By Annabelle Lee

CAMERON POLLS | No roads, no healthcare, and no government.

This is the common refrain of the Orang Asli community who live in areas accessible only by four-wheel drives in Cameron Highlands.

Yet after six decades of neglect, voting records show that the Orang Asli – who form close to a quarter of the electorate – have consistently been the staunchest supporters of BN.

Now that BN no longer controls the federal agency which the Orang Asli depend on, where will the allegiance of the community in Cameron Highlands and Jelai lie?

In Kampung Janggap, a 35km ride along a bumpy dirt road from the nearest town of Sungai Koyan, Malaysiakini witnessed several Orang Asli tok batin(village chiefs) sharing tales of empowerment and grit at a Harapan campaign event last Wednesday.

“When we arrived in KL, we were scared. It was our first time in court,” Harun Siden (photo) told some 80 villagers. “We were facing lawyers and educated people. What did we know?”

What they knew, and could prove, was that during the 14th general election, some of their villagers were bribed. Their testimony led to the annulmentof BN candidate C Sivarraajh’s victory during GE14.

Hence, these witnesses, 12 in total, were the key reason why the by-election is being held.

“During GE14, we, the Orang Asli, were used and cheated in so many ways. They threatened us. We were treated like fools.

“So I told myself that I must look for an alternative, for people who truly wanted to help us,” said Harun.

‘We feel cut off from the world’

Harun is the tok batin of Kampung Sungai Tual A, which, like Kampung Janggap and about a dozen other villages, is located in the Pos Sinderut polling district.

Pos Sinderut is unique. It was the only Orang Asli-majority polling district where Pakatan Harapan secured a quarter of the vote during GE14. They were trounced in the eight other Orang Asli-majority polling districts in Cameron Highlands.

The polling district has now become the launchpad for Harapan, which is hoping to win 30 percent of the overall Orang Asli vote, up from an estimated three to five percent previously.

Kampung Janggap’s own leader Yok Bim Tihang (centre in photo) is one recent convert. His message to his people was that although the Orang Asli are in some ways dependent on government help, they have a duty to hold those in high office to account.

“BN cheated us Orang Asli! They took our land, our jungles and polluted our rivers. That is why I am so angry, I have never been satisfied with them.

“I thank Harapan for their help, but let it be genuine. Do not cheat us. If we see that you are just like BN, we will replace you,” he told the villagers.

Zainal Kaptar, another Kampung Janggap villager and witness for the election petition, shared how removed the villagers felt from the rest of the country.

“We feel cut off from the world, as if there is no government. We have been living like there is no government taking care of us,” he told his audience.

Kit Siang’s pledges

Harun, Zainal and Yok Bim, all native Semai, spoke in Malay.

The message was not only for the villagers, but also the guests in form of Temiar people from different states, and DAP veteran leader Lim Kit Siang.

Earlier, Lim and his small entourage had taken slightly more than two hours to make the 35km journey. They were slowed down by precarious river crossings, mud and deep potholes. Along the way, some vehicles got stuck in the dirt while some overheated.

When he eventually arrived, he thanked the witnesses for their bravery and lauded them as “perwira (heroes). He also introduced the 60 or so audience members to a team from Kelantan Harapan, which was made up of Temiar from Gua Musang.

Led by DAP’s Nasir Dollah, who contested and lost the Kelantan state seat of Galas in GE14, the team has been tasked with mobilising support from the 18 villages in Pos Sinderut.

During his speech, Lim also said he empathised with the run-down state of the village, and blamed the former BN federal government and the present BN Pahang government for abandoning their welfare.

“I invite former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak to come into Kampung Janggap in Pos Senderut. The conditions here are so bad,” he said.

Harapan would be the one to solve their woes, Lim promised.

Another promise he made was to push for the abolition of the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa), which he said scored a “big F” in its role.

“We will replace it with something new and put in place a 30-year timeline for the development of the Orang Asli,” he said, adding that he would bring this up with PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, who is expected to assume the country’s leadership in two years.

At the age of 78, Lim has been making visits to remote Orang Asli settlements even weeks before nomination day, often covering several villages in a day.

He previously rued how Orang Asli communities had to put up with “roti canai” roads, which he witnessed himself when he was trapped overnight on New Year’s Eve during a visit to several villages in Pos Lenyang and Pos Titom due to poor road conditions.

Najib plays good deeds card

Three days after the DAP entourage visited Pos Sinderut, Najib was spotted campaigning for BN in the vicinity, albeit at Kampung Belau, a five-minute drive from the main road.

Unlike Kampung Janggap, Kampung Belau provided some creature comforts such as government-built brick houses. However, like the other villages, Kampung Belau does not have running water, sewerage or electricity.

In his speech, Najib said he had prioritised the welfare of the Orang Asli when he was in power.

“I allocated nearly RM200 million for the Orang Asli. The Sungai Ruil housing project cost RM44 million and our government gave high-value houses for free.

“And here in Pos Senderut, the road here cost RM35 million,” he said to applause.

Some 300 people attended the BN campaign event, with many dressed in the coalition’s colours. Those in attendance were treated to free food and a live band performance.

Apart from reminding voters of BN’s past deeds, Najib also urged voters to make history by electing BN’s Ramli Mohd Nor and helping him become the first Orang Asli to enter the Dewan Rakyat.

With 7,500 voters, the Orang Asli form the third biggest demographic in Cameron Highlands. However, they are also the most widely spread, forcing BN and Harapan to campaign one village at a time.

Observers expect the Orang Asli to play kingmakersin a contest where the stakes are high for the two main contenders.