Storm clouds may roll into Tenang skies

By FMT Staff

KUALA LUMPUR: The storm at the recently concluded parliamentary session, which saw the suspension of opposition Members of Parliament – including Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim – is likely to continue but this time at a different venue.

Political parties, from both sides of the fence, are expected to use the Tenang by-election to rattle the sleepy hollow with arguments for and against the suspension.

The Election Commission will meet today to fix the date for the country’s 14th by-election since the 2008 general election. The by-election is held following the death of Barisan Nasional-Umno assemblyman Sulaiman Taha.

The constituency is known to be a BN stronghold although the ruling coalition conquered the state constituency in Johor with a reduced majority in 2008 compared to the 2004 general election.

The constituency is now being dubbed “Mini Malaysia” of the Peninsula based on its racial composition. The state assembly seat has some 14,511 voters. Out of the total, 48.9% are Malays, 38.3% Chinese and 12% Indians while other races constitute 0.9%.

Although the ruling BN has won three out of the four by-elections held this year, it cannot take for granted that this by-election would be a walk in the park although the support for Pakatan Rakyat seems to be on the decline.

Political pundits say that the suspension of Anwar and three other MPs – DAP chairman Karpal Singh (Bukit Gelugor), PKR deputy president Azmin Ali (Gombak) and PKR political bureau member R Sivarasa (Subang) – over the Apco issue is likely to ignite “some sympathy” among the voters of Tenang.

“The timing is bad for BN. This by-election will be used by Anwar and his gang to rebuild momentum for the opposition. We know we can win but we are concerned that he (Anwar) will use this by-election to spread his lies,” a BN insider said.

Uphill task

The insider said the opposition knows very well that it would be an uphill task to win the seat, but it would use this opportunity to lash out at the government in its ceramah in its bid to reduce the losing margin.

If BN won the seat with a reduced margin, it would serve as a moral victory for the opposition leaders as “they can turn it into some kind of referendum by the people against Anwar’s suspension”.

The opposition is also expected to use the Tenang by-election to evaluate if it latest 100-day reform agenda, unveiled at the Pakatan Rakyat convention in Penang last weekend, has found favour with the people.

“At the last general election, our majority was reduced to less than 2,500 votes and we can’t rule out the opposition campaign, which is likely to exploit the suspension issue. They would tell voters to send a message to the government that the rakyat are against Anwar’s suspension,” said the source.

Based on the 2008 general election electoral roll, the number of registered voters in the state seat stood at 14,511 voters, with Malays accounting for 48.9%, Chinese (38.3%), Indians (12%) and others (0.9%).

Sulaiman, who died of complications related to diabetes, won the seat with a 2,492-vote majority, beating PAS’ Mohd Saim Siran at the 2008 general election.

This majority is a 16% reduction than that obtained by Sulaiman at the 2004 general election. At the 2004 polls, Sulaiman won with a whopping 5,517-vote majority.

“At the 2008 general election, we saw a massive drop in Chinese votes, particularly in urban areas like Labis and this is definitely a worry for us. The majority of the votes in all three polling centres in the town, namely Bandar Labis Timor, Bandar Labis Tengah and Labis went to the opposition,” said the BN insider.

Political analysts are also watching closely how this tide would turn taking into account that Labis was a stronghold of MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek. His son Tee Yong is now the Labis MP.

“This is like in Galas, where local warlord Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah delivered the seat to Umno. Likewise in Batu Sapi, Sabah, where Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman helped BN win. Now the pressure is on Chua to deliver for BN,” said a political analyst who declined to be named.

Moral victory

Tenang is one of two state seats under the Labis parliamentary constituency, with the other being Bekok. The Labis parliamentary seat has long been an “MCA president’s seat”. It was held for more than a decade by former MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik before he stepped down in 2002 with Chua taking over.

The Bekok seat is held by MCA’s Tan Kok Hong, who was once aligned to Chua but has since shifted support to other factions in the party.