and the people are getting slightly blasé about it. The “manners in the kampung” lesson apparently had not reached Najib’s security staff who cut through the constituency with sirens blaring. 

At Rumah Perak in Kampung Akob, a kampung house-cum-surau Umno rented to serve as its state base, half a dozen shirtless men sit on the lawn swatting mosquitoes because it is too hot inside. 

“These people are not primitive but you could say they are near that,” mourns Roslan Zainuddin from Parit. “You cannot understand their dialect, they speak a bahasa pekat (deep dialect), so you’re out.” 

“Imagine, it was only on Aug 22 that we could start (campaigning) and even then the on-the-ground work has to be done by the locals. We can only provide some groundwork planning, manpower and the transport.”  

The 40-strong Perak contingent drove up in six vans to help ferry workers and voters on polling day. 

The old Umno system of kepala sepuluh – where one person takes charge of 10 voters or voter households – has given way to kepala lima or five voters. In the end, “it is the man-to-man marking” which they hope will win them the day, said Roslan. 

Voter turnout last March was 89.85%. Fewer are expected this time since the state has already been decisively formed. 

About 1,000 Kuala Berang registered voters need to be wooed home to their tanah tumpah darah, acknowledged Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Idis Jusoh.  

Apart from the sentimentality factor, Umno also knows their voting pattern and is banking on pro-Umno returnees. 

For now, this by-election brings a windfall. Several villagers, irrespective of political leaning, are augmenting their income: RM50 for putting up 100 Barisan Nasional flags is apparently the going rate.  

While the old weathered faces chatting in foodstalls seem impervious to the sudden attention focused on them, no one is complaining about the equally welcome flow of cash.  

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