THE siren from outriders weaving past Jalan Besar in Pekan Rantau broke the silence at a hawker centre Saturday evening.
Several patrons seen huddled at two tables with their eyes glued to their smartphones were overheard saying “Barisan Nasional menang (won)”.
And the convoy accompanying Pakatan Harapan VVIPs and heading out of Rantau sort of confirmed the unofficial results on the win by Barisan’s Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.
By 7pm, while vote tallying was underway, Mohamad, fondly known as Tok Mat, had obtained more than half of the votes polled, meaning he won the race.
But until polling closed at 5.30pm Pakatan had reasons to be hopeful.
A high voter turnout (79.3%) and many young voters from out of town returning to vote were perceived to be in favour of Pakatan, by convention.
Some 40% of the 20,926 voters in Rantau are aged between 21 and 40 years.
There was also talk of a high turnout of Indian voters, which further raised hopes of a win by Pakatan candidate Dr S. Streram, who is an anaesthetist.
Even Tok Mat told reporters at one time that: “win or lose, life goes on”, that got some of his supporters worried.
“But I still think Barisan will win,” said a senior political analyst.
If statistics and convention were anything to go by, Pakatan certainly had an edge.
But the Rantau polls bucked that convention.
Tok Mat won 10,397 votes to beat Dr Streram, who bagged 5,887 votes, with a 4,510 majority.
He has performed well beyond expectations as Barisan sources said their initial target was a 2,000-vote majority.
“The Pakatan candidate has the privilege of a prime minister in waiting (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) and Deputy Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail) campaigning so hard for him,” said MCA deputy president Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon.
But the charismatic Tok Mat triumphed with the endorsement of the people of all races in Rantau with touching stories on how he reached out to them.
Dr Mah believes Tok Mat achieved the target of securing 30% Chinese votes, 40% Indian votes and more than 85% Malay votes.
There are 20,926 registered voters in Rantau; made up of Malays (56%), Indians (26%) and Chinese (18%).
The local boy and three-term Rantau assemblyman, Tok Mat retained the seat unopposed in the last general election until the Election Court ruled the results invalid last November.
But it appears that his political foes found it impossible to undermine him, if not uproot him.
In fact, character assassination attempts on Tok Mat can only backfire. He is simply the people’s idol.
The Chinese in Rantau likened him to one who “delivers the coal in the snow” – a saying to describe a person who will be there for them during hard times.
The 63-year-old Tok Mat is from a poor family. He graduated from Universiti Malaya, climbed the corporate ladder and made it to the top before going full-time into politics in 2004.
He was also the Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar from 2004 until the general election in May last year and left a good track record in developing the state.
The DAP, in a last-ditch attempt to overshadow Tok Mat’s performance, saw Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Transport Minister Anthony Loke announcing the high-profile East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) to be re-routed to Negri Sembilan.
The Rantau polls is also a referendum of sorts on Pakatan, which swept to power in GE14, ending Barisan’s 61 years of grip on federal power, said MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong.
He said the people bought Pakatan’s promises and booted out Barisan in anticipation of better days ahead but that was not meant to be.
A 47-year-old Chinese woman who runs an eatery in Pekan Rantau said her business dropped by half when GST (Goods and Services Tax) was introduced in 2015.
“Pakatan took away the GST last year but my business never improved.
“This year, the Health Ministry banned smoking in all eating places and my business dropped immediately.
“You imagine how difficult life is for us,” she added.
Hers is basically a family-run business.
Her 78-year-old mother is helping out while their cleaner is a very elderly hunch-backed woman.
“The elderly, some who are dependent on their children for a living, are also badly affected,” she said.
Similar frustrations also came from other races.
Zolkefly Said, 61, who reared cows and goats in Kuala Sawah, lamented that business was down by half since the general election last year, while his wife’s income from oil palm also dropped by 25% in the last seven months.
The people’s anger has been compounded by the Pakatan government who blamed the previous administration or politicised issues.
The Health Ministry’s handling of the Mawar Haemodialysis Centre which has problems with licensing after all but one of its specialists resigned, has caused panic among patients and their families of late.
Of the 274 patients at the Mawar headquarters in Seremban, three allegedly died as the ministry which shut down the premises on Feb 14 sent the patients to other centres.
And the other 13 Mawar centres with over 500 patients, including the one in Rantau, have their fates hanging in the balance.
The headquarters which run the 13 centres are running out of cash.
The licences of five of the centres had expired recently and others will expire in stages.
While there may be not so many kidney patients undergoing haemodialysis, the Mawar issue cannot be taken lightly.
Rantau is a small place and you can easily get a story on how their family members, relatives or friends have or had dialysis in Mawar.
However, Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye, a cardiologist by training, seemed more focused on campaigning for Dr Streram in Rantau.
The people want to see results and change for the better, and not excuses or promises anymore.