THE customer at the roadside stall gobbled up his chee cheong fun, while watching a convoy of noisy motorbikes zoom past him along Jalan Besar in Pekan Rantau.
“Is Tok Mat talking tonight?” he asked the chee cheong fun hawker in Cantonese, referring to Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan (pic), one of the four candidates vying for the Rantau state seat.
It was past 8pm on Wednesday and the town’s narrow roads were choked with traffic.
Yet, the locals appear to love the carnival-like atmosphere in the town, which is usually deserted by 6pm.
Tok Mat, who is three-term Rantau assemblyman, has endeared himself to the locals in many ways, especially the lower income group.
The chee cheong fun hawker said: “(You) can get help by just mentioning Tok Mat.”
Citing the case of his late father-in-law, he said the hospital agreed to send him in an ambulance from Kuala Lumpur back to Rantau after his family merely said “call Tok Mat for help”.
“He was a kidney patient and very ill. Initially the hospital in Seremban said the ambulance would only send him to the Kuala Lumpur Hospital; no return trip.”
The hawker recalled that when his father-in-law passed away four years ago, Tok Mat came personally to give the pak kam (money to help the bereaved family).
He also credited Tok Mat for safety in the area, especially nighttime.
“The police patrol here is very frequent. All we need is to make a phone call and the police will arrive in two minutes,” he said.
MCA deputy president Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon said Tok Mat has featured prominently in the lives of his constituents of all races.
And this counts a lot in the race for Rantau, which is also being eyed by Dr S. Streram from Pakatan Harapan and two independent candidates – R. Malarvizhi and Mohd Nor Yassin.
Dr Mah said he had gone round the constituency twice since campaign started and he was touched by the stories on Tok Mat.
Even supporters of Pakatan Harapan also conceded that the 63-year-old Tok Mat, a local boy, has the winning edge for what he is.
“The bonding can only grow stronger, more so in difficult times,” said Dr Mah.
“Malaysians are very unhappy and the low and middle income groups in particular are struggling very hard to make ends meet. Government policies are generally not well thought of; the many u-turns have further eroded the people’s confidence of better days ahead,” said Dr Mah of the post GE14 scenario.
He observed that the people had started to voice out in the ballot box with Pakatan failing to clinch the Cameron Highlands parliamentary seat and Semenyih state seat in the two recent by-elections.
Rantau has 19,950 plus voters, with 53.8% Malays, Indians (26.8%) and Chinese (19.3%).
With polling tomorrow, the race is down to between Tok Mat and Dr Streram.
Barisan Nasional estimated that Tok Mat could secure 80% of Malay votes, 40% of Indian votes and 35% of Chinese votes.
According to a Malay community leader, Tok Mat is their icon.
“He is our leader, capable and understanding and has been taking care of not only the Malays, but also all Malaysians,” said Zolkifly Said about Tok Mat who was the Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar from 2004 until the general election last year when Barisan lost control of the state.
Tok Mat had won the Rantau seat uncontested but the Special Election Court ruled the result invalid later, paving the way for the by-election.
Dr Mah said returning Tok Mat to the state assembly would enable him to continue to take care of Rantau folks and also to provide check and balance on the government.“He brought a lot of development to Negri Sembilan after he took over. We can see clearly that he is a good leader,” said Dr Mah, who is a former Perak executive councillor.
On Pakatan leaders like Deputy Dewan Rakyat Speaker Nga Kor Ming who is out to bring in Chinese votes for Dr Streram, Dr Mah said the people know DAP’s true colours after GE14.
“DAP leaders must remember this is the social media era and what they say are recorded for all to watch. This is unlike before,” said Dr Mah.
The Chinese support for Barisan dipped to only 5% in GE14.
On Rantau, Dr Mah said the feedback from house-to-house visits as well as MCA’s call centre showed the voters are supportive of Tok Mat.
“This is very natural. Tok Mat is a local boy, very approachable and has done a lot to help the people,” he said.