Bukit Selambau Indian votes may shift, but not by enough

By Shannon Teoh (The Malaysian Insider)

SUNGAI PETANI, March 31 – Amid escalating worries over Indian voters in Bukit Selambau, de facto PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is making it his first stop in the ongoing triple by-elections campaign.

He is also due to meet the local election team late tonight to address the level of unrest on the ground.

Indian splinters within PKR Kedah look set to cost it a number of votes for the Bukit Selambau by-election.

To listen to the talk out there, it would appear that PKR Kedah is crumbling in the midst of the Bukit Selambau by-election.

Three former PKR members are contesting the seat, an entire division has left the party, and sources say seven others are contemplating a similar move.

Even Hindraf, instrumental in denying BN 80 per cent of the Indian votes here in last March’s general election, have been reluctant to back the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) campaign.

But prevailing over this is a persistent perception that Barisan Nasional (BN) has oppressed Indians who are being told that S. Manikumar will be able to address their woes directly as he will be made a state executive councillor should he triumph on April 7.

The cause of dissension, agreed on by both party leaders and those outside, is unhappiness at the choice of Manikumar as PKR’s candidate.

But where opinions differ, is what sort of effect it will have on over 11,000 Indian voters here, who are seen as crucial given the belief that the Malay vote is split between Umno and Pas in the state seat with 35,140 voters.

B. Kalaivanar’s move to pull his 357-strong Jerai division out may have been the most stunning piece of news coming out of Bukit Selambau in the 48 hours since nominations.

Kalaivanar and a few aspiring candidates had been rejected after a selection process by PKR that finally picked the political novice from a list of 21 candidates.

They say the interview process was a sham and that Manikumar was earmarked the moment V. Arumugam had vacated the seat on Feb 8 and cite this as the latest in PKR Kedah’s political power play.

“He definitely cannot do anything for the Indians here and is just a donkey for Pas,” said Kalaivanar, echoing independent candidate and former Pokok Sena chief S. Jayagopal, who had accused PKR Kedah of choosing a puppet candidate.

MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu also alluded to this as he expressed his belief that Indian votes were swinging back towards even parity.

“The Pas government has given the seat to PKR, not to an Indian, and PKR does not understand the feeling of Indians,” he said.

He also noted that PKR needed the Pas machinery to win the seat and would cede to its demands.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider, PKR strategist Saifuddin Nasution claims that these disgruntled voices were surfacing simply due to their desire to be candidates and did not reflect a deeper problem in the party’s state leadership.

The Machang MP said that after all, Jerai and Pokok Sena were not within Bukit Selambau, so the net effect was minimal.

“If you take all the reports of members leaving over the past few years seriously, then there would be no members left in the party,” he quipped.

The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) election strategist in charge of Bukit Selambau claimed that he was still being asked to provide speakers for an average of 47 ceramahs per night in Bukit Selambau, mostly from rural Indian areas.

“There is a continued willingness by our grassroots machinery to work, so there is no question of division within the ranks,” he said.

Analysts also believe that the independent candidates may be able to pool about 500 votes between them but bringing Indian voters back to BN is a different proposition altogether.

Samy Vellu still leading MIC has, in fact, sent the message that BN has not changed and the carrot of an exco place overrides the question of internal squabbling.

So what if the interview process was a front? So what if PKR Kedah’s leadership have been manipulative?

In the final analysis, Manikumar is still a PKR candidate who will toe the party line of racial equity.