Once confident, PKR now on tenterhooks in Permatang Pauh

Permatang Pauh

Opalyn Mok & Mayuri Mei Lin, Malay Mail Online

What was initially expected to be certain victory for PKR here may turn into a shock defeat to Barisan Nasional (BN), with an expected low voter turnout set to swing things away from the federal opposition party’s favour.

While the seat is considered a PKR stronghold after 17 straight years under the party, voter apathy combined with possible sabotage by PAS supporters aggrieved with the former has prompted predictions of a surprise win for BN.

PKR’s campaign started promisingly enough, with emotions still high over Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s five-year sentence for sodomy, which incidentally triggered the by-election here.

But the party’s decision to pin its campaign entirely on opposing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) soon saw waning interest among local constituents, with blank expressions staring back at PKR leaders and allies railing against the government.

The situation was dire enough that PKR candidate Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail had to tug at heartstrings during one campaign stop, shedding tears as she talked about missing her grandchildren due to the by-election but vowed to press on for the sake of theirs and everyone else’s future.

PKR’s chances are further threatened by the expected low turnout of below 70 per cent today, caused by a combination of polling being held on a weekday and the low stakes involved in the contest.

“It is still a possibility that PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail might lose because of low turnout if their supporters do not come back to vote,” political analyst Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani said.

Pakatan Rakyat has been campaigning for voters, particularly those from out of state, to turn out for today’s by-election, worrying that low numbers could turn the anticipated whitewash into a close race.

Another factor that could affect PKR’s chances were the high number of PAS supporters and voters who were unhappy with PKR’s stand against hudud, he said.

Azizuddin said PKR needed at least half of the local PAS supporters, particularly in Permatang Pasir, to vote for them or it might very well lose the seat to BN.

DAP’s Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim previously warned that if PKR were to get the support of only half the voters in Permatang Pauh, it would leave candidate Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail vulnerable to any swing in voting patterns.

In the last two weeks, both sides have been campaigning aggressively, PKR with its anti-GST stand while BN with its promises of more development and a “local” who will be here to serve the people if he won.

BN’s Suhaimi Sabudin has had a slew of federal ministers and deputy ministers helping in his campaign, with Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi leading the efforts.

In contrast, PKR declined to put forth a new manifesto for the poll and sought largely to ride public unhappiness over the government’s policies and scandals.

Despite the concern, Mohd Azizuddin believed that PKR should still take the poll by virtue of the affection the locals have for Anwar and his family.

Centre of Policy Initiatives director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said that while the rift between PKR with PAS may cost Dr Wan Azizah some votes, the local disenchantment with Umno and BN is greater.

“PKR will still win but with a smaller majority because the GST issue and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s denunciation of the government and its corruption will help offset some of the loss in Malay votes,” he said.

When asked about his chances in wresting the seat from PKR, BN’s shy and quiet candidate, Suhaimi, said he believed he stood a chance in winning as as response to his campaign had been positive.

PKR said it was “cautiously confident” in retaining the seat, but continued to fret over the anticipated low turnout.

A total 71,252 ordinary voters will be casting their votes today to decide which party they want to support while a total 549 policemen, military personnel and their spouses had already voted on May 3.

Permatang Pauh has been a PKR stronghold since the Dr Wan Azizah first won it in 1999 and in the last general election. Anwar had won the seat with a 11,721-vote majority.

It is a four-corner fight for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat between PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah, BN’s Suhaimi, PRM’s Azman Shah Othman and independent Salleh Isahak.