Dr M vs Anwar rematch in Bkt Selambau

By Shannon Teoh (The Malaysian Insider)

SUNGAI PETANI, April 6 – Some 11 years after sacking him as deputy prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed will go head on against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in a grand finale for the Bukit Selambau state seat.

Having just rejoined Umno, the former prime minister will arrive in Bukit Selambau at 5.30pm today to put the finishing touches on a Barisan Nasional campaign that appears to have whittled away the 2,362-vote margin it lost by in the last general election.

Meanwhile, the opposition leader will start work earlier in an attempt to reduce gains made by BN before addressing a final ceramah as campaigning officially ends at midnight.

Former Umno vice president Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik, a Mahathir loyalist, is already in town and believes his arrival will be “a real political factor” as it will not only bring back Umno supporters who deserted BN last year, but also help to tip over non-Malays who “still accord him the highest level of respect.”

“He is a special secret weapon whose presence will overcome internal bickering,” he said.

The final day of campaigning will be crucial, as most analyses are rating the polls at 50-50. Military intelligence sources as well as bookies believe it is too close to call with only police special branch giving BN a slight edge.

Both Umno and PKR back rooms however, seem to lean towards PKR coming into the final stretch a hair’s breadth ahead as Pakatan Rakyat’s machinery builds up steam while BN’s seem to already be looking to tomorrow’s balloting.

They also seem to agree that the Chinese votes will be firmly behind PKR while BN has the edge with the Malays despite the best efforts of Pas among heartland Malays.

But while it is likely that the 80 per cent sweep of Indian votes by PKR will not be repeated, there is uncertainty over exactly how many will swing to BN and this is the margin where the battle will be won or lost.

Reading Indian voters has been impossible due to defections going both ways, the initial uncertainty over Hindraf’s backing for PKR and MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu’s month-long campaign which nobody can say for sure is having a positive or negative effect.

Various factors have led to PKR candidate S. Manikumar being unlikely to maintain the advantage that previous incumbent V. Arumugam held.

The six Indian and six Malay independents will probably cancel out the effects on Manikumar and MIC’s Datuk S. Ganesan’s final tally and result in a scaling-down of the majority, whoever it goes to.

Sources say that the 13 independents will collect between 2,500 to 3,000 votes in total.

Lower turnouts are also normal for a by-election and total votes are estimated at just over 25,000.

But with this phenomenon usually more significant among non-Malays due to the voters being based outside of the constituency, it will work in Ganesan’s favour.

Despite Umno sources citing unhappiness among rural Chinese over the Pas-led state government, the majority will still go to PKR.

In fact, while Umno will bus in Malay voters, a BN campaign leader told The Malaysian Insider that both MCA and Gerakan are unlikely to do the same as outstation Chinese voters could not be counted on to vote for BN.

PKR election strategist Saifuddin Nasution acknowledges that it will not take four-fifths of Indian votes again, studies show a two-thirds approval of Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak among them.

Malays make up just over half of the electorate and BN has made inroads into the seven polling districts previously won by PR with up to three won by PR by just a handful of votes last year set to be turned over.

However, in the four Umno stronghold Malay districts, PKR believes it has made inroads.

“We will still lose those districts, but by reduced majorities,” Saifuddin said, adding that it has achieved this by targetting various opinion makers in local communities to swing pockets of Malay villagers.

Anwar will in fact, be making a visit to one such local leader tomorrow afternoon in a last-gasp bid to pin back gains made by Umno among Malays.

And then on to his final speech tonight, as he looks to put one back over his old boss.