BN policies are fair: Najib

Malaysian DPM reaches out to Chinese voters in Kuala Terengganu 

By Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times

MALAYSIAN Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak sought to reassure Chinese voters here that the government is not discriminatory after a survey showed that the Chinese vote in Kuala Terengganu may have tilted in favour of the opposition.

'I hope that all will support the Barisan Nasional because what we have achieved today is the result of the BN's policies. Our policies are fair,' he said yesterday ahead of the Kuala Terengganu by-election on Saturday.

An independent survey conducted last weekend showed three out of four Chinese voters saying a vote against the BN would send a signal to the ruling coalition that it should be fair to the minorities.

More than half of the Chinese respondents also said racial fairness was their main concern.

This is grim news for the BN, as it struggles to win back support after the trouncing it suffered in last March's general election, partly due to the same racial grievances.

Ironically, in the general election, 64 per cent of the Chinese in Kuala Terengganu voted for an Umno MP, tipping the scales in favour of the BN. The Malay vote then was split.

Ten months later, independent pollster Merdeka Centre, which conducted the survey, concluded that the Chinese vote is now tilting slightly towards the opposition.

The by-election is being held as the seat has fallen vacant after Umno MP Razali Ismail died last November.

Umno is fielding former deputy home minister Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh against Parti Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS) Abdul Wahid Endut and an independent.

In the March general election, Umno won the seat with a tight 628-vote majority. Analysts have suggested that BN will not find it easy to hold on to the seat.

The opposition had campaigned intensively for the Chinese vote, reminding voters of issues such as the recent controversy where Umno Youth leader Mukhriz Mahathir had called for Chinese schools to be turned into national schools.

If the Chinese vote does swing to the opposition, it would signal that the March phenomenon of the Chinese voting for a turban-wearing PAS candidate may not be a one-time occurrence.

The minority Chinese in Kuala Terengganu, comprising just 11 per cent of the 80,229 voters, had previously shunned PAS because of a general wariness of its hardline leaders.

This time, PAS has shown a more inclusive side with its candidate even donning a red shirt at a Chinese dinner and displaying Chinese calligraphy skills to woo the voters.

But Datuk Seri Najib yesterday pointed out that the Chinese in Terengganu have a fairer deal under the BN government than under PAS.

He said that when PAS administered the state from 1999 to 2004, it did not have a Chinese assemblyman, while the BN government has always allocated one seat for the Chinese.

Mr Najib also said that when the BN government distributed aid to the poor, it did not differentiate by race.

At a stop on his campaign trail at the Chinese enclave of Kampong Tiong on Tuesday, he reminded the 1,500 voters that PAS had tried to tear down a 103-year-old Chinese temple in Kuala Terengganu.

He assured them that the BN would learn from its mistakes. Mr Najib also clarified that some of the statements made by party leaders are not official party policies.

'Sometimes, it is not us, it is not our policies. One or two people may misspeak, but it is not our policy. Our policy has never been extreme,' he said.

BN is working hard to counter the opposition campaign in the last three days before polling.

It has also begun pointing out PAS inconsistencies, by labelling the party as 'Kluk Klek'. This means flip-flop in the local dialect.

Booklets pointing out PAS' shortcomings in the one term it ran Terengganu have been distributed widely, along with leaflets with the 'Kluk Klek' message.

The Merdeka Centre survey, as well as sizeable Malay attendance at Umno functions, suggests that the Malays may be warming up to BN. In March, the Malay vote in Kuala Terengganu was split, with about 47 per cent for BN.

In the survey, 60 per cent of the Malays chose BN as the better option to protect their interests over Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition coalition of the Democratic Action Party, PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Overall, the Malays were also more positive about the BN than the Chinese. For instance, about 66 per cent of the Malays said the country was moving in the right direction, compared to 36 per cent of the Chinese.

Nothing is certain yet, but even as the Chinese warm up to PAS, BN may still be able to bank on the Malay vote.

With two days to go before polling day, BN is revving up for the last lap.