In Tenang, MCA seeks to reverse its fortune

By Adib Zalkapli, The Malaysian Insider

LABIS, Jan 24 — The MCA is looking to reverse its political fortunes in the Tenang by-election by seeking to build up the momentum of growing Chinese support from the Galas by-election to the backyard of its president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.

The senior Barisan Nasional (BN) party lost more than half of its parliamentary seats in Election 2008 and has been trying to regain support and remain the main Chinese-based party in the ruling coalition.

The mixed-race Tenang state seat, within the Labis federal seat once held by Dr Chua, has a 39 per cent Chinese electorate and is perfect for him to show that the MCA can bring in the votes for BN ahead of snap polls expected this year.

Labis is now held by Dr Chua’s son Tee Yong, who was also seen coaching the Umno candidate Azahar Ibrahim when the latter made his first walkabout at the Labis public market.

During the one-hour walkabout, Tee Yong was seen guiding Azahar on how to speak to the media and what to wear when making public appearances to make sure he stands out in the crowd.

Umno insiders, however, believe that the MCA’s Tenang campaign has not been working as the Malay party’s recent intelligence showed that only about 25 per cent of the Chinese voters would back BN in the January 30 by-election.

Some of the Umno officials’ concern is that many Chinese voters working outside the constituency would return to vote as polling is held only three days before Chinese New Year’s eve.

In Election 2008, the late Datuk Sulaiman Taha retained the seat with a majority of 2,492 votes, a drop of almost 6,000 votes, largely caused by the shift of Chinese support to PAS. BN won Tenang in 2004 with a majority of 8,649 votes.

The BN’s second largest component party had successfully delivered a majority of the 2,317 Chinese votes in the Galas by-election last November where Dr Chua said BN had won by a majority of some 200 votes in the four voting streams with Chinese voters compared to losing 400 votes in the last general election in 2008.

“There is an increase of between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of Chinese support this round,” Dr Chua said then.

But in Tenang, the MCA will have to work harder.

“Umno is quite confident of victory in Malay areas. They can only make it meaningful with an increase of Chinese support, and then they can say 2008 was just an accident,” said political analyst Wong Chin Huat when explaining the MCA’s active campaign in the traditional Umno seat.

“Secondly, Chua Soi Lek is keen to prove to the MCA and to Umno that his politics is working,” he added.

Wong said the MCA would lose its relevance in BN if the party fails to deliver the Chinese votes in the Tenang campaign.

Tenang has about 14,500 voters with the Malays making up about 49 per cent while the Indian voters make up 12 per cent, leaving the Chinese with 39 per cent.

“We did not lose in 2008, only a small drop, but it was a national trend and nothing to do with local issues,” said Johor state executive councillor Tan Kok Hong, who is also the representative for the neighbouring seat Bekok.