Culture Politics

Why do Malays still vote for Barisan Nasional? We ask 10 people from different states

*This article was translated from Saiful Izam Kamaruddin’s article on To read the original article in BM click here.

P/S: In case you’re wondering why we blur out the text in the featured image, it’s because Facebook doesn’t allow text in images.

Ever wonder why Barisan Nasional can still win election after election (they’ve been in power since independence) even though unsavoury issues about the Government have surfaced many times? In spite of the bad press, they are able to cinch General Elections, state elections and by-elections victories.

Last year, there were two by-elections at Sungai Besar, Selangor and Kuala Kangsar, Perak. BN won both. Then there was the 11th Sarawak state elections, where BN recorded a big win with 71 seats compared to the Opposition’s 10 seats. Their performance in this state elections superseded even the 10th state elections one where they had only won 55 seats.

People commenting about the rising cost of petrol. Image from

It seems every time you visit the PM’s Facebook page, you would see that he gets a lot of hate comments, such as RM0.20 on the petrol price hike, and remember #letakjawatan? And yet, elections results speak otherwise… Hmm, how come? SOSCILI interviewed 10 Malays from different states who support BN to get some insight as to why they support the party.


1. “There is no unity among the Opposition and they have no direction on how to develop Sarawak.” – Sulong, 39 (Serian, Sarawak)

A Government highway project for Sarawak. Image from Kamek Miak Sarawak on Facebook

“I have been voting for BN since GE11 seeing as many of my family members are BN supporters. I feel that BN is more qualified to lead Malaysia and Sarawak than the Opposition. There is no unity among the Opposition and they have no direction on how to develop Sarawak. Sarawakins generally dislike political parties from Peninsula Malaysia because they don’t understand our needs and I also reject parties who like to stir up people.

Although Sarawak lags behind in development and infrastructure such as roads and water supply, BN has put in some effort to build these infrastructure. I become more confident in BN after the late Adenan Satem became Chief Minister. Though he has passed on, the changes he made are evident, especially in the rural areas, where more road projects have been approved.” – Sulong told SOSCILI

An example of what Sulong was talking about in terms of development and infrastructure is the Pan Borneo Highway (pic above), a State Government project that connects Sabah and Sarawak with Brunei. Many people were reportedly very happy with it and 10,000 people flocked to Serian to see the PM launch the third phase of the RM16 bil project. One farmer said they could carry out their daily tasks more efficiently with better roads. Another said it would be easier and faster to visit her relatives in Sibu.


2. “After retiring, the Government gave me aid to start a palm oil plantation, providing fertiliser and seedlings.” – Zambry, 57 (Bagan Serai, Perak)

Subsidised fertiliser with BN’s logo of the scale. Image from

“I’ve supported BN from young seeing as I am a retired army personnel from the early 90s. After retiring, the Government gave me aid to start a palm oil plantation, providing fertiliser and seedlings. In my own village, I see development the Government has brought about, like roads and streetlights. Even though it is slow, it is sufficient for the population to carry out their daily activities.

It is also very easy for us to meet with the Member of Parliament (MP) of this area or his representative if we have any problems. Unlike the Opposition…I never met an Opposition representative who tried to ask if we need help. From what I know, the Opposition rep only visits rural areas during elections. If they are genuine about getting the rural folks’ vote, they should visit more regularly. Not just show their face when the elections are near.” – Zambry

67% and 68% of voters in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar are Malays, many of whom are farmers who benefit directly from fertiliser and pesticide subsidies through the government agency Felda (Federal Land Development Authority). We discovered that many farmers are care about how the Government can meet their daily needs…for example, giving out BR1M, as one 66-year-old farmer (also from Bagan Serai) explained. He adds that there was nothing to be proud of if the Government only announced mega projects.


3. “The Government helps the children of Felda settlers in their studies, particularly in setting up a UiTM campus in Jengka.” – Zainol, 59 (Jengka, Pahang)

Building the UiTM Jengka campus helps the youth of Felda Penubuhan Uitm kampus Jengka dapat membantu anak Felda further their education. Image from

“I support BN because I am grateful to the Government for establishing Felda. Felda opened many opportunities for us to earn a stable income, especially since many from our generation are not highly educated. Actually there isn’t much progress happening in this town compared to other places. The roads need fixing, especially in certain areas that’s so bad, it is the cause of many accidents.

On education, the Government helps the children of Felda settlers in their studies, particularly in setting up a UiTM campus in Jengka. To me, the young generation of Felda should be given attention by the Government, especially in education to avoid social ills. I see unhealthy activities among the Felda youth, such as taking drugs and sniffing glue rising, so providing skills training for them could minimise such activities.” – Zainol

What many urbanites may not realise is that Felda settlers form a very important voter base, capable of influencing nearly one-fourth of the seats in Parliament. Traditionally thought of as ‘BN strongholds‘, 6 out of the 60 ‘Felda seats’ were won by the Opposition in GE13. Read our article to know more about Felda’s origins and also its current troubles.


4. “I’m grateful that they developed this place and helped Felda settlers earn a steady income.” – Husin, 59 (Kota Tinggi, Johor)

Kota Tinggi city today. Image from Wikipedia

“I the Government because I’m grateful that they developed this place and helped Felda settlers earn a steady income. They have done so much for us and my vote is to repay them. There is not much development here like there is in Johor Bahru, however we are still happy with what we have. Last time there was only a laterite road here, now there are many paved roads enabling us access the city.

I reject the Opposition party since as our lives are already peaceful and we don’t need outsiders who supposedly want to bring change. The Government is the one that developed this place, we don’t need outsiders coming to win our votes.” – Husin


Where the heck does 'Lat Talilat' come from?!

5. “I’m not a fanatic supporter of any political party, but my support is based on the influence of the party and their capabilities.– Tarmizi, 35 (Merbok, Kedah)

Difference in the number of state seats won by BN in 2008 and 2013. Image from

“I’m not a fanatic supporter of any political party, but my support is based on the influence of the party and their capabilities. In GE12 I voted for PKR because I felt that they should be given a chance to change Kedah. In GE13 I changed my vote to BN because they didn’t accomplish much after 2008.

But from what I can see after GE-13 also progress has been slow and not much to shout about. Young people today want progress according to what politicians have promised. Many of my friends here were forced to go to Penang to look for work and some chose to settle there. It’s not difficult to earn our votes, just fulfill what has been promised. Nowadays people are more realistic, we won’t just listen to politicians’ words.” – Tarmizi

As you can see from the chart (above) BN suffered shocking losses in GE12 but recovered a little in GE13, however with the recent Mukhriz incident, how will they do next round? To recap: in February 2016, Kedah Chief Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, who was popular with the Kedahan Malays, was pressured to resign by the BN party due to increasing criticism of Najib by Mukhriz and his dad Mahathir. Some would say BN sabotaged itself by doing so, as Mukhriz later joined Bersatu, which is part of the Opposition.


6. “My children and grandchildren have the chance to study in UiTM and UNIMAS because BN provided those facilities.” – Byran, 63 (Serian, Sarawak)

The construction of UNIMAS helps improve the development of the surrounding area. Image from Sinar Harian and Unimas

“I’ve been a BN supporter since young and have never supported the Opposition. From young, I’ve seen a lot of changes in terms of roads, water supply and development. My children and grandchildren have the chance to study in UiTM and UNIMAS Kota Semarahan because BN provided those facilities. There has been a lot of progress brought by BN at Kota Semarahan. Last time there was nothing, but since BN built UNIMAS and UiTM, the place developed rapidly.

I also don’t like political parties from the Peninsula coming here to contest. I prefer Sarawakian political parties. The ideology and culture of Peninsula parties are not suitable for us. Although I used to support Mahathir when he was PM, I don’t any more because he strongly opposes the Government now.” – Bryan


7. “My eldest child applied for financial aid from Umno and it was approved. My child had also applied from PKR but was rejected.” – Fatimah, 45 (Bagan Serai, Perak)

Umno offering scholarship grants. Image from

“I became a single mother 10 years ago and work as a restaurant waitress. My salary is not much as I work in a kampung. The Government gives me a lot of financial aid via the Department of Social Welfare. Before going to university, my eldest child applied for financial aid from Umno and it was approved with only an offer letter from the university. My child had also applied for aid from PKR but was rejected.

The MP is also attentive of our problems and visits the villagers more often than the Opposition representative. The MP also frequently offers clothing and monetary aid, especially before Hari Raya and the start of the school year. Road connectivity is improving though the project is going slowly. I only wish the Government could provide more work opportunities, especially for the youth.” – Fatimah


8. “The Government also gives special treatment to the Felda youth who want to further their studies.” – Zaini, 47 (Jengka, Pahang)

Some of the benefits Felda settlers enjoy. Image from

“My family has long supported BN, plus as a Felda settler I am indebted to the Government for placing us here. Even though it is not as developed as the city, our needs and infrastructure are sufficient. The Government also gives special treatment to the Felda youth who want to further their studies by providing financial aid and placement in universities. In my opinion, the Felda youth are more fortunate in getting aid than the youth who are not from Felda.

I hope the Government will continue to help Felda settlers because we are group that contributes to the economy and development of the country.” – Zaini


9. “We don’t like outsiders coming here to give negative speeches.” – Abu Bakar, 56 (Kota Tinggi, Johor)

NGO Sahabat Muafakat Johor protesting the Opposition’s ceramah. Image from Umno Johor

“The one that has contributed a lot to this place is the Government, so I support BN from the beginning. Those days Opposition politicians came here to give speeches, but we did not reject their presence. We don’t like outsiders coming here to give negative speeches.

Our votes have not changed now or ever will and we will only choose the Government. Development has come a long way since Felda was first established. I see the progress BN has brought from past leaders until now.” – Abu Bakar


10. “Then I realised that PAS representatives, especially in my area, don’t focus enough on the villagers’ issues.” – Firdaus, 29 (Bagan Serai, Perak)

This is pretty much the only main road in Bagan Serai. Image from

“At first I was a PAS supporter before voting for Umno-BN in GE13. I supported PAS because many of friends also supported them. Then I realised that PAS representatives, especially in my area, don’t focus enough on the villagers’ issues. Although they conduct a lot of religious exercises, there are few programmes to help villagers with problems. From my experience, it is easier to apply for aid from Umno-BN than PAS.

The villagers really depend on development and Umno-BN is the one helping us. It is not like we can be very proud of what has been done, but development can be seen.” – Firdaus


It seems most rural folk are happy with BN’s aid and aren’t concerned about the Government’s scandals

Scandals hitting the nation, like 1MDB and most recently the Felda controversy are reasons enough for urbanites to want a change in Government. But it seems like stuff like that do not make our 10 interviewees even bat an eye (which surprised us considering many of them are Felda settlers and perhaps we expected someone to at least mention something about the Felda controversy).

We know it’s only 10 people, so it’s not fair to conclude that all Malays in these areas think alike, however based on elections results, obviously there’s still a majority who support BN. So it really gives interesting insight as to how BN managed to pull off its 60-year grip on power – namely by giving aid which the supporters are super grateful for. Whether it is in the form of a house and job (Felda), infrastructure, or just RM500 (BR1M).

To these 10 interviewees, it would appear that they are more concerned about how the Government can help them with their daily needs, as opposed to macro policies that can benefit the nation on the whole or mega projects, as Zambry from Bagan Serai explained. So this in brief is how we can begin to understand the psyche of a BN supporter.

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