PR vs BN… again

(The Edge) The resignation of controversy-plagued state representative for Penanti and former Penang Deputy Chief Minister Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin today has set the wheels in motion for yet another by-election to be called.

Although the details of this are yet to be confirmed, Penang state speaker Abdul Halim Hussein acknowledged receipt of Fairus’ letter and said he will inform the Election Commission who will then make a formal announcement calling voters to the polls.

This by-election may be one that could not have arrived at a worse time—the Pakatan Rakyat are stricken with internal problems while the Barisan Nasional federal government have only just named a new cabinet and seem to have gotten off on a shaky start.

Although Penang is a DAP-driven Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government, political analysts are not entirely too sure that it would be a sure win for the coalition this time around.

Associate Professor of Political Science at UKM Professor Agus Yusoff believe the polls could be construed as yet another referendum of new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s leadership.

“A by-election would be a test for Najib to evaluate the rakyat’s support of his leadership and his 1Malaysia ideology, as well as their acceptance of his new cabinet,” said Agus.

US-based political analyst Ong Kian Ming, however, feels this by-election could even be seen as a referendum but not on Najib and BN but rather on PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

“Anwar may not be looked on too kindly because he was the one who selected Fairus, and Fairus has been a major failure, calling into question Anwar’s judgment,” said Ong.

Ong also questioned who the real leader of the state was following the delay in the naming of a new DCM1, saying that while PR de facto leader Anwar had made a mess of things, Lim appeared to have allowed for it to happen.

Wong Chin Huat, a political scientist at Monash University Sunway, says that this by-election is unlike Bukit Gantang in that it is not a referendum of any political party or coalition simply because there is no singular, unifying issue.

Referendum or not,the main question on people’s minds is fairly predictable: Who will emerge victorious in Penanti and likely hold the state’s second most powerful position of DCM1?

Most analysts believe it will be a close fight. UKM’s Agus says that because Penanti is by not traditionally a stronghold for either site, the contest could go either way. “Barisan Nasional has a better chance here than it did in the recent by-elections (in Bukit Selambau and Bukit Gantang).”

Ong agrees there is no clear-cut favourite. “This by-election would be a tricky one for PR because it was a scandal that forced Fairus to step down,” he says. “But PR is the incumbent in Penanti – which also happens to be within the Permatang Pauh constituency – so they have the upper hand.”

Monash’s Wong also thinks the incumbency factor is critical and believes PR will emerge victorious. He feels that BN does not stand a chance, despite by-election “fatigue”. There have been five by-elections since March 8, 2008 (four in Peninsular Malaysia and one in East Malaysia).

“Things may look bad on the outside for PR because a leader of questionable character was forced to quit, but Penanti is still a state seat under Anwar’s parliamentary constituency,” Wong says. “I have no doubts they would still vote for their favourite son even though they may be disappointed in him delaying the announcement of the new deputy chief minister I,” he adds. 

So far it’s been four straight electoral defeats in the Peninsula for BN since the general election. Will Number Five be the lucky number for the BN? This looks to be their best chance to break their unlucky streak.