In the final stretch, a neck to neck race

By Adib Zalkapli, The Malaysian Insider

As the campaign for the crucial Kuala Terengganu by-election enters its final day today, both Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) campaigns are still cautious in assessing their chances, preferring to just call it a very tight race, in a clear sign that neither Pas nor Umno could be sure of the outcome.

Pas election director Datuk Mustafa Ali refused to say how the party was doing after more than ten days of campaigning, and kept repeating that both sides are neck to neck.

"For both sides, the support level has never dropped below 40 per cent," said Mustafa when asked to predict the outcome.

His daily press briefings have been focussed on levelling allegations against the authorities, from the Election Commission, the National Registration Department to the police force.

And Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, who hit the campaign trail for the second time yesterday, only said things are getting better for BN since his first visit soon after nomination day on Jan 6, as last week he was busy defending his choice of candidate to party workers.

Even in high profile public rallies in Malay villages where Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was present, the uncertainty was clear in the speeches.

When addressing a small crowd at Kubang Ikan near the Marang border, he reminded the voters not to be fooled by BN's election goodies. Anwar even dedicated part of his speech to Umno workers stationed next to the Pas's operation centre, trying very hard to convince them to abandon the Malay nationalist party on polling day.

The sentiment on the ground also did not show any indication of how the 80,000 voters are going to decide tomorrow, except for the enthusiasm shown by the Chinese community at a dinner when Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and former Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim presented the Pakatan Rakyat's case.

But the Malays, apart from those found at the various political parties' operation centres were very reserved when asked about the election or the candidates.

Many chose to parrot the campaign slogans or the media reports on Wakaf Mempelam assemblyman Abdul Wahid Endut and BN's Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh.

But the silence or the lack of enthusiasm might indicate that the voters have made up their mind.

"Even during March 8 in the West Coast, people were very quiet, it could be because they have already made up their mind," said USM's School of Social Sciences political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian who has also observed the lack of excitement among the voters.

"I don't see a lot of ceramahs, they prefer house to house visits, I guess they have had enough, only those undecided are still attending," he added.

An election tourist who only wished to be known as Zaman said he was surprised to see the situation in Kuala Terengganu.

"At first I thought it was because of the long campaigning period, but now things are still very quiet," said the Kelantanese who admitted that he is a Pas supporter.

"I hoped it's because they have already decided to vote Wahid," he added.