The Kajang race: Wan Azizah wins, but how many lose?


Praba Ganesan, Malay Mail

When Hasan Nawawi Abdul Rahman reads out the winner of the Kajang by-election this Sunday, it would be difficult to build any level of jubilation. There is uncertainty in the air, even if this by-election lasts long in the annals of political science discourses for years to come, therefore no conclusion is expected from the vote verdict on March 23, 2014.

PKR President Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will win the by-election and restore her party’s 14 seats count in the Selangor assembly, but the nature of the result will determine how many more will lose from N.25 — other than Chew Mei Fun.

Two events, one definitely engineered, have distracted Kajang from both eyeballs from the public and focus on what is being decided by Kajang residents lining up outside classrooms on a weekend.

The continued pain of the missing airliner MH370, fascinating global audiences, and the rushed conviction of Anwar Ibrahim remain strong co-centrespreads of the country, let alone Kajang.

Selangor likes this blue

PKR’s strongest base is Selangor, and it is in its second term governing the state. Wan Azizah is the president of the party, and a loss in a by-election manufactured by the party strategists involving its highest office bearer in a highly-mixed seat is inconceivable.

This is not Permatang Pauh 2004, when Wan Azizah was standing alone as vote recounts were repeated to determine if PKR was to be evicted from Parliament. This is 2013, a different Malaysia and places like Kajang reflect only too well our changing nation.

In fact Selangor will determine considerably the outcome of Wan Azizah’s party’s election in May, even if the new Kajang assemblyman will not be contesting in party polls.

For this by-election what matters is the size of the winning majority. First-time candidate and ex-Gerakan man Lee Chin Cheh won handsomely by 6,824 in a 6-way fight last year despite being the controversial candidate — for his predecessor was well liked and his exclusion derided by the local grassroots. Cikgu Lee Kim Sin seized the satellite town at his second go in 2008, with a 3,268 majority over the man who defeated him in 2004.

What divides Wan Azizah and Chew on Sunday goes a long way in deciding where PKR and Pakatan Rakyat stand in their journey to keep Selangor and ultimately win federal power.

My money is on a majority between the 2008 and 2013 numbers, about 5,000. This will not read well for PKR, and for my party’s sake I hope that I am mistaken.

There are three main components which will eventually shape the majority size, and I’d like to examine them: the voter turnout, swing vote movements and new voters. The last had a major impact last year as the voter total grew by almost 10,000 to bring the satay capital to 39,030 registered. (Satay is a local delicacy and Kajang seen as the home of best satay in the world. My brother disagrees though.)

In this one on one, Pakatan versus BN, race I expect the turnout to be lower than the 88 per cent last year, with negligible vote switches among the swing base and new voters — meaning young — in a dead heat although a majority of them will go with Pakatan. In short, a low turnout will contribute massively to a reduced majority.


Why Wan Azizah, or not

The Wan Azizah value proposition has rarely been a secret since the 1999 general election.

Right off the bat, she is not a lightning rod for hatred from groups, even those not voting for her. It is difficult to underplay the worth of a good image. One has to dig up old peccadillos like the time the conservative did not fancy her shaking hands with men, a glove eventually solved that objection. The general rule has been attacking the personality of Anwar Ibrahim’s wife is a bad tactic.

She is not presently a lawmaker which means she can give Kajang her attention, and her positive relationship with Mentri Besar Khalid Ibrahim means her election director will be her unquestionable ally till Sunday. Aviation deviations have kept senior BN leaders’ loudness in the seat to a minimum — in normal circumstances a contest for a seat 15 minutes from Putrajaya in a prime target state would have brought in the full parade.

There are obvious and not so obvious downsides to her candidacy.

Wan Azizah was a late replacement. Wrong or right, how Anwar was treated in the Appellate Court, a last minute name is always seen as a reluctant candidate. Voters will know that when they get their ballot papers. She has no personal history or substantial connection to Kajang.

Her opponent is a woman too, placating gender affinities. Chew may have been bruised badly in 2008 in Petaling Jaya Utara, but she has not from the general public’s view been seen as one of the many Chinese leaders quickening the demise of her party, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). The anti-MCA sentiments may not burden her as much.

Separately, Kajang is home to many involved in aviation or KLIA airports services. This can affect turn-out.

And then the very obvious, the BN election machinery. By-elections mean the concentration of multiple agencies and resources to one locality without the distraction of other races. Already Chinese schools and other institutions are receiving the expected seasonal help. This is always a major reason why BN is formidable in by-elections and even in defeat they shave off impressively off Pakatan wins.

This by-election does not threaten the Pakatan majority in the state assembly and it may not affect the position of the mentri besar. Which means more disincentive to vote, people may stay at home. A sliver of those disappointed Cikgu Lee was taken out from a list only for a Johnny-come-lately to replace him and depart less than a year later, might join them too.

I stray too far?

Does it matter really if Wan Azizah loses a few votes on the way to a win? Yes, because of one reason affecting turnout and also the way the result will be read. PKR brought this situation to the Kajang voters and had an elaborate explanation for “The Kajang Move.”

Since the unfortunate court verdict ruling the intended candidate Anwar out, there has been no extensive re-interpretation of the strategy almost a fortnight after the pandemonium in Putrajaya.

There is no presentation on how the Selangor assembly, state executives’ positions or Mentri Besar balance will be altered without Anwar, and with Wan Azizah. Well, at least not in a way appreciated by either side of the four-lane Cheras Highway leading to Kajang.

The lack of a game plan post-election forces permanent re-visitations of why is there a by-election, and this is the elephant in the room.

The campaign and the outcome

Wan Azizah has trekked the state seat, whether the pensioners at Taman Cuepacs Kajang or new villagers in Sungai Chua, and Chew would have been no less rigorous with those cute BN four-wheel drive fleets accompanying.

But the campaign has been standard, with the MH370 news-space invasion notwithstanding, there have been no real national issues to swing Y Generation voters, with complete cognisance of the Anwar and Karpal Singh convictions.

Team Wan Azizah have not given new reasons to bring fresh connections with new voters, it has been a routine partisan campaign. In a decidedly divided nation, not rising above the noise especially when people pride in the noise they are familiar with is a good and bad thing all at once. The good in it will give Wan Azizah the votes to win, but it won’t let her or her party win new hearts.

A high 70ish per cent turnout can happen but improbable an 80 or above per cent show up, mindful it was 79.76 per cent in 2008. Which is why the 5,000 majority is viable — but if it is lower than that there will be some serious question marks raised.

A razor-thin win, crazy talk, seriously, is very unlikely. But if it did happen, soul-searching questions might haunt the party a month before party polls. Umno will rub its hands in glee, and the loser pool in PKR might expand prematurely.

Sunday in Kajang then. One advice left for campaigners, voters and Bangladeshi MRT workers seeing and participating: Stay calm, and eat the satay.