Voting ends, tensions remain

(The Malaysian Insider) – Voting has ended in the Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai by-elections but tensions remain in the constituencies in Peninsular Malaysia.

Counting started at 3pm in Batang Ai while election officials said counting began at 5.30pm in Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau.

There were stand-offs between rival supporters in both Bukit Gantang, where riot police earlier fired tear gas, and Bukit Selambau where police had to stop them from throwing water-bottles at each other.

Riot police fired tear gas in Pengkalan Changkat Jering to disperse rival supporters in the Bukit Gantang parliamentary by-election but voters continued to stream in to cast their ballots.

Polling was more peaceful in Batang Ai and Bukit Selambau, although the Kedah state seat had tense moments when PAS supporters stopped several busloads of people suspected of being phantom voters. Police said they were just BN supporters.

Witnesses said the FRU were called into the SMK Pengkalan Aur polling centre in Air Kuning, Changkat Jering to diffuse tension between rival supporters who threw bottles and chairs at each other between 11am and 12.30pm.

Some of the elderly who came out to vote were affected by the tear gas which was apparently fired at the Barisan Nasional side. Apart from the FRU, police Light Strike Force personnel had to rush around the parliamentary constituency to keep both PAS and Barisan Nasional supporters apart.

A downpour at 1pm in Bukit Gantang did not last long, and the sun was back within the hour, bringing the voters streaming back.

Election officials said turnout at Bukit Gantang had reached about 65 per cent by 3pm while it was 61 per cent in Bukit Selambau. In Batang Ai, Election Commission chairman Abdul Aziz Yusof said 72.94 per cent (5,808 voters) had voted by 2pm.

Bernama reported that six out of the 25 polling stations in Batang Ai were closed by 11am due to the small number of voters.

Sarawak EC director Takun Sunggah said the polling stations were at SK Ulu Engkari, SK Nanga Delok, SK Nanga Aup, Sempang Kemas kindergarten, Salcra Batang Ai multi-purpose hall and the Nanga Patoh Agriculture Office.

The Batang Ai by-election in Sarawak is a straight contest between BN’s Malcom Mussen Lamoh and PKR’s Jawah Gerang. It has 8,006 voters, the large majority of whom are Ibans.

The EC said in the three by-elections, senior citizens and women were the majority of voters in the morning, while more young voters were expected to cast their ballot papers in the afternoon and evening.

In Sungai Petani, Kedah EC director Zainal Abidin Zakaria said the voting process for the Bukit Selambau seat went on smoothly and the fine weather was the reason many came out to vote in the morning at the 22 polling centres.

Kedah police chief Datuk Syed Ismail Syed Azizan said police were patrolling the roads and monitoring all the voting areas besides carrying out air surveillance.

“So far, so good. No untoward incident has happened except for some shouting and jeering by party supporters in the hot spots,” he said.

He also said a busload of BN supporters was mistaken for phantom voters by their political rivals.

Later, police said two men, one aged 37 and the other 54, were detained at Kampung Bukit Lembu this morning for stopping the bus, which was carrying BN election workers to their assigned stations across the constituency.

Police said the two men, driving a Toyota MPV, cut across the path of the bus and forced it to stop before boarding it and preventing the driver from proceeding with his journey.

PKR’s S. Manikumar arrived at his SMK Taman Ria Jaya voting centre and told reporters he was hoping for a bigger majority.

He is one of 15 candidates running for the state seat, making it the largest field of candidates in electoral history.

His BN opponent, Datuk S. Ganesan, was seen casting his vote at SJKT Ladang Perbadanan Kedah.

Independent candidate M. Vinsen has complained of discrepancies in the ballot papers at the Institut Kemahiran Mara polling centre.

He said that his name was placed next to someone else's logo in the ballot paper. He also said that his name was misspelt in the ballot counting box which would be used for the counting process later.

Vinsen said he has lodged a police report and intends to take action against the EC. But the commission said it was a mistake that has been rectified.

Earlier, some supporters prayed for PAS candidate Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin’s success at the Bukit Gantang parliamentary by-election, where a victory will be seen as vindication for his short tenure as Perak mentri besar before he was ousted in February.

He was mobbed by supporters outside the Sekolah Kebangsaan Changkat Jering but booed by BN supporters who greeted him with shouts of “Traitor” for having defied the Perak Ruler by refusing to quit as mentri besar.

The Bukit Gantang constituency has traditionally been pro-Umno but they voted for PAS in 2008 due to dissatisfaction with outside Umno candidate, party treasurer Datuk Azim Zabidi.

The current BN candidate is local boy Ismail Saffian, who is confident of faring better and regaining the seat.

Ismail arrived at the SRK Bukit Gantang about 8.45am to cast his vote and told reporters later that he expected victory with a 3,000-vote majority. Apart from Nizar, the other candidate is independent candidate Kamarul Ramizu Idris.

BN supporters were quieter and seemed content to wave BN and Umno flags. All shows of support have been peaceful thus far.

However, seven police Light Strike Force personnel complete with helmets, shields and armed with batons had to form a barrier between vocal PAS and BN supporters outside one voting centre.

Taiping OCPD Asst Commissioner Raja Musa told reporters Light Strike Force personnel have been placed outside all voting centres to monitor and prevent rising tensions. The normally sleepy constituency and its main town of Taiping was heavy with traffic and there was congestion in some areas.

Supporters from both sides are providing transport for voters to the voting centres.

The Bukit Gantang constituency has 55,562 registered voters, the majority of whom are Malays followed by Chinese and Indians, while Bukit Selambau has 35,140 voters, with Malays forming slightly more than half, followed by Indians and Chinese.

The by-elections in Bukit Gantang and Batang Ai are held following the death of the incumbents, Roslan Shaharum (PAS) and Datuk Dublin Unting Inkot (BN) respectively, while in Bukit Selambau it is due to the resignation of its assemblyman V. Arumugam (PKR).

Voting ends at 5pm and officials say all results could be announced before 9pm.