Reckoning with the electorate

"Traditionally, the Chinese have consistently backed BN in this area. I don't see them as swing voters because if sentiment towards the BN is low, their tendency is to stay home and avoid voting rather than to vote for the opposition," Toh says.

By Deborah Loh, The Nut Graph

IN the March 2008 general election, the 11% Chinese Malaysian voters in Kuala Terengganu were considered the swing voters in this largely Malay Malaysian constituency.

Analysts have predicted that the Chinese Malaysian vote will also decide the results of the upcoming 17 Jan by-election as the Malay Malaysian vote, some 88% of the 80,299 electorate, is said to be split between the Barisan Nasional (BN) that is being represented by Umno, and PAS.

However, the view on the ground just days before polling is more fluid. The real battle is for the Malay Malaysian votes, some say, especially because these seem to be gravitating towards PAS. Additionally, Chinese Malaysian sentiment appears divided between the opposition coalition of the Pakatan Rakyat and the BN, in which case Malay Malaysian voters would be decisive.

Overcoddling can backfire

Some in the Umno campaign feel that the BN-led state government's public display of coddling Chinese Malaysian voters, who form 3% of the state's population, may adversely affect Malay Malaysian voter sentiments. Malay Malaysians comprise 88% of the Kuala Terengganu electorate.

The BN has indeed been handing out goodies to the Chinese Malaysian community in Kuala Terengganu. On 5 Jan, Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein disbursed RM2.93 million from the national budget to the state's 10 Chinese schools.

The BN-led Terengganu government also recently earmarked RM6.1 million for Chinese Malaysian community development, including RM3.3 million to build a community hall, and RM2.8 million for Kuala Terengganu's biggest Chinese school, SRK Chung Hwa Wei Sin.

Below the media's radar, churches have also been on the receiving end of state funds, some members tell The Nut Graph confidentially.

Terengganu MB Ahmad Said meets members of the Chinese Malaysian community

Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said has been reminding Chinese Malaysian voters that about RM10 million has been spent each year on the community for the last three years. The funds are drawn from the special federal fund for oil royalties.

And with Chinese New Year around the corner, the MCA handed out RM100 ang pows to those aged 70 and above at a 10 Jan dinner in Kampung Tiong. An estimated 500 elderly folk turned up that night.

"The BN must be careful not to overdo its show of courting Chinese voters. Malays also want to feel that they determine this by-election's outcome," a local Umno member and entrepreneur says.