Isa set to claim Bagan seat

Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad is on course to return to active politics as Bagan Pinang assemblyman. He has been unafraid to take tough questions during the campaign, which has won him the grudging respect of the new media.

Analysis by JOCELINE TAN, The Star

TAN Sri Mohd Isa Samad’s wristwatch told him it was almost 11pm, so the seasoned politician decided to keep his speech short and sweet.

Besides, it was his 18th stop in what had been a long, long day. He also knew that the crowd, residents of low-cost flats in the area, was waiting for the well-known Malay rocker Nash to sing.

Like Isa, Nash has come a long way. His tight jeans and long locks are gone and he now looks like some chap you might meet shopping in the hypermarket. But he can still rock it, and a mature-looking lady, one of Isa’s branch Wanita heads, got up to sing a duet.

“See, we are very sporting. You think PAS will allow this?” said Isa as he tucked into a plate of putu mayam and serunding.

Isa himself has been a very sporting candidate throughout the campaign. He has been unafraid to take tough questions from reporters, whether about his Umno suspension for money politics or the looming personality of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

For that, he has won the grudging respect of the new media, which many Umno politicians seem to fear.

Even cheeky questions about when he intends to remarry – his wife passed away in 2006 – are met with an equally cheeky grin: “I’ll think about that later. My mind is on winning the by-election.”

With just a day more before polling, the former Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar is on course to return to active politics as the Bagan Pinang assemblyman.

Emotions have run high and there have been several clashes between Umno and PAS supporters.

The Umno side is zealous about this being their territory. They have not taken well to outsiders coming in to campaign for PAS candidate Zulkefly Mohd Omar.

PAS supporters, on the other hand, seem to be finding it hard to accept the idea of defeat.

“This is not their turf. It has never been their turf,” said Teluk Kemang Umno treasurer Halim Mohamed.

PAS has found it an uphill battle from day one of the campaign.

Moreover, Zulkefly seems rather overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation, namely, Isa’s legacy and the pro-development mindset of the locals here.

The jewel of Bagan Pinang is Port Dickson. The modern tourist town carries with it many issues which PAS politicians are still coming to terms with in states like Selangor, and on which Zulkefly seems reticent in stating his stand.

People here are quite dependent on the tourist ringgit, and with this comes a certain pragmatism that PAS politicians are finding quite hard to break through.

The PAS side has also been swamped by the Barisan Nasional’s campaign material.

The Barisan campaign has centred around one pre-emptive strike after another against the opponent.

For instance, when PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat arrived in Port Dickson, he was greeted by huge billboards showing Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak bending solicitously over him as he lay on a hospital bed after a heart attack several years ago.

It would be unseemly for the top PAS figure to criticise Najib at any ceramah after being reminded of such goodwill.

However, Nik Aziz was warmly welcomed at several DAP-sponsored events on Thursday night. At a packed DAP dinner in a Chinese restaurant, he sipped mineral water as the crowd around him tucked into the usual Chinese restaurant fare of fish, chicken and pork.

There was a festive air at the dinner ceramah despite the grim banners of Teoh Beng Hock strung all around the restaurant.

But it was clear that DAP’s Lim Kit Siang was the favourite of the local Chinese, going by the rapturous reception he got at DAP functions.

Still, said Isa’s son, Najib: “My father has very close ties with the Chinese here. Thirty years is a long time, you know.”

PAS is now banking on Anwar’s multi-racial appeal to swing the votes.

The PKR leader returned from the United States yesterday and was immediately whisked over to do his bit.

The army or postal votes closed yesterday and Umno politicians are confident the army vote favours them this time.

“We had good vibes from the army camp. In fact, the moment we stepped into Bagan Pinang, it was like we had come home,” said Deputy Defence Minister Datuk Dr Latif Ahmad.

A lot of it had to do with the Najib factor, the fact that the Prime Minister used to be the Defence Minister and understands the priorities of the armed forces.

Port Dickson is very likely to register the highest number of “tourist arrivals” tonight, as supporters from all over stream in to help their parties make the final push for votes.

Oddly enough, the question on everyone’s lips through much of the campaign was not who would win in Bagan Pinang but who would come out on top in the MCA extraordinary general meeting today.

This is probably because the outcome in Bagan Pinang is pretty obvious. Isa is about to put the brakes on Pakatan’s domino run in the by-elections.