BN rolls out fresh faces to woo voters

One in three of its candidates for Parliament will be first-timers and new faces for four of every 10 seats

Carolyn Hong, ST

THE ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) has picked new faces for four of every 10 seats it is contesting, adding more professionals in a bid to freshen its appeal to voters.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who chairs the coalition as president of Umno, the dominant party, said a third of the 222 parliamentary candidates will be first-timers. So too, will half of those fielded in the 505 state seats.

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the second-biggest party in the coalition, yesterday also announced that three of its best-known faces were out of the contest, joining party chief Chua Soi Lek who has opted out as well.

“The BN candidate list is, in my opinion, the best that we can present,” Datuk Seri Najib said after handing over the candidate lists to BN state chiefs.

Prime Minister Najib Razak and other Barisan leaders holding up their hands in a gesture of unity after presenting the list of Barisan candidates to the component parties’ presidents and state chiefs. — PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

“We took into account the sentiments and expectations by voters to see renewal in the BN line-up.”

Most of the new faces will be fielded in states that the BN lost in 2008, namely Penang, Kedah, Kelantan and Selangor.

Perak, which was also lost then, was later wrested back through defections.

Nine out of every 10 candidates hold at least a diploma qualification, Mr Najib said, and one-third are professionals.

The Pakatan Rakyat (PR), Malaysia’s strongest opposition coalition in decades, has also been announcing candidates in batches, although it has been hobbled by bitter disputes over the remaining seats.

This is the first time that the BN is releasing its list well before Nomination Day on Saturday. The move is partly to allow the parties to placate those who had been dropped, as well as to minimise the sabotage that hurt it in the 2008 polls.

Asked if his list would upset the BN warlords giving way to newcomers, the PM said: “I am more worried about the disappointment of the rakyat (people).”

Out of the race so far are Umno women’s chief Shahrizat Jalil, Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon, former ministers Rafidah Aziz, Syed Hamid Albar and Peter Chin, MCA president Chua and former Malaysian Indian Congress president S. Samy Vellu.

Former MCA president Ong Tee Keat and two party vice-presidents – Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen and Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Gan Ping Sieu – are also sitting out the polls.

The MCA said that half of its 37 parliamentary candidates and 90 state candidates are new faces.

All relative unknowns, they include lawyer Garry Lim, 29; consultant Chew Hoong Ling, 33; and businesswoman Nicole Wong, 33.

Madam Ng’s departure had been anticipated after she was attacked by the opposition for lavish spending as Tourism Minister. Mr Gan is seen as the modern face of MCA but is said to lack grassroots support.

The popular Mr Ong was seen as a winnable candidate in his Selangor seat against the PR’s Rafizi Ramli. But he has feuded with MCA leader Chua.

The MCA’s list conspicuously did not name a candidate for the Gelang Patah seat in Johor, which is being contested by opposition Democratic Action Party veteran Lim Kit Siang.

This lends credence to speculation that Umno may field a heavyweight – like Johor Menteri Besar Ghani Othman – there.

The rest of the candidates on BN’s list will be announced today.