Some lessons from Bagan Pinang

Naturally, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak would like to claim that this by-election victory was an endorsement of 1 Malaysia but it was not. It was a by-election in Negeri Sembilan where BN won because it had a superior candidate and superior machinery.

The Malaysian Insider

Mohd Isa Samad was always going to romp home a winner in the Bagan Pinang by-election. And not because the constituents were swayed by the 1 Malaysia slogan. Or because Port Dickson was declared an army town.

Outside PD and, arguably, much of Negri Sembilan, he is a flawed character, a politician found guilty of buying political success.

But within the radius of the seaside resort, Isa is remembered as the long-serving Mentri Besar who used to play sepak takraw with youth in the area, who built new roads and who did not quite fit the template of the arrogant Umno warlord.

The debate on what contributed to his thumping victory and the consequences will continue for a while but here are some early lessons that can be drawn from the by-election – Barisan Nasional’s first triumph in West Malaysia since Election 2008.

• Power of the local machinery

Analyses by Umno shows that between 11 and 15 seats may have been “lost’’ in Election 2008 due to internal squabbling at division level and sabotage over the choice of the election candidate.

This disease has coursed through the veins of Umno for many years and was also seen during the Permatang Pasir by-election where disagreement over the choice of Rohaizat Othman as the candidate led to local Umno officials staying home during the campaign period.

No such problems cropped up in Bagan Pinang because Isa was a popular choice. The divisional officials wanted him as the candidate, as did the rank and file. The result: a formidable local election machine backed by the usual firepower from the federal government.

In contrast, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) did not have a strong local structure in Bagan Pinang. There are only four branches in the constituency and seven altogether in the Telok Kemang parliamentary constituency.

This shortcoming was fatal for the Opposition which was over reliant on help from outside the state to galvanise the election machinery. Even till the last few hours before polling closed, PAS officials were unable to predict the outcome of the election.

Lessons learnt: When Umno members embrace the candidate wholeheartedly and work together, the party remains a formidable opponent. PAS is very strong in the Malay belt but it has some way to go in states beyond Selangor.