(FELDA Settlers At By-Elections)

It is interesting that the last two by-elections in the country are held in areas where the Federal Land and Development Authority (FELDA) settlers are the predominant population.

On 4 July 2020, we saw the Tasik Chini by election where Barisan Nasional (BN) received a thumping victory when its candidate Mohd Sharim Md Zain won with a majority of 12,650 over his contenders, both independent candidates.

On 29 August 2020, the FELDA Trolak settlers are going to the polls in the Slim River by-election. The three-cornered fight between BN’s Mohd Zaidi Aziz, 43, and two other independent candidates will be an indication of the strength of the parties in the run-up to PRU15, anticipated to be held in Q4 this year. One of the independent candidates, Amir Khusyairi Mohamad Tanusi, 38, is holding the flag for the newly-formed Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) party chaired by former Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad.

The issues faced by the villagers in FELDA Trolak in Slim River are a bit different than those faced by the FELDA settlers in Tasik Chini, both have a decent percentage of voters from the Orang Asli (indigenous) community.

Bountiful Harvests And Good Rewards

It is obvious that in Slim River, the settlers are more affluent, compared to their counterparts in Tasik Chini. This is due to the fact that before the fall of the Barisan Nasional government in 2018, FELDA settlers had been enjoying bountiful harvests and reaping good rewards from the sale of their palm produce, not to mention the various government subsidies to help them overcome the low periods due to inclement weather.

However, when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government took over in May 2018, it was a different ballgame altogether for the settlers when not only were the subsidies withdrawn by the then government, but prices of the products were at an all-time low and the country had lost orders from a few countries due to a breakdown in bilateral and trade relations. It is usually the case when a new government takes over and they are not competent enough to place policies on the right track and failed in international diplomacy.

However, when the new government (Perikatan Nasional) took over in March this year, things slowly improved for the settlers, but COVID-19 made it almost impossible for them to get back the same level of returns within a short timeframe.

In comparing the issues faced by the settlers in both Tasik Chini and Slim River, it was obvious that there is a stark difference between the two areas.

Medical Outreach Programmes

I followed the team from BeNAR Malaysia in their medical outreach programmes to provide medical support and screening to the villagers, at their homes and at the centres, in both Tasik Chini and Slim River. At these places, where they give medical talks and guidance, we were given an insight into the health concerns of the villagers. Doctors in attendance at Slim River were Dr Ismail Ali, a specialist from KPJ Johor and also President of BeNAR Malaysia and Dr Azam Rauzan, a private practitioner. At Tasik Chini, Dr Ismail was supported by the medical team from Optimum Malaysia.

The medical outreach programmes gave the team from BeNAR Malaysia an insight into the needs of the villagers. – Photo credit: Korie Darus.

Some of the differences were interesting and an eye-opener.

In Tasik Chini, most of them were concerned about bread and butter issues. You can tell that quite a number of them are struggling and belong to the B40 group. In Slim River, however, the residents seem to be more comfortable, from what we can tell when visiting their homes.

Elderly couples like these are left to fend for themselves while their children are living in the cities. The husband has dementia and other major health issues while the caregiver, who is the wife, is also affected with other issues, one of which is caring for their 19-year old daughter with thalassemia. – Photo credit: Raj.

Another difference is the composition of family members staying at home in the respective villages. In Tasik Chini, there were extended families staying together. In Slim River, however, most of the young ones have moved to the cities and have their own immediate families away from their aging parents who are left to fend for themselves at home. It is obvious that the feeling of loneliness is prevalent and some of these parents do not have the physical support of their offspring on a daily basis.

Health Concerns

In terms of health concerns, the sampling we did on residents of both areas reflected a different trend.

This lady, with an equally unwell husband, did not realise both her legs are gangrenous. The lack of proper medical facilities and support makes it difficult for the elderly villages to lead normal lives as most of their children are living in the cities. – Photo credit: Azri Yahaya

For example, in Tasik Chini, most of the villages are generally healthy, even a high percentage of those whom we monitored their blood pressure and glucose levels were low, some as low as 80 for bp and 27 for blood sugar levels.

At Slim River, meanwhile, we met with readings of high levels for blood pressure and blood sugar. There are cases of high cholesterol levels and a couple of the villagers whom we met have either lost a limb or one is due for amputation.

We have often heard of rich man’s diseases – the three evils of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Apart from eating healthy, which we can assume the Tasik Chini folks have observed this well, possibly eating more raw items like plants and herbs, the Slim River villagers are generally more into eating rich foods and lots of white rice and sugar-based items. While these should not be the conclusive deduction, it is however an indication of the health and eating trends of these two areas.

While we are not very familiar with the health facilities in Tasik Chini, we are however aware that there is a lack of good government health facilities in Slim River, and especially in Felda Trolak area. As such, most of the villagers either go to the Klinik Kesihatan (Health Clinics) in Felda Trolak, which is manned by Medical Assistants, or the government hospital in Slim River which is understaffed with limited facilities, thus appointments can take almost a year to be placed. Some prefer to go to private clinics of which most are general practitioners and do not have the capacity to handle certain problematic cases, but they still do.

Election Promises

In a nutshell, whoever is the candidate, Members of Parliament or State Assemblymen who are elected, they will have to ensure that the woes of the villagers when it comes to health facilities and basic needs are looked into and do not just pay lip service while forgetting about their election promises uttered during campaigning.

It is important that the voters give a resounding victory to the candidates from the parties that can effectively help to uplift the status of their community and respective areas.

About the author: Hasnah Abdul Rahman is the editor-in-chief of New Malaysia Herald while being an activist for autism. She has worked for various media organisations as reporter and editor. She is also a foodpreneur in her spare time and gives traditional cuisine that 5-star edge.

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