Party insiders say Najib may opt for a more credible candidate with strong oratory skills and sound financial background.
Athi Shankar, FMT
PENANG: Local Umno is quietly confident of penetrating into PKR’s virtually impregnable Permatang Pauh parliamentary fortress in the forthcoming 13th general election.
Confidence is said to be running high among Permatang Pauh Umno leaders that they can re-capture the constituency’s Penanti and Permatang Pasir, and retain Seberang Jaya state seats.
Permatang Pauh Umno leaders also believe that this time they have an outside chance to upset incumbent MP and the Malay heartland “tribal king” Anwar Ibrahim, the Opposition Leader.
But observers believe Umno must apply the right candidacy jigsaw if the party is to realise its dream.
Sources said currently the division chairman and former Penanti assemblyman Abdul Jalil Abdul Majid had been earmarked to challenge Permatang Pauh favourite son Anwar for federal duel.
In Permatang Pasir, a PAS seat since 1999 general election, Umno is expected to field its constituency coordinator and division vice chairman Rahim Man.
Barisan Nasional’s constituency coordinator and division committee member Ibrahim Ahmad has been listed for Penanti.
In Seberang Jaya, incumbent assemblyman Arif Shah Omar Shah, who won by a mere 553-majority largely thanks to postal votes against PKR’s Rahim Bulat in 2008, is the choice.
However political observers and local leaders from BN component parties believe that the Umno division deputy chief and local corporate figure Mohammad Nasir Abdullah should be included in the candidature list.
Grassroots leader Mohammad Nasir was overlooked for 2008 general election and subsequent by-elections in Permatang Pauh, Permatang Pasir and Penanti.
Insiders said this was largely due to Abdul Jalil uneasiness with Nasir’s political presence.
Seberang Jaya Umno branch chief Nasir rose from rank and file in the division, from being an ordinary member when Anwar was then its chief, to youth chief, then vice chairman and now deputy chief.
Observers said Jalil sensed that his position would face grave danger if Nasir, who has strong grassroots support among Permatang Pauh 17,000 Umno members from 95 branches, were to win a seat in general election.
They said that Jalil knew that Nasir, who has no political baggage, can topple him in the next party election.
Good ground support
A random survey showed many Umno branches, particularly among 44 branches in Seberang Jaya constituency, and BN local leaders backed Nasir as an election candidate.
Many want local boy Nasir (photo), who operates a Petronas petrol station in the constituency, to replace Arif Shah, in Seberang Jaya.
But Arif Shah is not expected to give up his seat with a strong fight.
After all if BN were to regain Penang, he stands a strong chance to become a deputy chief minister.
Seberang Jaya has 29,397 voters with Malays 18,882, Chinese 6,677 and Indians 3,682. In 2008, the constituency had 22,678 voters.
Postal votes in Seberang Jaya have also leapt drastically from 405 in March 2008 to 1,200 in mid-2012.
Insiders said it was time to replace Arif Shah with Nasir as the former had been a two-term assemblyman.
Recent vernacular press reports revealed Arif Shah, who speaks fluent Mandarin, would not be able to muster enough Chinese votes, a decisive factor to retain Seberang Jaya.
Local observers believe a fresh local born candidate like Nasir would be an ideal winnable replacement.
Grassroots sentiments are that Arif should be moved to Permatang Pasir which has 22,733 voters with Malays 16,643, Chinese 5,691 and Indians 363. In 2008, the constituency had 20,350 voters.
They feel Rahim would be a better candidate in Penanti, which now has 18,537 registered voters with Malays making up 13,194, Chinese 4,124 and Indians 390. In 2008, the constituency had 15,421 voters.
They said Arif Shah would be an ideal candidate in Permatang Pasir and Rahim had stronger grassroots backing Penanti.
Party grassroots want Umno president and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to give a strong consideration to their sentiments.
“This would give Umno a winnable electoral jigsaw,” they said.
In the August 2008 parliamentary by-election, Anwar defeated Arif Shah by 15,671-majority to mark his national political comeback after 10 years absence.
Strangely though, as of June 2012, Permatang Pauh now has 70,667 registered voters, a huge leap by 12,208 votes within four years from 58,459 voters in 2008.