Wednesday, December 8, 2021

For Tanjung Bidara fishermen, individual leadership trumps party name

While the state seat is seen as a BN stronghold, they say the candidate's service record is more important than brand names.

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In the shade of a tree on the beach of Pengkalan Balak, a middle-aged man sits sorting through a variety of hooks.

Shielded from the sun’s strong rays, Mohd Ali Abu Bakar relaxes his tired muscles after spending half the day at sea searching for the fish that have been his lifeline for the past 30 years.

The day’s catch is not encouraging: despite his long hours at sea, he has only managed to bring in two fish.

For many of the fishermen who cast about that area, this is a familiar tale as the slowly worsening coastal erosion takes a heavy toll on their daily catch.

Ali works full-time as a fisherman yet for all of his hard work, he continues to live from hand to mouth.

Mohd Ali Abu Bakar arranges some 1,000 fishing hooks in the shade of a tree at the Pengkalan Balak beach.

His daily trips to the sea in hopes of earning enough to feed his family have also caused wear and tear to his boat, the engine of which frequently breaks down.

“I have been forced to borrow an engine from someone else,” he said when met by MalaysiaNow.

“Just to cover the cost of repair would take hundreds of ringgit. I have asked for help from the relevant parties but until today, there has been no answer.”

As he speaks, his hands remain busy sorting through the hooks and arranging them in neat rows. Every once in a while, he pauses to mop at the sweat that beads on his forehead despite the shade of the tree.

And every once in a while, he laughs over a joke shared with the other fishermen working alongside him.

Mohd Ali Abu Bakar hoists a boat engine on his shoulder to be kept away after returning from the sea at Pengkalan Balak, as the flags of political parties flutter in the breeze behind him ahead of the Melaka state election on Nov 20.

His request for an engine is not the only one he has made over the years. He has also asked the authorities to build a small garage where boats can be arranged as a tourist attraction. But this, too, has gone unheeded.

The welfare of the fishermen at Pengkalan Balak and their declining catch are among the issues that will determine the outcome of the race for the Tanjung Bidara seat at the Melaka state election on Nov 20.

Here, Perikatan Nasional (PN) candidate Mas Ermieyati Samsudin will face off with Ab Rauf Yusoh from Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate Zainal Hassan.

The focus will likely be on the duo from PN and BN, whose names have been bandied about as candidates for chief minister should their coalition win the state polls.

Over in Pengkalan Balak, the fishermen are straightforward about their political views.

While Tanjung Bidara is seen as a BN stronghold, questions have arisen over the coalition’s brand name and the leadership of individual figures.

Fisherman Osman Ibrahim said the previous state assemblyman from BN, Md Rawi Mahmud, had never paid much attention to the people’s complaints.

Osman Ibrahim tells of the challenges faced by fishermen in Tanjung Bidara.

“If the previous assemblyman were to contest against Mas Ermieyati, he would lose,” he said. “With Rauf, chances are 50-50.”

Osman is also frank about who he would pick to lead the state.

“God be thanked if Mas Ermieyati becomes chief minister,” he said.

The 65-year-old, who has been waiting a long time for his fishing licence to be approved, told MalaysiaNow that he feels more comfortable with the Masjid Tanah MP.

Ali agreed with Osman’s opinion that Mas Ermieyati is more approachable and friendly with the people.

He said Mas Ermieyati carries out her duties well as an MP and also makes frequent trips to meet the fishermen at the beach.

“I asked for help once on behalf of a former fisherman who lives in Cheng,” he said. “I asked for assistance at her office, and it arrived very quickly. I didn’t even need to fill up any forms.”

The fishermen had less to say about the BN candidate, who has never run in an election before.

But while the coalition’s brand name might once have wielded influence, their criteria for choosing a leader is based on the individual, not his or her party.

In the end, all they are asking for is a little attention and commitment from their representative, whoever he or she may be.

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