Battle royale in Bkt Gantang

But Nizar's rival menteri besar, Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir, cautioned: "Pakatan has to be extremely careful in playing up Perak issues, because it will all boil down to the issue of the Sultan."

By Deborah Loh, The Nut Graph

THE sun rose over Taiping's famous Maxwell Hill on 29 March 2009 and cast a pink glow on the hundreds of police and Federal Reserve Unit personnel who took up positions around the large sports field in front of the Taiping Municipal Council building. This was where nominations for the Bukit Gantang parliamentary by-election would be filed.

The middle of the field was to be no-person's land. On two opposite sides, rolls of barbed wire had been put in place to keep Barisan Nasional (BN) and PAS supporters apart.

At 7.30am, only police and journalists could be seen milling outside the nomination centre. But just around the corner, a crowd of blues and whites — the BN camp — was steadfastly waiting for the BN candidate, Ismail Saffian, to march with him to the nomination centre.

Around another corner on the other side of the municipal hall was the PAS camp, boisterous despite the early hour. They shouted "Reformasi!", "Hancur BN!" and other taunts at the BN supporters, who at that hour comprised mostly women.

A man weaved among the BN supporters with a big plastic bag, dishing out yellow button badges bearing the Sultan of Perak's image that read "Daulat Tuanku" and "Setia Kepada Raja".

Barbed wire separating the two rival parties, with FRU personnel on guard (Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)

The rival groups soon descended on the field in front of the nomination centre, taking up positions behind the barbed wire to chant and sing slogans. At one point, as BN leaders walked up to the nomination centre gates, the PAS crowd roared, "Rasuah! Rasuah! Rasuah!"

Among the sea of green, an inflatable and cylindrical-shaped item floated. "Oh, it's supposed to be a submarine!" gasped one reporter in revelation. It was the opposition's dig at Umno's new president Datuk Seri Najib Razak over alleged corruption in the purchase of submarines while he was defence minister.