A warm-up for general election

For both by-elections, victory for the ruling coalition would, without doubt, be a morale booster for the Najib administration.


THERE are two by-elections coming up and the competing parties can certainly do with plenty of help.

But ask the local organisers in Galas and Batu Sapi and this is what they will probably tell you: In the case of Galas, a rural state constituency in Gua Musang, the Umno activists would not want to see their campaigners showing up in flashy cars or wearing Rolex watches and branded clothes as this would smack of arrogance, power and wealth, and turn off the villagers.

There is also no need for national leaders to travel around the constituency with police outriders blaring sirens and ordering the rakyat to move aside to let them through.

Let me tell them – the ordinary people detest this but for some strange reason, possibly poor memory or just plain insensitivity, the pattern is repeated.

Entitlement, protocol or even security concerns are not acceptable in a kampung setting; just ask the voters having their kopi at the stalls about how they feel when these convoys of vehicles pass by.

After each defeat, the same post-mortems are carried out, ending with the same blame game – on the other party. No party seems ready to blame itself.

Public perception is everything. Politics is about winning the hearts and minds of the people. It is about selling dreams and hopes.

When a political party has to make its pitch by being defensive, then it will have a tough job ahead. Having a tested product with a sound reputation will naturally make the job easier.

More than that, there is also the salesman himself. Don’t expect the consumers to want to listen to a posturing salesman with delusions of self-importance, or to one flaunting his wealth. Or worse still, to one who can’t speak their language. Forget it.

In rural Kelantan where politicians are expected to be humble, religious and keep a low profile, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed is a shining example.

The International Trade and Industry Minister does not make good copy for the media because he stays away from controversy. A cautious politician, he continues to sound like an academic, but his votes have been consistently respectable in every election.

He is regarded in high esteem by the Kelantanese because he is seen to be clean. He blends in well and the fact that he is the MP for Jeli, another rural constituency, also helps.

Together with Kelantan prince Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, he would probably be more effective than the imported campaigners who would be lost in the huge terrain of voters who are mostly farmers or self-employed.

Campaigners from outside Kelantan are already complaining about the travelling distance even before nomination; for decent accommodation, the nearest place is Cameron Highlands, about two hours’ drive away from Galas via a treacherous winding trunk road. The rest house and budget hotels in Lipis, Pahang, also about two hours’ drive from Galas, have been snapped up. The travelling time is longer from Kota Baru.

The Kelantan Umno campaigners who live there will say they can do a better job, like their PAS counterparts.

Over in Sabah, campaigners from the state Barisan Nasional and Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) would also be more effective than their peninsular colleagues. So it was not surprising that SAPP president Datuk Yong Teck Lee decided to stake his claim by telling the PKR to stay out of the fight.

Batu Sapi, which is located in Sandakan, is about 26km away from Sepilok, site of the world-famous 4,300ha orang utan sanctuary.

The sentiment is that in both by-elections, the going will be tough for the Barisan. In Galas with its electorate of 11,553, the Malays are the majority at 61.67%, followed by the Chinese at 20.06% and others, mainly orang asli and Indians, make up the rest.

Batu Sapi has 25,582 voters, of whom 24,047 are ordinary and 1,535 are postal voters; 15,099 or 59.02% are Muslim bumiputra, 689 non-Muslim bumiputra (2.69%), 9,737 Chinese (38.06%) and 57 others (0.22%).

In both seats, the minority ethnic groups make up a huge chunk of the voters, and their choice will be the deciding factor.

The issues will be broad. In Galas, they range from religious issues to development concerns and perceived injustice and inequality, and involve voters of all ethnic groups. Then there are also the local issues involving personalities, and that could be even tougher to tackle. The campaigners will have to work hard.

In Batu Sapi, Yong is a big name among Sabahans and is known for his readiness to speak up. As a former Sabah Chief Minister, he knows how the game will be played by his opponent, so it will be another tough fight for the Barisan there.

By and large, both by-elections would have no major political implications on the Barisan. But it would be a good warm-up for the parties preparing for a general election, and a victory for the ruling coalition would, without doubt, be a morale booster for the Najib administration.