With polls around the corner, politicians are promising to drag the rural town out of the doldrums with better living conditions for the poor and an improved economy.
ALOR SETAR: Although there is no written history on the rural district of Sik, Kedah, it is said that the town got its name from the Arabic word “Sayyid” or “Syed” after an entourage of Arab missionaries made their home there hundreds of years ago.
The missionaries arrived via Sungai Chepir, a tributary upstream of the Muda River going up southeast from the sea. They also set up a pondok school, believed to be the first of its kind in Kedah.
Locals here said Sik was spelt as such rather than Syed or Sayyid because of the Kelantanese way of pronouncing “Sayyid”. The pronunciation alternates between “sik” and “saik”.
The Kelantanese factor comes as no surprise as the area is close to the northeastern state.
The people speak a “Hulu Kedah” dialect, a unique mix of the northern Malay and Kelantanese Malay dialects used in the districts of Sik, Yan and Baling.
Most of the people in Sik are involved in agriculture, especially rubber tapping.
It is home to beautiful waterfalls, nature parks, the man-made Beris dam, and delicious food. In town, Restoran Ishak across the bus station serves up the best kuey teow th’ng in town with a dash of chilli paste – despite its Chinese origins, this dish is, unusually, made by a Malay.
It is surprising to find a delicious Chinese noodle soup where there are not even 500 people of Chinese descent. The majority of the 50,000-odd population here are Malays and slightly over 3,000 people are Thai.
Politically, Sik is a traditional Umno ground. Some of the Umno MPs, however, won with slim majorities in straight fights with PAS.
The incumbent Sik MP is Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Dr Mansor Abdul Rahman, who obtained 22,084 votes in the last polls, beating PAS’ Che Uda Che Nik who received 19,277 votes.
Mansor is a general practitioner and a familiar face among the constituents.
However, BN has had its share of ups and downs in the constituency.
In 2008, Che Uda won the seat with a narrow 481-vote majority, beating BN’s Othman Desa.
In 1999, national laureate Shannon Ahmad won the seat under a PAS ticket. However, BN wrested it back in the 2004 general election.
In the 2013 polls, there were 46,786 voters, comprising 93% Malays, 5% others and 2% Chinese.
Well aware of Umno and PAS’ influence in the constituency, Amanah’s Sulaiman Ibrahim, 37, is determined to challenge candidates from both parties in the coming polls.
Sulaiman shot to fame as a stand-up comedian on the fifth season of the Raja Lawak reality TV show in 2012, and he told FMT he did it on purpose.
“I wanted to join politics. I knew TV was the platform for me, regardless of whether I won or not,” the man with the oratory style of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said.
Due to his popularity on the show, Sulaiman was often referred to as “Leman Raja Lawak”. He joined PAS in 2011 but quit the party to join Amanah in 2016.
He is now Sik Amanah and Pakatan Harapan (PH) chief.
Sulaiman said his sole purpose in life was to help the poor, adding that he had experienced hardships growing up with a single parent most of his life.
“My mother was a rubber tapper and worked odd jobs. The common misconception that kampung folk are lazy is not true. Sik people are the most hardworking people ever,” he said.
He said life was so difficult that he had to drop out of university as he could not afford the tuition fees.
Sulaiman said it was then that he realised that politics was the way to go. Ever since he set up his Amanah service centre here in 2015, he has been working hard to serve the people.
According to Amanah’s estimates, there are some 300 or more hardcore poor and 6,000 others in the “poor” category in the constituency.
Sulaiman runs a team of about 10 welfare workers under the Sik Amanah Care Squad (Skuad Peduli Amanah Sik) who hand out essential items to the needy.
He expressed his gratitude to local donors who assisted him in buying the goods.
Sulaiman, however, wished more people would set up business in Sik where tracts of flat land are cheaply priced.
He said the land in Sik was ideal for agriculture, adding that development was needed to provide jobs for the poor.
“The economy in Sik is slow as the buying power is low. The people would have to ‘ration’ their money,” he said.
Sulaiman said the current BN-led Kedah government had also ignored the call by environmentalists to stop logging at the Bukit Enggang Forest Reserve in Sik.
He said as a result, rivers were filled with sediment and there was soil erosion in many parts.
“There are so many untapped areas for development. I want to raise the living conditions of the poor. At the same time, I want to protect our precious forests from further destruction,” Sulaiman said.
A source with Kedah BN said Mansor would most likely be retained as the coalition’s candidate in the coming polls.
As for PAS, another source said its Sik division chief Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor has been widely tipped to contest in the 14th general election.
Sanusi, who is state PAS deputy commissioner, was the political secretary to the late menteri besar Azizan Abdul Razak.
Mansor and Sanusi have not responded to FMT’s request for comments.