Sunday, July 3, 2022

In seaside village, Orang Asli benchmark candidates against welfare, economic recovery

They are only interested in those who will work to defend their interests against external threats such as development.

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On the shores of the Johor Strait, a village of Orang Asli go about their daily affairs, unaffected by the flurry of political activity heralding the state election to come on March 12.

While party candidates are doing what they can on the ground within Covid-19 constraints, the villagers who hail from the Seletar tribe have yet to meet even a single prospective assemblyman.

Located in the state constituency of Perling, the seafaring people of Kampung Sungai Temun say they will only take note of candidates who are truly interested in their welfare.

Most of all, they want a candidate who can help restore their economy which was badly affected by the string of movement control orders imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

MalaysiaNow’s visit to the village found business activities sluggish, with customers and visitors subdued.

The village was once famous for its fresh seafood, caught each day by its community of fishermen. The villagers also rented out boats and rafts for anglers keen on spending the day on the ocean waves.

But the money from such activities has been on the decline for the past few years.

Children from the Seletar Orang Asli tribe play near a pond at Kampung Sungai Temun in Johor.

“We used to make up to RM200 a day,” Liza, the wife of the chief fisherman, told MalaysiaNow.

“Sometimes we would make more on weekends as fishing enthusiasts would rent boats for the whole day.

“But now, it’s difficult to make even RM100.”

As the number of customers dropped, she was forced to let go of the workers who, in better days, were tasked with maintaining the boats and rafts.

According to Liza, the seafaring Orang Asli along the strait make up the second biggest community after the Temiar tribe.

The Seletar can be found along the shore in Masai, Ulu Tiram and Pasir Gudang.

In Kampung Sungai Temun alone live about 200 voters from 90 families.

Reclamation problems

Liza has lived in the village for three generations now and is familiar with the issues and problems faced by its people.

At the moment, their beef is with a sea reclamation project that has been ongoing for nine years now. The developer is said to be setting up a seaside resort.

Since the project began, the villagers who depend on the sea have experienced a drastic decline in catch.

A girl looks back over her shoulder as she walks with a group of other children up a road in Kampung Sungai Temun.

They used to bring in a good haul of grouper, mullet and catfish each day. Now, though, catching anything is a matter of luck.

They have taken their complaints to court and several memorandums have already been given to the developer for negotiation.

But the days go by, and their daily catch remains low.

“In terms of crabs alone, we used to get grade A, B and C crabs in the tens of kilogrammes each day,” Liza said.

“Now, we work for days just to fill one box.”

Salem, the Tok Batin or village leader, said he can only trust that the people will vote for a candidate who will truly work to help their community, and who is bold enough to protect their village from external threats like developers and their projects.

The Perling state constituency is seeing a three-way fight between former deputy defence minister Liew Chin Tong of Pakatan Harapan, Tan Hiang Kee of Barisan Nasional, and Koo Shiaw Lee of Perikatan Nasional.

More than 2.57 million voters are expected to cast their ballots on March 12.

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