KUANTAN: Mention Cameron Highlands, and the first thing that comes to the mind is the image of a hill station which is the center of strawberry production in the country, along with tea estates and wide spread vegetable farms.
The resort destination, which is the smallest district in Pahang, is well known for its cool climate and remains as the only highest point in Peninsular Malaysia which is accessible by road.
Despite the series of issues plaguing Cameron Highlands over the years including the influx of foreign workers, mud flood disasters and illegal land clearing activities, the hillside resort continues to remain as a top agro-tourism destination.
Now, the upcoming Cameron Highlands parliamentary by-election on Jan 26 is set to further boost its popularity.
Barely a year after winning the parliamentary constituency in the 14th general election (GE14), Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate Datuk C. Sivarraajh, who is also the MIC vice-president, was stripped as its member of parliament when the Election Court ruled that voters had been bribed to favour BN.
Just when many assumed that BN would file an appeal against the Election Court’s decision to nullify its victory in the Cameron Highlands parliamentary seat, the coalition instead chose to let the people (voters) decide in a by-election.
Described as BN's stronghold, MIC has contested and won the parliamentary seat in four consecutive general elections (since 2004 - 2018) and the last two general-elections(2013 and 2018) saw a five-cornered battle with BN winning by a slim majority.
However, plenty of drama and excitement is expected in the Cameron Highlands by-election as it will be the first to be held in a constituency won by BN in GE14 and the first by-election to be held in a BN-led state.
The last four by-elections after GE14 were in Selangor - Sungai Kandis, Seri Setia and Balakong state seats - and Negri Sembilan - Port Dickson parliamentary seat - which were under Pakatan-led government.
Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail who was elected as BN's Cameron Highlands by-election director, is the fourth term Jelai assemblyman, and it would be interesting to see how his team executes their strategy to ensure the seat remains as a BN stronghold.
What makes it interesting in the Cameron Highlands by-election is that the Orang Asli votes representing some 21 percent of the total number of voters (32,008) could be crucial in determining the winners on polling day.
There are about 34 percent Malay voters, 30 percent Chinese voters and 15 percent Indian voters in the parliamentary constituency which has two state seats namely Tanah Rata and Jelai which was won by DAP and Umno candidates respectively in GE14.
Political analyst and law lecturer from International Islamic University, Professor Dr Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmood, decribed the Orang Asli support as unpredictable as those who pledged for BN in GE14 might decide to choose the other candidates including Pakatan Harapan.
"We can no longer describe the votes from the Orang Asli community as a “fixed deposit” for the BN as the New Malaysia fever could be sweeping across the community.
Since PH is the government, there might be fence-sitters among the Orang Asli voters who can be swayed by those contesting.
He said the by-election will be a close contest and the winner might walk away with just a slim majority.
"As we are aware there have been many issues surrounding Cameron Highlands.
“The Orang Asli in Jelai might be hoping for better roads in their villages while those living in Tanah Rata might hope for a long term solution to the flash floods and traffic congestion," he said.
The nomination day for the Cameron Highlands by-election will be on Saturday (Jan 12), early voting on Jan 22 and polling day will be on January 26.