Umno snaps PR’s by-election win streak

(The Straits Times) – Umno finally snapped the winning streak of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) when it won the Bagan Pinang by-election yesterday with a spectacular vote majority.

Its candidate, Tan Sri Isa Samad, the former Negri Sembilan mentri besar, polled 8,013 votes to the 2,578 won by PAS candidate Zulkefly Mohamad Omar.

The vote majority of 5,435 was more than double the 2,333 polled by Umno in last year’s general election and Barisan Nasional’s first by-election victory in Peninsular Malaysia. The former Umno assemblyman died last month, triggering this by-election in coastal Negri Sembilan.

The victory comes as a relief to BN, which has lost a morale-sapping seven out of eight by-elections since the general election in March last year. It won the Batang Ai by-election in Sarawak in April. Yesterday’s vote is the ninth by-election to be held.

“It is certainly sweet, especially after suffering defeat in almost all by-elections, before this one,” Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin told reporters yesterday.

But the win is not an unfettered triumph as Isa is a tainted candidate. He was earlier suspended for three years from his party for buying votes in the 2004 Umno elections, but was chosen because of his vast popularity on the ground.

It entrenches the notion among many that Umno is not averse to corruption, and may also derail its pledge to reform.

“A win by Isa would translate into an endorsement of corruption-as-usual within the party and the government that it leads,” veteran party leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah wrote in his blog recently.

Ironically, Umno is planning to amend its constitution this week at the party assembly in an attempt to curb money politics.

Political analyst Ibrahim Suffian said the victory was due to Isa’s strong ties on the ground.

Isa went into this campaign with two major advantages — his personal popularity, and the high number of postal votes which are traditionally a safe vote bank for BN.

There are 4,600 postal votes from a nearby army camp, in addition to 9,000 regular votes. As expected, Umno took 3,521 postal votes compared to PAS’s 621.

For the party, it was all the more sweet that its share of the regular votes went up by over 30 per cent compared to last year’s general election. It also won in all 19 polling districts, including the three dominated by Indian voters.

The return of the Indian voters, who comprised 20 per cent of the voters there, confirmed a trend that began in an earlier by-election in Bukit Selambau, Kedah in April.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s efforts to reach out to the Indian community appeared to pay off.

Detailed polling data for Chinese voters is not available yet, but the Chinese comprise only 10 per cent of voters.

Ibrahim said this resounding victory could be an indication that Peninsular Malaysia south of Selangor will be a greater challenge to the opposition. In last year’s general election, most of the PR gains were made in the northern and eastern states.

“The BN has shown that it may be able to stop the PR advance at Selangor,” he said.