PAGOH, Nov 17 — Wearing a Perikatan Nasional (PN) shirt, 30-year-old Syahrah Ngatrmen was hard at work frying chickens at a roadside stall in Taman Pagoh Jaya for her customers who were trickling in one by one, as lunch hour neared.
Appearing oblivious to the national political happenings, she flashes a smile and works her hands swiftly, scooping the fried chicken pieces from the piping hot oil tub and racking them on display.
“This shirt was given free. They usually give, so I just took one too,” she said when jokingly asked about her political leaning.
“Yes, I will vote because they are all voting,” she replies when asked if she would be voting this time around.
To Syahrah Ngatrmen, the idea of voting is important but not the political rhetoric by politicians and the ‘Sheraton Move’ narrative which Opposition politicians have been regularly campaigning about. — Picture by Hari Anggara
This would only be her second time voting; despite having registered as a voter long ago, the stall assistant voted for the first time in the Johor state election this year.
To her, the idea of voting is important but not the political rhetoric by politicians and the 'Sheraton Move' narrative which Opposition politicians have been regularly campaigning about. The move saw Pagoh incumbent Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin being appointed as prime minister after Pakatan Harapan (PH) was toppled after a mere 22-month hold on Putrajaya.
“Here the economy is not that stable so the prices of goods need to be reduced a bit,” Syahrah, who lives about 25 minutes away in Renchong, told Malay Mail.
She said her pay is enough for now but is not sure how things would be once she starts her own family, something she dreams of with her husband who works a regular job in Bukit Gambir, Muar.
Ariffin Abd Samad returns home to vote every five years and it has only been for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Another trader, Ariffin Abd Samad, 56, voiced his strong adulation for Muhyiddin, adding that a sense of loyalty towards the leadership of the 75-year-old politician is crucial, as he has done work in Pagoh.
“Inila, inilah!” he proudly said, pointing to Muhyiddin’s figure on his shirt, when asked who he would vote for in 14th general election (GE14).
“He has served her for how long already? And the candidates who want to fight him don’t have it in them. I see the individual. He has served her for how long already, how many terms? That is all.
“There is a lot (of development) here. There are some new hubs recently too. He has also been coming down always, getting to know the people of Pagoh,” the sugarcane juice seller said.
Ariffin has been running the same business in Kuala Lumpur for some years before returning home to Pagoh. He has been returning home to vote every five years and it has only been for Muhyiddin.
“There must be something wrong in his party and that is why he left,” he said, also appearing unperturbed over the 'Sheraton Move', when asked.
He said that while he would think of the issue before voting, he would not read too much into the matter.
Tan Cheng Siong said that his vote is not fixed on a particular party and that he prefers to see how candidates in the area work, rather than reading about the mudslinging by political competitors. — Picture by Hari Anggara
65-year-old Tan Cheng Siong admitted to being aligned to Barisan Nasional (BN) but even then, said he is cautious about his vote and will “wait and watch”.
He has never moved out of Pagoh and is a third-generation business owner in the area. His grandfather started a bicycle shop during the Japanese occupation and the family has since dabbled in business. Owing to his physical limitation now, one of his sons helps him in the spare parts store that he runs.
He said that his vote is not fixed on a particular party and that he prefers to see how candidates in the area work, rather than reading about the mudslinging by political competitors.
“I don’t vote for a fixed element. Truthfully, I am under MCA. Usually, I vote for them, but see how the work is too,” he said. In 2014, he voted in favour of Barisan Nasional (BN).
However, Tan says many of the ethnic Chinese here are fond of Muhyiddin.
“For example, Muhyiddin takes care of this place a lot, so they support him a lot. Muhyiddin has been winning for many years here because the Pagoh people truly support him,” he added.
Tan says Muhyiddin has “breathed life” into many areas in Pagoh.
A. Subramaniam said Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s food basket aide is what he saw as a saving grace and subsequently pledged his loyalty. — Picture by Hari Anggara
“I don’t want to talk much. We see first. See how it is,” he said.
Like Syahrah and Ariffin, Tan says he is also more concerned about continuity of livelihood above anything else and says that if he still had his youth and freedom to move about, he would move to Singapore in search of a better life.
He says many in Pagoh, even the Malays have been going to Singapore in search of jobs for a better life.
Food, education and a chance at decent life, nothing personal
For A. Subramaniam, who was once left foraging for vegetables by the roadside at the height of the movement control order (MCO), Muhyiddin’s food basket aide is what he saw as a saving grace and subsequently pledged his loyalty.
The 49-year-old, who is a former longtime BN member, admitted that he was a little annoyed when Muhyiddin joined Pakatan Harapan (PH) after leaving BN following the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) saga, during which he and now jailed former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak developed bad blood.
But after the destitution he faced, Subramaniam said he takes no offence at such political manoeuvres anymore, and now displays his loyalty on his chest. In the form of a propaganda shirt.
Subramaniam, who has been appointed as an ethnic Indian community leader for PN, said that he is not keen on the 'Sheraton Move' debate as he sees no value in it, adding that Muhyiddin should have his good reasons for being part of the move.
The 'Sheraton Move' got its name from the Sheraton hotel in Petaling Jaya, Selangor where several prominent factions within PH had a clandestine meeting with leaders of the then Opposition Barisan Nasional (BN) in February that subsequently led to the formation of a new government under Muhyiddin, who is the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president.
At that time, several PH MPs from PKR, aligned with Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, switched their support to the new political bloc that later formed the shortlived PN ruling government.
“He has done a lot here in Pagoh. How? He built a temple for us and brought many institutions such as Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia.
On voting, security guard A. Krishnan said that he would follow what A. Subramaniam says. — Picture by Hari Anggara
“He has built four universities here and what are the things that he did for the Indian community here? Schools. One is in Ladang Palaniappa and there is one in Temiang Renchong, which is a three-story building. He did it completely, with everything needed,” he said.
He said his daughter too managed to enter the Merlimau Polytechnic because of Muhyiddin’s assistance.
“I was roaming around the estate one day and I was approached by a Malay man asking me what was wrong. I said I don’t have food and am forced to forage. Eat what I can harvest, catch fish, and look for root vegetables. I said I did not get the MCO aid. So the guy passed the message to Tan Sri’s office and I was asked how many people were in need.
“I told them there are 25 families here, and the very next day, we got food aid. From then I had a change of heart. No one else helped us. There were so many MIC people at that time, but none did anything,” Subramaniam said.
He now handles the welfare of the ethnic Indian community from Bukit Kepong to Jementah.
“What I am thinking now is that Tan Sri is doing what it takes. No one else has done it. PH or PKR. No one did like that. Only he did,” he said.
He said for the ethnic Indians in the Ban Heng Estate and Kampung Batu 23 both in Lenga, the only person they know and identify with is Muhyiddin and no one else.
Both areas are adjacent to one another in a rural area about 45 minutes from town.
“He has built halls too, so they reflect on that. There is a deep rooted sense of loyalty. So all the people calling for change. If we change, will anyone come for us? Aid us? No. None will.
“'Sheraton Move'? Why did it happen like that? Because everyone wanted a position, but Tan Sri’s goals are different,” he said.
Security guard A. Krishnan said that he would follow what Subramaniam says.
“We listen to what he says. That is all,” Krishan says, referring to Subramaniam who commands a chieftain status among the ethnic Indians in the area.
On who to vote for, Lee Hee Tan said he will follow the masses on what they think is good. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Krishnan had a job during MCO but was unable to feed his family owing to a lack of food items.
Today, he has a son who is an engineer and another who is studying electrical wiring.
“We don’t ask for much. Decent living. That is all,” he added.
Peaceful life, nothing else
For durian orchard owner Lee Hee Tan, 70, stability is all that he requires.
He said he owns a small farm, enabling him to self-sustain, earning between RM3,000 and RM4,000, well above the national average wage. He lives in a large landed home, just a stone’s throw away from Subramaniam.
Who will he vote for? He said he will follow the masses, on what they think is good. He thinks caretaker prime minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has done fairly well too.
“Taking care of the people is important. Taking care of the rakyat is imminent,” he said, appearing nonchalant to questions regarding the 'Sheraton Move'.
“We just want to live peacefully,” he said when met, conversing in fluent Bahasa Malaysia, almost like a native speaker of the language.
He says he abhors fanaticism and racism of any kind and would like to see unity among the people.