Chaos and confidence in Bukit Selambau

By Shanon Shah (The Nut Graph)

OF the three simultaneous and upcoming by-elections on 7 April, the Bukit Selambau state seat in Kedah appears to be the most fascinating.

On 12 March 2009, The Star reported that the Kedah police force had identified three "hot spots" in Bukit Selambau. Then on 19 March 2009, the New Straits Times's Zubaidah Abu Bakar said police had upped that figure to at least 17 hotspots.

And suspicions of how police would handle such "hot spots" were piqued on 23 March 2009, when water cannons were used to disperse a crowd of 5,000 Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) supporters.

"Of course we are worried," PKR candidate S Manikumar tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview. "On our side, we are civilised. But as you can see on 23 March, the police stormed our ceramah and sprayed chemical-laced water on us."

Sivarasa (File pic)
Nevertheless, PKR vice-president R Sivarasa is reluctant to give in to rhetoric about "hot spots" in Bukit Selambau. "It's unnecessarily alarmist talk," he says in a phone interview, stressing that the police themselves should refrain from playing up the issue.

"Besides, it is not accurate to compare Bukit Selambau this time to the violence that happened in the Lunas by-election in 2000. That happened on the last day, and it was because of this phenomenon of bringing in busloads of outside voters on the last day."

MIC candidate for this state seat in Kedah, Datuk S Ganesan, predictably defends the police's actions. "The rules are very clear and apply to the Barisan Nasional (BN), Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and independent candidates," he tells The Nut Graph over the phone. "If a permit is required for a ceramah, then we have to get it. If not, things will be chaotic."

Multi-cornered spoilers?

But chaos in Bukit Selambau is going to be inevitable, "hot spots" or not. Already, in addition to the BN and PR candidates, there are a record-breaking 13 independent candidates vying for the seat.

Husaini Yaacob
There is already talk that the motives of some of these independent candidates may not be altogether altruistic. Independent candidate Husaini Yaacob's election deposit, for example, was reportedly paid by Zahran Abdullah, whose father, Datuk Abdullah Ismail, is an Umno veteran and former Kedah state assembly speaker.

"These are baseless accusations and speculations," says Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang.

"This is the thing about having too many independent candidates — it fuels too many rumours," he says in a phone interview. Besides, Tan says, there are also rumours that some of the independent candidates are PR-sponsored. "It's best to ignore these rumours," he says.

Referendum of sorts

If Tan is right, then the real battle will really be between the PR's Manikumar and BN's Ganesan. And both PR and BN feel equally strongly that the by-election will be a referendum of sorts.

"The Bukit Selambau by-election will definitely be a referendum on the BN's and Umno's gangster culture," says PKR's Sivarasa. "Forming 30% of the constituency, already SMSes are circulating regarding the marginalisation of Indian [Malaysians], A Kugan's death in police custody, and the fatal police shooting of six individuals in Kulim recently."

Ironically, Gerakan's Tan agrees, but for opposite reasons. "It should be a referendum of the PR's performance in Kedah," he says. "The voters should vote based on the PR's performance as a state government, and should stop behaving as though the BN is still in power here."

State BN chief and former Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid concurs. "Bukit Selambau will be the rakyat's referendum on both the BN and PR. And it will be quite decisive because all races are represented quite substantially in this seat."

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