Malaysiakini News

Mapping Seri Setia by-election: A battle for the post-squatter generation

Nigel Aw & Alyaa Alhadjri  |  Published:  |  Modified:

SERI SETIA POLLS | The state seat of Seri Setia, which covers areas such as Bandar Sunway, Kelana Jaya and Ara Damansara, may be known for shopping malls and towering luxury condominiums, but it was not too long ago that these areas were hotbeds of squatter settlements.

Village names such as Kampung Gandhi, Kampung Desa Hormat and Kampung Lindungan may no longer ring a bell to the modern dweller, with many today being more familiar with developments such as Petaling Jaya Commercial City (PJCC), Icon City or even Paradigm Mall.

In the early 2000s, the state government embarked on a programme to clear out thousands of families from the squatter villages, putting them into People's Housing Projects (PPR), such as PPR Lembah Subang or the low-cost Desa Mentari Apartments.

While some have adapted to city-living, many, including their now adult children, still remain one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, plagued by poverty and crime.

As the three-week campaign for the Seri Setia by-election comes to a close, both Pakatan Harapan and PAS have aggressively worked the ground in these areas, where the former squatters are now housed.

Harapan campaign map

PAS campaign map

Note: Pin shows where the parties campaigned. Red polling districts were won by PKR while blue were won by BN in the last general election. Click on them for the proportion of votes won and racial breakdown.

In the last general election, Harapan's incumbent, the late Shaharuddin Badaruddin, won the Malay-majority constituency with a landslide, garnering 29,250 votes, while Umno and PAS received 9,878 votes and 4,563 votes respectively.

While PAS' Dr Halimah Ali faces an uphill battle, with the help of Umno, she is determined to make a dent against Harapan's Halimey Abu Bakar, who is from PKR.

Halimah had campaigned hard in Halimey's own backyard in the southeast of the constituency, demarcated by the Puchong-Damansara Expressway (LDP) and Federal Highway.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang had even chosen Desa Mentari to announce Halimah's candidacy on Aug 16.

It is the same area where Halimey was raised and had overseen when he was a Petaling Jaya city councillor.

Both candidates have extensively used the mosque and surau networks in their campaigns.

According to Malaysiakini's tracking of the campaign, more than a quarter of Halimah's events have taken place in the area, or around 46 out of at least 176 events throughout the campaign period.

Around 45 of at least 150 of Halimey's events - or almost a third - have been held in the southeast. Malaysiakini's tracking is based on the candidates' schedule, excluding events organised in their absence.

Halimey, despite his boast of having covered 80 percent of the constituency, has had to play catch-up against a more aggressive PAS campaign.

Halimey, himself, is from the post-squatter generation. His father, Abu Bakar Basirudin, had led the Kampung Desa Hormat action committee when the state government sought to relocate the squatters there.

'Squatter' candidate

The 46-year-old political newbie had branded himself as the "local boy" and became emotional after Halimah stated it was an "outdated mentality" and dismissed that it could resonate with the locals.

"Yes, it is true, I am a local boy. I am an anak setinggan (from the squatters) and I am used to having a hard life.

"I admit I am the son of a petty trader who traded at the pasar malam (right market) and earned just RM20 a night for his family," said a teary Halimey when asked to respond to his opponent just two days before polling day.

While Halimey could play the "local boy" card and has fared admirably in the southeast against his 58-year-old opponent, who is a political veteran and was a two-term assemblyperson, he has been out-manoeuvred at another area to the north, which also houses former squatters.

Since the beginning of the campaign period, PAS' events in the polling district of Ara Damansara have outstripped Harapan's by two to one.

PAS has organised at least 37 events there, compared to 16 by Harapan, and most of these were centred around PPR Lembah Subang.

During one such campaign event, Halimah received the back-up of not only top PAS leaders, but also Umno leaders such as deputy president Mohamad Hasan and youth exco member Lokman Noor Adam.

While PAS generally steered clear of race and religion, focusing instead on the need for "check-and-balance", Umno leaders have been more than happy to play up the "Malays under threat" narrative when they stump for PAS at ceramah sessions.

PAS will also be hosting its grand finale ceramah in Lembah Subang tonight.

On the ground, Halimah has chosen to do more house-to-house visits where, as a doctor, she provided free medical check-ups while her campaigners distributed free groceries to the needy.

Despite facing a formidable campaign machinery, which PAS has always been known for, Halimey has had the benefit of incumbency, with several top ministers coming to his aid, including Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who had campaigned for him at several low-cost housing areas.

Halimey had also recruited Housing and Local government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, who pledged to pay greater attention to PPR in Selangor.

With Harapan's strong momentum in Selangor, having won 51 out of 56 seats in the state assembly in the last general election, Halimey appears to be on a good footing, albeit facing a spirited effort from PAS and its new ally Umno.

The significance of the Seri Setia by-election does not lie in the overall outcome but in the details, such as how specific polling districts with a substantial B40 population react to PAS' message and its cooperation with Umno.

The details will determine the form Harapan's future opponent would take, which the coalition could find to be more formidable beyond its stronghold of Selangor.

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