Everything to play for

By Gobind Rudra (FMT)

And now they are 77. The death on Thursday night of PKR’s ailing Zainal Abidin Ahmad, after a long battle with cancer, adds political and personal grief to the opposition coalition, especially to PKR which has just endured a bout of internal turmoil.

Now the party and its Pakatan Rakyat coalition partners must gear up for by-election battle to restore its numbers in Parliament. It will find a rejuvenated opponent.

The Barisan Nasional has been crowing for weeks after PKR’s loss of three MPs since February. Their hogging of the headlines over the past weeks, especially with revelations about opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s still-born 916 federal power grab, has already put PKR on the defensive in the battle for public opinion.

Now PKR will have to do battle where it counts, at the ballot box, in defending Hulu Selangor, which even in 2008 was won by only 198 votes when Zainal unseated the MIC’s deputy president G Palanivel. Since then PKR has had to tend to the seat as Zainal battled his illness, while at the same time contending with internal bickering, and seemingly adrift.

At first glance, the Barisan Nasional thus appears to have the edge. It has a headline act in the ex-PKR pair of Zahrain Hashim and Zulkifli Noordin, and their ally Ibrahim Ali whose new Malay rights campaign could be used to fine effect in Malay-majority Hulu Selangor.

State of play
Dewan Rakyat 222
Barisan Nasional 138
Pakatan Rakyat 77
PKR 25  
DAP 28  
PAS 23  
PSM 1  
SAPP (non-aligned) 2
Independent (BN-friendly) 4

Circumstances seem to have given the BN a realistic chance to land a blow for itself and avenge a string of by-election defeats after the 2008 general election. Victory would allow the BN to claim it had regained the initiative and renewed its relevance to the electorate.

But that’s a big if.

The BN remains deeply nervous about facing the people again, as seen in Perlis this week in another curious case of a resignation that wasn’t when the MCA’s Yip Sun Onn made an about-face after resigning as assemblyman for Titi Tinggi. The bitter feud within the topsy-turvy MCA, resulting in another party election this week, is unlikely to end, whatever the outcome of the voting.

That confusion is also likely to be a factor in Kuala Kubu Bharu, where a large MCA vote bank evaporated in 2008, to Zainal and PKR’s benefit.

Read more a: Everything to play for