ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR – April 7 By-Elections: Najib factor may bring in votes

1Malaysia augurs well for Malaysians and there is no reason for voters to reject it without giving it a try.

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, New Straits Times

THE euphoria is real. The "1Malaysia" concept and "People First, Performance Now" tagline could translate into votes in Tuesday's three by-elections.

The prospect of the various races working together generally elicits excitement and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's assurances of people-centric policies and better leadership appeal to a great yearning in the public consciousness.

The voters who will be electing new representatives — one in Parliament and two in state legislative assemblies — will have Najib's pledges in mind when they go to the ballot.

They may well give Najib a go at leading an administration that is acceptable to all by choosing the Barisan Nasional in Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai.

And why not? The electorate gave a resounding thumbs-up to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as the fifth prime minister in the 2004 polls, in which the BN achieved its best results ever.

"The dynamics are there, but to what extent these will cause votes to swing to BN's side cannot be easily predicted," said Prof Mohd Mustaffa Ishak of Universiti Utara Malaysia.

Voter responses are difficult to gauge because some time is needed for people to understand new political developments.

There may not be time for BN campaigners to exploit the Najib effect in constituencies with their own factors at play — the Malay factor in Bukit Gantang, Indian factor in Bukit Selambau and the Sarawak factor in Batang Ai.

Also, the opposition is working hard to neutralise any advantages the new prime minister's appointment may bring.

BN's Ismail Saffian is facing an intense fight to wrest the Bukit Gantang parliamentary seat from Pas, due to the popularity of ousted Perak menteri besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin.

The focus placed by Parti Keadilan Rakyat on Bukit Selambau for its candidate, S. Manikumar, is making MIC candidate S. Ganesan uneasy.

Batang Ai looks positive for BN, where some PKR campaigners have reportedly given up fighting in the unfamiliar territory of the Sarawak countryside.

Analyst Ong Kian Ming has predicted a BN win in the state by-election because of the coalition's superior resources.

Political observers believe that Najib's move to free Internal Security Act detainees and promise to review the law could take some wind out of the opposition, which has been pushing for a repeal of the ISA.

Predictably, Pakatan Rakyat de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim played down the impact of the ISA releases, which include two members of the banned Hindu Rights Action Force.

"Pakatan Rakyat still protests against this draconian law. Although I welcome the move, we want the law to be abolished altogether," he told a ceramah in Pekan Bukit Selambau hours after Najib's announcement.

The MIC is facing a mighty task to woo back the support of Indians, who are demanding the release of Hindraf leaders.

Lauding the release of the detainees, MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu is hopeful the other three will be freed soon.

Dr Sivamurugan Pandian of Universiti Sains Malaysia thinks voters might want to give the new prime minister a chance to prove he is sincere about his pledges.

The Malays, always forgiving, as reflected in the emotional reception of Umno members when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad went on stage with Abdullah at the recent party general assembly, would want to embrace the picture of unity and throw full support behind Najib, he said.

Najib's two-hour Kuala Lumpur walkabout in Petaling Street, Vista Angkasa in Kerinchi and Jalan Tun Sambanthan in Brickfields yesterday is a prime example of a new, unifying prime minister's immediate popularity.

1Malaysia augurs well for Ma-laysians and there is no reason for voters to reject it without giving it a try.