Uphill Fight

Pahang DAP vice chairman Apalasamy Jataliah talks about some of the issues besetting Cameron Highland, one of Malaysia’s favourite tourist destinations.

For the majority of the residents in Cameron Highland (CH), agriculture is the economic mainstay. The biggest issue affecting the farmers here is land ownership. Most of the farmers don’t have permanent land titles to their land.

“They are only given temporary occupancy lease (TOL). This is even though they have been farming the land for decades, since before Merdeka. This issue has been raised by opposition representatives in the DUN many times, and the answer is still the same – it is water catchment area and the state government can’t give away the land to entrepreneurs,” Apalasamy (pic) explains.

“The irony is, they have been farming there for so long, and water catchment is not affected the least bit. It’s an oxymoron. You (the state government) say it will affect water catchment, yet you allow farming there.”

“The truth is, it’s one of the means used by BN to control the residents’ voting choice. Come election period, they will go to the residents and threaten them that if the result goes against certain parties, their TOL will be withdrawn.”

According to a survey performed by DAP, there are over 2000 TOL land in Cameron Highlands. “By granting them the land title, the farmers can apply for loans by pledging their land to the banks as collateral. They can then expand their farm operations. Their livelihood can improve as a result.”

“With the TOL the farmers will need to get the pledge of the MB to secure the loans. It’s a hassle,” Apalasamy complaints.

In addition as CH is a tourism spot, the pristine condition of the area needs to be maintained. However, according to Apalasamy indiscriminate logging and development is a serious issue here. “Corruption at the land office is abetting this environmental destruction of CH as some of the officials have been approving logging and unplanned development.”

“The series of landslide that has taken place in CH shows that this development is getting out of hand.” On 10 July 40 people were detained in Kuantan for demonstrating against the Pahang Menteri Besar regarding various reasons from TOL titles, land grab and landslide threats to their homes. (Free Malaysia Today, 10 July 2012)

In addition many of the Orang Aslis (OAs) in CH are also affected by the logging and development and have been relocated to other areas without inadequate compensation. “Their livelihood is affected. OAs by nature are connected to their land; any relocation will render them unprepared to adapt to their new living environment.”

“The OA lands that are taken are sold to plantations and developers that don’t necessarily employ the locals. Most of their workers are migrant workers; locals are not hired for various reasons.”

Political scenario

With increasing political awareness, PR’s chance here has increased. In the 2008 GE, Apalasamy explains that he received 3100 more votes due to the Hindraf factor. “However the Chinese support for PR is still circumspect; in the last GE, DAP received around 40 percent of the Chinese votes, bucking the national trend of 60 percent.”

“The national trend is worrying for BN even here in safe seat CH. MIC has been making their rounds almost daily to shore up the Indian votes.”

CH also claims special distinction as it is the constituency with the biggest number of OA voters. Apalasamy explains about the challenges with OAs. “Its difficult to penetrate the OA areas as they are generally vote in fear of BN’s threats and lack of alternative news. We are often barred from campaigning in the OA areas due to the legal restrictions.”

As for the Malays, many are from the Felda areas. “The FELDA areas is still difficult to penetrate for PR. We will need the national issues to stir their interest up.”

“However, the wildcard is still the non-Malays; if we can emulate the low land voting patterns, DAP can win the seat. But there is no substitute for hard work.” -The Rocket

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