BALING: Baling in Kedah is a text book example of the Malay rural heartland.
It was here that the Kampung Memali clashes took place in 1985, an incident which was again brought up recently.
Critics of Dr Mahathir Mohamad have blamed the incident on him, saying he was responsible for instructing the police to storm the village in November 1985 to arrest Ibrahim Mahmud, a firebrand religious scholar.
The incident ended with the death of 14 villagers and 4 police officers.
Some three decades later, the Memali incident is being raised again by both Umno and PAS, Mahathir’s staunchest critics.
But for the local PPBM chief here, the Memali incident is no longer an issue, especially in the run-up to the 14th general election (GE14).
“I can tell you that this incident will not adversely impact the voters in Baling,” said Baling PPBM division chief Sopian Ahmad.
Instead, Sopian said Mahathir was better remembered for his contributions to the country as well as for Kedah during his 22-year rule.
This, he said, includes the nearby Kulim Hi-Tech Park and the development of Langkawi island, which provided jobs for Baling folks.
Sopian said the economy was a bigger concern for locals.
But he admitted that wresting the Baling parliamentary seat from Umno’s Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim was no easy task.
In 2013, Azeez defeated PAS’ Najmi Ahmad by a margin of 5,185 votes.
Umno, meanwhile, is confident of a stronger performance at the coming polls, including winning all the three state seats of Bayu, Kupang and Kuala Ketil.
Bayu and Kupang are currently held by Barisan Nasional (BN) through Umno’s Azmi Che Hussein and Harun Abdul Aziz, while Kuala Ketil is held by PAS’ Md Zuki Yusof.
Baling Umno Youth chief Mohd Noor Mohd Amin does not see PAS as a challenge here, especially since many PAS members here have joined Amanah, the PAS splinter party formed in 2015.
But he said that is not to say Pakatan Harapan has a chance.
“I pity their candidates who will likely lose their deposits,” he said.
Noor said PH may be popular in the urban areas, not in Baling.
He said Umno’s “social and welfare services” to locals here include cash handouts, gifts and an ambulance service for the poor.
“The MP also provides three buses to ferry students who live in remote areas to their schools, from Sunday to Thursday, in all three state constituencies,” he said.
Those at institutions of higher learning are also given between RM1,000 and RM1,500, and some 7,000 laptops have been distributed to date, he added.