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Strategy behind Zahid's appointment as rural and regional development minister, say analysts – MalaysiaNow

The position could help Barisan Nasional win back the rural Malay support which has been shifting towards Perikatan Nasional.
The appointment of Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as rural and regional development minister in addition to deputy prime minister is a strategy to win over the rural Malay vote for the coalition government led by Pakatan Harapan (PH), analysts say. 
Zahid’s Cabinet appointments came in the wake of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) worst election performance ever, which saw the once-dominant pact winning just 30 seats in Parliament. 
Even seats traditionally considered Umno fortresses such as Gua Musang, Pasir Salak, Gerik, Ketereh and Tanjung Karang fell to Perikatan Nasional (PN), the coalition led by Muhyiddin Yassin which ushered a massive shift in Malay support throughout the country. 
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, analysts said the award of the crucial portfolio, formerly known as rural development, signalled new power for Zahid in leading efforts to recapture the rural Malay vote. 
Azman Awang Pawi of Universiti Malaya said the ministry would help the government win the trust of rural communities, especially the Malays. 
“The ministry was underutilised by the previous minister,” he added. 
The portfolio was traditionally given to senior Umno leaders who held the post of vice-president. 
Former ministers include Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Mahdzir Khalid and Shafie Apdal. 
Mazlan Ali of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said the agencies under the ministry had direct links with the people in the villages and Felda areas. 
“The minister can meet with the villagers and provide help through the ministry,” he said. 
“And Umno branches in rural areas can be given budgets to be used for development. The people will see the assistance as coming from Umno.” 
This, Mazlan said, was of great importance to groups such as farmers and those in the agriculture industry whom he added depend more on the government than urban city folk. 
The main agencies under the ministry include Majlis Amanah Rakyat, the Community Development Department, the Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority, and the Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority.
In his new role, Azman said, Zahid would need to be proactive in ensuring that he is the best spokesman in dealing with the issues and problems of the rural communities. 
“Matters like this will be among Zahid’s biggest challenges in showing that he is capable of bringing real solutions for the rural communities, with a high degree of confidence to overcome any negative perceptions of himself.” 
The appointment could also give the Bagan Datuk MP the edge in maintaining his position of dominance in Umno, which must hold party polls within six months of the general election. 
Azman said the rural and regional development portfolio could help Zahid communicate with the rural grassroots, long seen as Umno’s strongest support base. 
“He cannot afford to waste any time in endearing himself if he wants his influence in the party to continue,” he said. 
BN won only 33% of the Malay vote at the recent general election, compared with PN which won 54%. PH meanwhile won 11%. 
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