October 11, 2023
KUALA LUMPUR – Last Saturday’s Pelangai by-election result in Pahang showed that Barisan Nasional can no longer rely on Felda settlements to be their fixed vote banks as in the past, with changing times and voting trend of the younger generation, say analysts.
They noted that this trend was not new and was the case in many Felda settlements in the 14th General Election (GE14) in 2018 when Barisan lost the Federal Government for the first time to the Opposition since the formation of Malaysia.
Until then, almost all Felda settlements, which were the brainchild of Malaysia’s second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, were regarded as fixed deposits for the coalition in elections.
Felda (Federal Land Development Authority) was first set up by Tun Razak to uplift hardcore poor and landless Malaysians living in the rural areas in 1957.
Although the settlements are now mostly populated by Malays, the earliest settlements such as Felda Lurah Bilut in Bentong, Pahang, also had other races including Chinese and Indians.
The early settlements saw each settler being given 10 acres (4ha) of land, with seven being for rubber crop.
Today, Felda settlements span more than half a million hectares throughout Malaysia.
Selangor government think-tank Institut Darul Ehsan (IDE) pointed out that in the Pelangai by-election on Oct 7, there was an increase in support for opposition Perikatan Nasional from voters in the Felda settlements in the state constituency, which has 16,456 registered voters.
There are three Felda settlements in the state constituency – Sungai Kemasul, Chemomoi and Sungai Kemahal.
“In the last general election in 2022, the collective vote of the three Felda settlements showed that Barisan had 55% of the votes, Pakatan Harapan had 5% and Perikatan having only gained 39% of the votes then.
“In Pelangai on Oct 7, the Pakatan-Barisan government had 48.5% of the collective votes of the three Felda settlements. The support for Perikatan stood at 50.5%, an increase of 11.5%.
“Barisan-Pakatan only won in Felda Chemomoi but lost in the other two, as compared to having won all three settlements in 2022. Perikatan garnered 56.5% of the votes at Felda Sungai Kemasul and 49.6% of the votes in Felda Sungai Kemahal.
“Barisan-Pakatan only managed to retain Felda Chemomoi but at a lower percentage of 53.4%, as compared to 58% in the last general election,” IDE researchers Khairul Arifin Mohd Munir and Kamarulbahrin Zahid said in a study.
The two further explained that this might be due to the fact that the Felda settlers in the three settlements hailed from Kedah and Kelantan, reflecting the pattern of the states they were from, which are Perikatan-friendly.
The study also noted that there is a group of “dynamic voters” who can change their allegiance.
“These voters are about 10% to 15% of the Felda voters in Pelangai who have voted for Perikatan in the last by-election.
“However, they are not voting along party lines but based on other factors such as candidates, the welfare and interests of Felda settlers as well as what can be offered by others to them,” it added.
Meanwhile, Persatuan Anak Peneroka Felda Kebangsaan (Anak) president Datuk Mazlan Aliman said the abuse of power by the Barisan government in 2012 had brought about much protest from the second and third generations of Felda settlers.
Anak is an NGO representing the children of settlers nationwide.
“In 2012, Felda settlers found that funds meant for them were misused by those in charge. On top of that, those in charge of FGV Holdings Bhd had publicly listened to the company and this was opposed by Felda settlers,” he said.
He pointed out that according to the government’s White Paper on Felda, the government agency had through its companies FGV and FIC indulged in “aggressive” and “uncontrolled” investments that did not generate expected returns.
The White Paper said the agency was profitable up to 2012.
Mazlan further stated that the last straw for Felda settlers was during GE14 under the premiership of Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“For the original settlers, the contributions of Umno and Tun Razak’s legacy are much remembered.
“However, the younger generations felt the impact of the abuse of power by those who handled Felda and it will take time before they return to supporting Barisan again.
“The votes may return if the reforms by the government are whole, addressing policies on Felda in the Land Act (Group Settlement Areas) 1960, the role of new Felda generations, housing problems and socio-economic matters of the younger generations of settlers,” he said.
Political analyst Dr Johan Saravanamuttu said the Felda vote bank for Barisan in the past has been “broken”.
“By GE14, inroads were made by Pakatan, the then-Opposition.
“PAS has been consistently knocking on the door and made gains. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s promise of more subsidiaries to Felda settlers did not cut ice in the state-level election in Pelangai,” said Johan.
The adjunct senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, said the second and third generations of Felda settlers vote differently and many of them work elsewhere due to better job opportunities, but continue to return to vote at the settlements.
ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute research officer Dr Geoffrey K. Pakiam pointed out that in 2014, 27 parliamentary seats with Felda settlements rejected the ruling establishment, 16 doing so for the first time since at least 2004.
“Few observers anticipated the extent to which Barisan would haemorrhage support from Felda-occupied seats in the 2018 election.
“In hindsight, these losses probably owed much to former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s energising leadership of the Pakatan alliance at that time, as well as Najib’s own increasingly egregious political behaviour,” said Pakiam.
He then reasoned that from 2014, the slump in Barisan’s support from Felda “suggested long- standing dissatisfaction with everyday economic concerns and perhaps widespread unhappiness with what seem to be corrupt and distant political elites; even in rural Felda areas”.