RANTAU’s Jalan Besar got its first and only traffic light some 10 years ago when Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan was in his second term as assemblyman and Negri Sembilan mentri besar.
There was never actually a pressing need to have one in this town, built on tin and rubber, where life has always moved at a snail’s pace.
But it was installed to provide safer passage for kampung folk coming from and heading to Ulu Kanchong and to get in and out of the police station on the Rantau-Linggi road.
In a small town like Rantau, the introduction of a traffic light was certainly cause for excitement but as time went by locals forgot that it even existed.
Since then, nothing much has changed in the old centre of Rantau – a Barisan Nasional fortress – except in the 1959 election, when Gurnam Singh Gill from the Socialist Front won the seat.
No one seems to be in a hurry here.
So laidback is life that livestock can be seen roaming along its narrow streets during dusk, with herdsmen sometimes struggling to get them out of the way of oncoming traffic.
Getting to Rantau from Mambau off the Seremban-Port Dickson single-lane trunk road itself is a delightful journey, as pressmen and supporters of candidates contesting in today’s by-election found out a fortnight ago.
Scrapyards, coach and truck tank building industries, Malay villages and housing schemes for the poor, abandoned rubber plots, homestays, an eco park and an agro park, as well as Chinese and Tamil schools dot the 20km route with the meandering and historic Sg Linggi visible at some stretches.Quite conspicuous, barely 2km before the town, is a sign which reads: Ada Menjual Ayam Kampung Di Sini.
This is the place where people come from all over to get their supply of the much sought-after kampung fowl.
Just a couple of hundred metres before Rantau are two rows of almost ready but abandoned shoplots, as well as several vacant ones on the opposite side of the main road, most of which have been draped in the colours of Barisan and Pakatan Harapan over the past two weeks.
These unoccupied units are another sign that retail business and large-scale commerce are not yet the in-thing in this part of town.
This is Mohamad’s territory. Born in Kampung Kundur, Mohamad spent his early years in Kampung Pening Chinese New Village and his adolescent years in Kampung Tanjung – all in the heart of old Rantau.
Just like most folks here, Mohamad, who will be defending his seat against Pakatan’s Dr S. Streram and independents R. Malarvizhi and Mohd Noor Yassin in today’s polls, loves the old Rantau town as it is.
His detractors, who tried to score with voters during campaigning by claiming that he had failed to bring development to Rantau, had to backtrack when they found out what he had done for the constituency.
Not wanting to take away the character of old Rantau, Mohamad had quietly and meticulously monitored development of his constituency’s jewel in the crown – Bandar Seri Sendayan, located at the other end of its border with Seremban.
A massive new township of several thousand homes, including gated communities, is located some 25km away from the old Rantau.
It was planned in such a way that it will, among others, have a new central business district (set to take off next year) with a gross development value of RM4bil under a six-in-one concept, which will include hospitality, commercial, shopping malls, a medical centre, residential area and convention centre.
The new township is also home to state-of-the-art industries, including the world’s leading supplier of carbon brake systems for Boeing and Airbus and the Sendayan air base, providing ample job opportunities for locals.
Back in old Rantau, Mohamad has during his three-term as assemblyman given out land titles to eligible local communities, gazetted places of worship and helped rebuild and relocate schools.
Locals also remember him for small but important things like personally ferrying them to the hospital or funding repairs for their homes.
But an impressive CV alone has not been enough to guarantee a fourth term for Mohamad who, being in the opposition, knows just how tough it can be to face an army of Pakatan speakers baying for blood.
He knows they are badly wounded and want redemption after the double defeats in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih.
To strengthen his claim for another mandate, Mohamad had during his many ceramah claimed that he was the best man for the job as he was a local, unlike his closest rival Dr Streram.
To his credit, his “Anak Rantau Untuk Rantau” themed ceramah were well received, particularly in Malay majority areas.He also allayed concerns among the Indians and Chinese, who make up almost 44.5% of voters in Rantau, that Umno’s collaboration with PAS would not be to their detriment, saying that Kelantan was no Taliban land despite PAS being in power for five terms.
To ensure that both Barisan and PAS members could campaign together, he cleverly adopted the “Team Tok Mat” banner to ensure that both parties presented a united front during the ceramah rounds.
At most ceramah, he also pledged to be an effective opposition leader to keep the 11-month-old Pakatan state government in check as he knew every inch of the state.
Tok Mat, still remembered for going around alone on a kapchai to catch sand thieves red-
handed when he was mentri besar, is aware that the public’s perception of Barisan has been somehow affected after several of its leaders were allegedly found to be mired in scandals and probed for embezzling public funds.
Pakatan, on the other hand, mobilised
its party’s top hierarchy to work for its candidate, with PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his wife Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail leading the charge.
They have practically been spending more time here than anywhere else over the past two weeks, shuttling between Parliament and Rantau to canvass support for Dr Streram.
Other senior Pakatan leaders such as DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang and Cabinet ministers Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, Anthony Loke, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, Zuraida Kamaruddin, Gobind Singh Deo and Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail also joined the fray to help Dr Streram in creating an upset.
To drum up support for Dr Streram, the party even chose old Rantau as the place to celebrate its 20th anniversary on April 4.
To some, Anwar desperately wants Dr Streram to win as it was he who decided that the 63-year-old anaesthesiologist should be fielded again instead of a Malay candidate as suggested by others in the party.
To endorse Dr Streram, Anwar went as far as accusing Mohamad of leaving behind a poor state despite Negri Sembilan being rich in natural resources such as oil and gas, tin and timber, which is not an accurate picture.
Overall, campaigning over the past two weeks has been both peaceful and colourful.
During the first week, candidates were only seen trading friendly jibes centred around alleged electoral offences.
Dr Streram then hogged the headlines for the wrong reason when, two days before the nomination, he was present at an event where a Sarawak MP gave out free food coupons worth RM75,000 to pupils in five schools in the constituency.
He made the news again when a video clip of him accusing Mohamad of failing to bring development to Rantau despite being mentri besar for 14 years went viral.
Barisan countered this with aplomb when they singled out Mohamad’s achievements, which included having helped build what is probably the most modern and beautiful Tamil primary school in the country.
Just before the week ended, Pakatan was in the news again when Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng hinted at a ceramah that the East Coast Rail Link from Port Klang to Pengkalan Kubor would include Negri Sembilan if negotiations with the Chinese government were successful.
The DAP secretary-general was also quoted as saying that if Negri folk wanted good news, then they should support Pakatan to form a clean, democratic, fair and united government.
But at the onset of the second week, the gloves came off and candidates began getting personal with Tok Mat bearing the brunt of it.
A decade-old case where he allegedly transferred RM10mil to buy a property in Britain through a money changer and the alleged ownership of a Minangkabau-style mansion in Seremban 2 became fodder for Pakatan.
In his defence, Mohamad said his critics were barking up the wrong tree as he had been thoroughly probed and cleared by the authorities many years ago.
He also denied ownership of the mansion, which he said was not built to his taste.
On the other hand, Mohamad harped on Pakatan’s unfulfilled promises made during the last general election and the many taxes it had introduced, which only burdened the people further.
It is an open secret that Mohamad is immensely popular here, having won all 12 polling districts in the 2013 general election.
However, a point to be noted is that when he won uncontested in the 14th General Election, the majority of the Parliament votes for Rembau from Rantau went to Pakatan. (Rantau falls under the Rembau parliamentary constituency.)
Of the 17,083 votes cast, 8,210 went to Pakatan, Barisan (7,798) and PAS (777).
With many outside voters, especially youths, not expected to return and a growing sentiment against Pakatan for not fulfilling some of its promises, Barisan appears to be in pole position.