Stranded Johor fishermen may haunt Pakatan in GE15, academic cautions

Dr Serina Abdul Rahman, visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Singapore speaks during a seminar on ethnicity and religion at Wisma Sejarah Kuala Lumpur December 13, 2018. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Dr Serina Abdul Rahman, visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Singapore speaks during a seminar on ethnicity and religion at Wisma Sejarah Kuala Lumpur December 13, 2018. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13 — The ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) needs better engagement with the Malay fishing community in rural Johor if it hopes for their support at the next general election.

Serina Abdul Rahman, a visiting fellow from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute who lives among the fishermen in the southern state, said the community has started to regret voting in the PH coalition.

She disclosed that they are unaware of the government’s financial assistance for the country’s bottom 40 per cent of wage earners and don’t even know who to turn to for aid, and were ignorant that they qualified for affordable housing schemes.

“The rural Malays need someone based at a local level to inform them of the benefits given by the government. Otherwise they will remain unaware of what forms of assistance are available to them,” the researcher said at a seminar organised by think tank the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs here today.

Serina said the fishermen were accustomed to getting help from their ketua kampung, who for decades had been appointees from Umno — Johor is the party’s birthplace and had been its bastion until GE14.

“Now under the new PH rule they are lost, they feel despair. Many now can’t put food on the table and they don’t know where to go.

“The PH government needs to place someone at a more local level where these people have direct access,” she said, indicating that the ruling coalition was too urban-centric.

Serina recounted that under the previous administration, the Umno division chiefs and appointed village heads would direct members of the fishing community to the various financial assistance granted by the state or federal government.

The fall of Johor to PH in the May 9 elections also broke the power control of the grassroots Umno warlords, stranding the fishermen.

“The day after the elections, I could see fishermen standing around being bemused. Their greatest concern and worry was who do they turn to for help now.

“Back then, those in power wanted them to remain dependent to obtain votes but despite everything, they still helped these fishermen.

“Now, six months later their worry has translated into reality as they have no idea where to go for help. Some of them still don’t know who their ketua kampung is because the old ones were changed with the change of government,” she said.

Serina explained that in her own village, residents only recently found out the identity of their appointed ketua kampong — six months after the GE.

But, the researcher also conceded that it could have been very difficult for PH to find a trustworthy person to be the village head, seeing the fact that Johor has always been an Umno fortress and in the past people who did not support Umno were ostracised or isolated.

Serina admitted that there’s a strong possibility some of the village heads who were appointed were still left isolated.

She said there had been incidents where the previous ketua kampung told villagers that he could still help them, but would blame the government of the day when he failed.

“Now some of the villagers are wondering and regretting their decision to vote for Pakatan Harapan.

“They knew when they voted Pakatan Harapan it was to teach the political elite a lesson. Now the younger ones are wondering if they should have listened to their parents and voted for BN.

“The Pakatan Harapan government needs to do more to engage with these people. They need someone at a local level where these people will have direct access to assist, otherwise they will be left behind,” she stressed.