Counting begins, Umno predicts victory

(Malaysian Mirror) – Balloting closed at the Bagan Pinang by-election, with a weaker-than-expected turnout on Sunday that was compensated by high postal votes. The lackluster attendance was blamed on a combination of reasons, such as wet weather in the morning, election fatigue but mostly, intimidation and violence.

Less than 6,600 out of 9,060 normal registered voters came to the polling stations. Including postal votes, the total turnout was 81.65 percent or 11,157 voters. Did will they choose Umno’s Isa Abdul Samad or PAS’s Zulkefly Omar?

bpinang17.jpg“The prognosis is not good,” PKR strategy director Tian Chua, who is helping Zulkefly in the campaign, told Malaysian Mirror.

“There Chinese turnout is very low. The community, especially the aunties, have been scared off by the continuous violence and intimidation.”

Indeed throughout the day, there were reports of scuffles that had to be quelled by the police and the FRU personnel.

But then this is not just any by-election. It is also an acid test for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his Umno party.

It last won the state seat in the March 2008 general election with a 2,333-vote majority through the late Azman Mohd Noor. And it is now crucial for Najib to retain Bagan Pinang with at least the same majority. He needs to stop Umno’s by-election losing streak.

Otherwise, rumblings about his leadership and grip on the party will grow louder. “A win here is crucial for our confidence,: said Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin.

Counting will begin soon and results expected around 8pm.

Umno predicting victory

The Pakatan Rakyat has won seven of the past eight by-elections. There is less pressure on it to wrest the seat, but if it does not at least reduce Umno’s margin, speculation about it losing steam and being unable to gain further political ground will also grow.

bpinang14.jpgWhat are the chances of an upset? Slim, but not non-existent. In fact, Umno officials are already predicting victory although they are unsure if they can improve on the margin.

After a hectic campaign, almost everyone in the constituency knows about Isa’s strengths and also his weaknesses. They would have heard of his corruption and vote-buying record, and how he was sacked as Umno’s vice-president in the aftermath of the party’s 2004 election.

But they also know him from his days – 22 whole years in fact – as the mentri besar of their Negeri Sembilan state. He is also the Teluk Kemang Umno division chief and almost everyone in Bagan Pinang has met him before in one way or another.

Accordingly, they will evaluate whether they would mind his ‘tainted’ record.

Although an independent poll by Merdeka Centre found that 64 percent of Malaysians were against public servants with dubious records, the Umno publicity machinery has succeeded in turning Isa into a phoenix about to rise from the ashes.

Even Najib has publicly appealed for Isa to be given a second chance. Yet civil society and many political watchers continue to refute his arguments.

No one is denying Isa a second chance, they say. After all, Isa is already Teluk Kemang Umno division chief. The question is – is it necessary to given him higher public office, aren’t there other talents in Umno, is the party sending out the message that it condones corruption by picking him?

What about the PAS candidate, what has he done?

Then what about the PAS candidate? Who is he and what are his achievements? Well, he is 45-years old and the PAS commissioner for Negeri Sembilan. But apart from these facts, there is little in  terms of achievements compared to Isa’s.

bpinang12.jpgObviously, this does not mean that if given the chance, he won’t make a competent assemblyman – someone that Bagan Pinang won’t be shy to say is their elected representative.

Apart from that, voters will also take into account the slew of election goodies offered by the Umnno-BN. They would also reflect on the high moral ground espoused by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan team.

Will Bagan Pinang voters plumb for the short-term benefits or stand up for reforms against corruption, inequity and abuse of power?

The answer will be known later this evening, when the ballots are all in, counted and confirmed. The Election Commission expects to complete compiling the results by 7.30 pm.

“If all goes well, we should be able to know the result between 7.15pm and 7.30pm. But it’s better we announce it after the Maghrib prayers at 8pm when the supporters of both parties will be present,” EC chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof told reporters.

Marred by scuffles and violence

Eight polling centres and 18 polling streams were opened for voters. Early morning drizzle and wet weather kept many at home until nearly noon, when things perked up noticeably.  In the 2008 election, the overall turnout rate was 77 percent. The EC had targeted at least 80 percent for this contest.

bpinang4.jpgWhile the EC reported that polling was smooth at most areas, there were numerous attacks and physical fights among rival supporters.

In particular, at the SK Teluk Kemang polling station, overzealous rival supporters threw stones and bottles at each other. Police had to be called in and with help of FRU personnel have managed to cool down the situation.

In the13,664-strong electorate, 63 percent are Malay, 21 percent are Indian, 11 percent Chinese and 5 percent other races.  There are 4,604 military-based postal voters, who have already cast their ballots on Thursday and Friday.

Umno is expected to win the bulk of the postal vote as it controls the federal government, which is the paymaster for the armed forces. The party is also expected to grab a slightly larger slice of the Malay vote, while Pakatan is expected to swipe the non-Malay votes.

“It is a hard call. We are still cautious. It will hinge on the postal votes and there, we are less confident for obvious reasons,” said Tian Chua.