Political Economy of Felda and GE13

I recently submitted to Kajian Malaysia the final paper. Was aided by my research associate Vasiliki Mavroeidi.  

Khor Yu Leng
Segi Enam Advisors Pte Ltd, Singapore
Email: khorreports[at]gmail.com
This paper is about the political economy of FELDA and its important place in the electoral politics of the 13th General Election held on 5 May 2013. In a heavily contested election, the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional has held on to power by winning by a 22-seat majority, despite its worst performance with the loss of the national popular vote and questions about irregularities.  However, the hope of Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition, to make inroads in BN’s proverbial FELDA “fortress” vote bank was disappointed. Instead, there were swings toward BN. Winning FELDA areas is important to building up its rural base, in order to win enough seats to govern. In the midst of urban rejection, UMNO has retained stronger control in key rural areas, turfing out and keeping out the opposition coalition from its FELDA stronghold, with Mazlan Aliman of PAS reporting on the difficulties of reaching FELDA women voters and in allaying rural voter fears about DAP Chinese rule. In FELDA settlement areas the ruling coalition is seen to have preferential access by way of its links with FELDA’s administration. The windfall from the FELDA Global public listing seems to have been an important boon. However, there are interesting regional differences, notably between Pahang and Johore. Here, the parallels between oil palm replanting economic decision-making and voting behaviour of FELDA settlers is intriguing. Efforts to lure the FELDA youth vote seems to have been flummoxed with so-called money politics, including the offer of new lands for homes for younger voters. At the same time, UMNO-BN may want to repeat its FELDA electoral success by performing IPO “encores” to generate financial bonuses with two other key land development agencies – FELCRA and RISDA. Combined with FELDA, these three agencies may have control and influence of up to 19% of Malaysia’s voters.
Keywords: FELDA, palm oil, rural development, political economy, electoral politics