RANTAU, April 4 — For many voters in Rantau, three-time incumbent Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan wears a familiar smile.
His was a face worn on many Barisan Nasional billboards, and state government banners. He was, after all a three-time incumbent and mentri besar since 2014.
And Mohamad, as well as Umno, know this and have been utilising the former’s popularity in the early going of the campaign for the by-election.
In contrast, for Pakatan Harapan hopeful Dr S. Streram, the biggest challenge so far has simply been just getting voters here to remember his face, or to warm up to him.
This is because unlike “Tok Mat”, the locals do not know of Streram’s background or accomplishments — save for the fact that he was denied the opportunity to contest the state seat back in GE14.
“He (Dr Streram) remains a mystery to us here,’’ 70-year-old retiree Azman told Malay Mail when met in Pekan Rantau, adding that it is hard to relate to someone who the locals consider to be out of touch with their needs.
“Well, it creates an awkward situation for us to talk about the good doctor. We know that he is from the ruling political coalition and he is an accomplished doctor, but what else does he bring to the table?
“As much as I want to like him, he doesn’t bring much confidence that he actually knows what the locals want. Even his statement about the fire station is evidence enough that he has no clue on what is happening on the ground here,” he said.
Azman was referring to a recent statement by Dr Streram, where the latter stated that he wants to help build a fire and rescue department in town.
This in turn drew confusion from many locals, as Rantau already has a working fire station.
For now, Dr Stream’s campaign seems to focus on local issues, such as pushing for upgrading better health facilities in the district and even bringing in investors to possibly building a tertiary education centre in Rantau.
Many Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians such as PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Negri Sembilan Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Aminudin Harun and others have also started making their rounds in Rantau, in a bid to shore up support for Dr Streram.
PH’s campaign narrative so far has been telling voters to back a medical doctor who is able to “clean the mismanagements and kleptocratic behaviours of the past,’’ as Dr Wan Azizah said in one of her ceramahs in Rantau.
But for some voters, any support for Dr Streram would be on the basis that he represents PH and its reform agenda, and nothing more.
Contrast that with Umno and Barisan Nasional’s Mohamad, who seems to have picked up where he left off just before GE14.
Some Rantau folk, like newspaper vendor Kalimuthu Kulan, 57, recalled Mohamad’s engagement with his fellow constituents when the latter opened up his house to the town when his daughter got married in 2014.
“He rode into town with a motorcycle every now and then and even bought his produce from the local market, everyone here knew and respects him.
Being a local boy made it easier for everyone here to air their concerns or grouses and he will immediately try to sort it out,’’ he said.
51-year-old Rantau resident Fendi Khalid, 51, said that Mohamad’s efforts in bringing change to the state cannot be dismissed.
“Despite the change of the new government and major shift to domestic politics, many still feel contented with Tok Mat. Although he can’t do much now as the opposition, people here still trust in his abilities and they know how hard he works,’’ he told Malay Mail.
Local businessman Lai Soo Ke, 47, also agreed that Mohamad has brought much development to the “sleepy” town since he was elected in 2004.
“Tok Mat doesn’t need to prove himself here, we all know who he is and what he can do. Simply put, Tok Mat should win, no need to bother with the politics. The man can work,’’ he said.
Despite a clear home base field advantage, Mohamad, however, is not underestimating the importance of the by-election.
He has said that PH had called the Rantau by-election the “mother of all by-elections’’, as they intend to break Barisan Nasional’s winning streak and end his political career as Umno’s acting president.
However, for some voters, the by-election is being seen as another platform to raise long-standing issues affecting the district.
Located some 30 minutes away from Seremban, the semi-rural seat of Rantau is also flanked by the commercial development of Seremban 2, and the industrial hub of Senawang, while also being heavily dependent on agriculture economy, mainly palm oil and rubber.
Despite the town’s small stature, it has reaped many economic benefits due to its location. However, not every segment of the community has enjoyed the rewards.
Although many admit that a change in the elected representative would not change their financial positions immediately, voters such as 53-year-old rubber tapper, Jayarashmi Anamalai, believes that whoever wins the race should do their best to help the poor and destitute within the district.
“There is a considerable amount of families here who mainly depend on tapping rubber or work in palm oil plantations. We are at the mercy of the weather at times or if demands for these products reduce, our wages could suffer too.
“There is also long-standing land and house ownership particularly in the Indian community. We hope that whoever wins, could help us resolve this issue as some of us have been waiting for far too long,’’ she said.
Mohamad and Dr Streram are up against independent candidates Malar Rajaram and Mohd Nor Yasin for the Rantau state seat.
Polling will take place on April 13.