Why Pakatan Rakyat won the two Bukits

(The Sun) As was generally expected, Pakatan Rakyat won Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau but failed to thump the BN in Batang Ai. Perhaps the state constituency in the interior of Sarawak could have fallen too if the three by-elections were held on different days.

Pakatan won in the two Bukits with bigger majorities than what it got in the last general election just as it did in the earlier by-elections in Permatang Pauh last year and in Kuala Terengganu earlier this year.

In Batang Ai, BN was able to more than double its majority of 805 it won in the last state election nearly three years ago to 1,854. The state BN leaders, it seems, are determined to keep out non-Sarawak parties who are they refer to as “outsiders”.

In his reaction to the defeat, Pakatan de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said that the coalition was not “discouraged by the results” of the by-election in Sarawak which will “remain a frontline state for Keadilan and Pakatan Rakyat".

It is well known that Anwar, who is also the de facto leader of PKR, wanted so much for his party’s candidate to win so that it would be a sort of a clarion call to the people Sarawak that the dominance of the state by the Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) of Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, who had ruled for about 28 years, is about to end.

But Pakatan can certainly jubilate in the fact that the massive anti-BN sentiment that surged during last year’s general election has yet to lose its momentum. For the moment, the BN, after one year, is still finding an answer to it.

The is nothing new in the message it delivered in the just-concluded by-elections as much of it is what it had articulated in the general election last year about justice, fairness, equality and the rooting out of corruption — the very things the rakyat had been asking for but which seems to have been ignored by the BN.

For instance, former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised all that when he came to power at the end of 2003 but despite winning a huge mandate, he failed to deliver on the promises made in “my manifesto”.

The voters were disappointed but more so the non-Malays who were especially disappointed that he failed to rein in those “braves” in Umno who were shouting for their new battle cry “ketuanan Melayu” to influence policies of the government. Thus, he was punished.

What about his successor Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who was sworn in on Friday and, since then, had been promising all that is good — a multiracial and democratic nirvana of sorts — in a package called One Malaysia? Did they disbelieve him and voted accordingly?

It is difficult to tell whether his four days as the prime minister was a factor in the by-elections but the great effort some Pakatan campaigners took to spin all sorts of stories about him when he was the deputy prime minister could have influenced the voters.

But he is certainly among the central campaign issues in Bukit Gantang, especially among the Chinese voters, who form 27% of the electorate, for his role in early February in engineering the fall of the Pakatan Rakyat government that seemed to be favoured by the non-Malays.

Probably, it was because of this that the Chinese voters thumbed their noses at the BN’s MCA and Gerakan efforts to win them over. Instead, more of them — almost 90% in the Chinese settlement of Kuala Sepetang — voted for Pakatan.

While it is certainly easier for the Pakatan parties, being in the Opposition, to have all kinds of unflattering things to say about the BN governments and their past records, they seem to also have a better delivery system than the much touted “awesome election machinery” of the BN.

From observations from a number of people, the Pakatan campaign was well-coordinated and planned with little left to chances. New approaches and strategies were planned with  inputs from young computer-savvy people who came forward to volunteer their services.

For instance, when it was learnt that “new” Umno member Tun Dr Mahahtir Mohamad was going to campaign in Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau, the planners and strategists huddled to decide on what damage he could do to their campaign. They decided he was of no consequence.

They called in some of their campaigners and briefed them on Mahathir and asked them to tell their ceramah audience who the man is well ahead of his arrival in the two constitutencies on the last day of the campaign period.

According to PKR strategist Saifudin Nasution Ismail, he knew Mahathir still had influence among those who are 50 years and above and these are mostly BN voters and who would want to hear him again “mostly for nostalgic reasons”. But he was unlikely to have much sway among the young voters.

The strategists identified areas and gauged their support there before deciding to send in their armies of “unknown but capable and credible persuaders” to chip away the influence of their opponents. In Malay areas “lebai and ustaz” were dispatched.

If the problem was bigger and involve a larger area, persuasive speakers who are also crowd-pullers like Anwar would be called in to perform their magic.

The PKR leader is an entertaining speaker and often spiced his railings against the BN and their leaders with funny and amusing anecdotes about them.

On the other hand, there was nothing new in the way the BN parties conducted their campaign. In fact, many of the people who spoke at the ceramah should not have been at the by-elections in the first place if, as the government claims, rooting out corruption is high on its list of  priorities.


And, meanwhile, the BN parties have yet to find their answer to Anwar who is just as good and effective speaker in Malay as he is in English.

MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu is a good and persuasive speaker in Tamil where, working relentlessly in Bukit Selambau long before nomination day, he was able to win back a large number of Indian voters.

In the general election, the bulk of the Indian voters deserted the MIC and the BN got only about 20% of their votes but, led by Samy, the BN was able to win back another 20% of their votes.

Where Indians form only about 29% of the 35,140 Bukit Selambau voters, it was not much and was unable to offset the increase in the number of Malay and Chinese votes that went to Anwar’s party, the PKR.

But the best answer to the anti-BN momentum and the best way to stop the Pakatan Rakyat in its tracks is for Najib and his government to walk the talk of all that he had promised to do under his One Malaysia project.

Perhaps Najib also should consider making the walkabout he did in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to be a regular practice in other parts of the country. After all, isn’t perception king?