A case of ‘wait and watch’

Reme Ahmad takes out his crystal-ball ahead of M'sia's by-elections

So, my crystal ball says, while the final score is difficult to determine, Batang Ai may go to BN, Bukit Selambau to PR and Bukit Gantang could swing either way.

The Straits Times

MALAYSIAN voters will go to polling booths in one constituency each in Sarawak, Kedah and Perak on Tuesday but the results will not change the face of State Assemblies of the three states.
While the bets are on a 2-1 win for either the governing Barisan Nasional coalition or the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition, things are still fluid on the ground, from my checks with players on both sides.

Let's do a short summary of the three constituencies.

1. Batang Ai, a state constituency in Sarawak

The by-election is being held here after its previous assemblyman passed away. BN is putting up a candidate from one of its Sarawak component parties, and PR has put up a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidate. There is also an independent candidate. The general consensus seems to be – I say "seems to be" because there are voices who will loudly disagree – that BN will win in the constituency.

The roughly 8,000 voters are mostly from the ethnic Iban community. They are likely to vote for status quo and return a BN candidate to power.

If that is to happen, BN can shout from the rooftops that the people of Sarawak have rejected the opposition's plan to take over the timber-rich state.

But, if the Ibans and the smattering of Malays vote in a candidate from Datuk Seri Anwar's PKR, then it could spell trouble for BN. The opposition can claim that even the staunch BN state of Sarawak does not want the governing coalition any more.

2. Bukit Selambau, a state constituency in Kedah.

The by-election is being held after its ethnic Indian assemblyman quit his position following bigamy allegations.

Here, BN is represented by a candidate from the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and PR has put up a PKR Indian candidate. There are also 13 independents – making it a 15-pronged contest, a record in Malaysian electoral history.

The 35,140 voters here are nearly 30 per cent Indians – one of the biggest in percentage terms in any constituency in Malaysia.

Another 50 per cent are Malays and 19 per cent are Chinese (1 per cent are Others, including Orang Asli aborigines).

In Malaysian politics where voting is often along racial lines, the Indians are thought to be against BN on complaints that the government has ignored their grouses. And many Indians are unhappy with the MIC led by former minister S. Samy Vellu, and over the detention of five leaders of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) – two of them have since been released.

The Chinese are expected to remain mostly behind PR.

Among the majority Malays are many supporters of very-Muslim Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) who will not vote for either the BN or PR candidate because both are not Muslim! But overall, the view seems to be that the PKR-PR candidate will win. This means the state seat will remain with the opposition.

But if the voters pick BN instead, it will be a (small) reversal for BN after the loss of Kedah state to PR in the GE last year. And may even point to  people wanting to give new PM Datuk Seri Najib Razak a chance to prove his worth, despite the baggage he carries to office.

3. Bukit Gantang, a Parliament constituency in Perak.

The by-election is being held after the death of its MP, a PAS leader.

In Malaysia's two-level governance system, the State Assemblies (headed by Menteris Besar and Chief Ministers) control the state, while the federal Parliament runs the country as a whole.

The PAS candidate contesting this seat, Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, is already an assemblyman in Perak. He was the menteri besar of Perak until BN ousted him and the PR government in February. An assemblyman is allowed to run for a Parliament seat, as he is doing.

More importantly, PR is asking voters to vote for him to show BN that they prefer him as Menteri Besar and not the BN man who has taken over.

Facing him is a local Perakian from Umno-BN. If the voters pick Datuk Seri Nizar, PR will shout that the "referendum" has shown that Perakians want the PR government back.

But among the 55,562 voters, nearly 64 per cent are Malay and many seem to be tilting towards Umno-BN. Another 27 per cent are Chinese who are thought to be solidly behind PR, although the candidate is from PAS. The 9 per cent of Indian voters are thought to be mostly for PR also.

If they pick the unknown Umno-BN candidate instead, BN can go to town saying PR has been rejected.

So, my crystal ball says, while the final score is difficult to determine, Batang Ai may go to BN, Bukit Selambau to PR and Bukit Gantang could swing either way.

However, if one side were to win 3-0, the political landscape could experience a mini-tsunami.

For BN, a 3-0 win will reenergise it. Things have not improved since BN's huge loss in the March 2008 general elections (GE) – it lost five states and its customary two-thirds majority federal Parliament. It has also lost the last two by-elections since. It lost a in Permatang Pauh (Penang) which brought opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim back to Parliament. It then lost another contest in Kuala Terengganu (capital of Terengganu).

A 3-0 win by BN will also weaken the opposition front, but I think such a win is highly unlikely.

On the other hand, a 3-0 win by PR will spell disaster for Datuk Seri Najib. But, it seems unlikely, as some of the magic of Datuk Seri Anwar has faded.

The only option now is to wait and watch.


Malaysia Today predicts Pakatan Rakyat will win Bukit Gantang with a 3,000-vote majority and Bukit Selambau with a 1,200-vote majority while Barisan Nasional will win Batang Ai with a 500-vote majority.