As Penanti by-election looms, polls fatigue a concern

By Lee Wei Lian (The Malaysian Insider)

KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — By and large, the initial reaction to the announcement of the sixth by-election in less than a year was one of bemusement. While the excitement was high for the first five, especially given the high stakes involved, the reaction this time was one more of cynical amusement with one political party worker saying that the situation has become like a circus.

PKR’s Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin today resigned his Penanti state seat in Penang, saying that he wanted to focus on clearing his name over corruption allegations and also to continue his post-graduate studies.

PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has not issued a statement and was not immediately available for comment.

"By and large, there is fatigue among voters," says Ibrahim Suffian, chief of opinion research firm Merdeka Centre. However, he says that this by-election is notable as it could be the first where a state assembly representative has resigned on account of integrity issues.

While PKR is expected to have the advantage of incumbency and the seat lies within the parliamentary constituency represented by Anwar, who is also the opposition leader, Ibrahim does not foresee an easy win for PKR as it is a Malay-majority seat which PKR lost in 2004. "PKR doesn't do well with Malay voters, and this is a Malay district which they have lost before in 2004."

This by-election then is expected to be a test of Pakatan Rakyat's popularity with the Malays.

Ibrahim expects that the Barisan Nasional will focus on Malay issues again as it is a Malay seat while Pakatan Rakyat will focus on good governance. However, he cautions that it is still early and things could change closer to the by-election which must be held 60 days from today.

Professor Mohamad Agus Yusoff, a political scientist who lectures at UKM, however thinks that voters are not yet tired of by-elections and will use it to send a signal to the government on whether they approve or disapprove of its reform efforts.

The Malaysian Insider has learnt that Penang PKR chief and Bayan Baru MP Datuk Zahrain Mohamed Hashim is the frontrunner from PKR to contest the by-election.

Fairus was the former deputy chief minister 1 of Penang and had officially resigned his post earlier this month. He has been accused of being involved in illegal quarrying and this allegation is believed to be the reason for the resignation.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said it has completed its investigations and has handed the papers over to its prosecution division but Fairus has yet to be charged with any offence.