Friday, April 2, 2010

It has to be a face reflecting change

For Barisan Nasional, it is all about fielding a winnable candidate for the Hulu Selangor by-election, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR

ANOTHER by-election is under way and this time, the battle to win over the hearts of the people is taking shape in Selangor.The death of Hulu Selangor member of parliament Datuk Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad, of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, precipitated the 10th by-election to be held following the March 2008 general election.

It will also be the first in Pakatan Rakyat-run Selangor.The electoral battle, which will be held soon after Datuk Seri Najib Razak completes his first year as prime minister, is expected to be as intense as the Permatang Pauh by-election that saw opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim make a comeback to Parliament after a decade of absence.Here in Selangor, Barisan Nasional, as an opposition coalition, is set to be the underdog fighting in a hostile environment.

Hulu Selangor is where the Federal Government will be able to gauge support for its policies introduced since 2008."The ethnic make-up of voters in the parliamentary constituency is a reflection of the national profile, so it will give some indication as to where BN stands in the eyes of the people," said Ibrahim Suffian, director of the independent pollster Merdeka Centre.

The by-election will also test whether the people of Hulu Selangor are happy with the changes brought about by the PKR-led Selangor government.BN is ready to fight and wrest control of the seat it narrowly lost -- by 198 votes -- in 2008. A win would boost BN morale in Selangor, encouraging its components to work hard to win back the state in the next general election, as declared by Najib.

Pakatan, too, wants to retain the seat to further emphasise its strength in the crown jewel, after suffering bouts of internal conflict over state administrative policies that have repeatedly cast doubts on its ability to rule.It is also a good indicator of Malay support for the unregistered coalition since Malays made up the majority of more than 63,000 voters in the constituency.In short, according to Universiti Utara Malaysia political analyst Prof Mohammad Mus-tafa Ishak, Hulu Selangor is where people will scrutinise what Najib has done in one year and Anwar's performance over the past two years."People will make comparative studies," he said.

The BN had never lost in Hulu Selangor. But in 2008, about 47 per cent of Malays, 60 per cent of Indians and 50 per cent of Chinese gave their votes to the PKR candidate, resulting in the seat slipping from the hands of MIC deputy president Datuk D. Palanivel.
There are three state seats within the parliamentary constituency, and BN won them all -- two convincingly (Hulu Bernam, 3,549-vote majority; Ba-tang Kali, 2,179-vote majority), and one narrowly (Kuala Kubu Baru, 448-vote majority).

Umno won big in Hulu Ber-nam and Batang Kali, MCA recorded a smaller win in Kuala Kubu Baru and MIC lost Hulu Selangor. The choice of candidate will be a key factor for BN to win the seat. Pakatan has confirmed that it will again field a candidate from PKR, promising to be careful so as not to select a candidate that could hold the party to ransom -- a lesson from a series of crossovers by its elected representatives.On the BN side, the toss is be-tween MIC and Umno, and the jostling has already started.The prime minister, who has the prerogative to decide on BN's candidacy, has been non-committal beyond saying that he needed time to decide on the right candidate."I have to look into all developments but what's more important is that Barisan must achieve victory," he told reporters at the Parliament lobby.UUM's Mustafa thinks the seat allocation among BN components should be looked at again to keep with the change in political circumstances.

This argument possibly holds true for Hulu Selangor, although other issues also contributed to the opposition candidate's success in securing 10 per cent more Malay votes and a substantial number of votes from non-Malays, who accounted for about 45 per cent of the constituents, compared with 2004.Besides, the parliamentary constituency recorded a high number of spoilt votes -- 1,466 -- in the 2008 elections.Selangor opposition leader Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, although prefers BN to stick to tradition and field a candidate from MIC, feels that MIC should field a fresh face in the race to attract the 19 per cent of Indian voters in the constituency.Selangor Pas information chief Roslan Mohd Shahir, who is confident of a Pakatan win, said BN would suffer a backlash from non-Malay voters if an Umno candidate is allowed to contest.Pakatan, however, has Malay candidates in its rumoured shortlist.

Should BN ignore tradition and field an Umno candidate, it would have to pick a man acceptable to the majority of division members there.Otherwise, it is bound to suffer a similar fate as in past by-elections where disunity contributed to its poor performance.Ibrahim said it was understandable for MIC to want to contest the seat, as the party needed to show that it had regained ground following the 2008 electoral losses."If it is sidelined, there is little hope for MIC to be recognised as a party representing Indian Malaysians."Whether an MIC or Umno candidate, the key criterion is to field a BN candidate with the best chance of winning.BN has to bear in mind that it faces new challenges in dealing with more informed voters.

Recycled candidates may well succeed, as was shown in the case of Tan Sri Isa Samad in the Bagan Pinang by-election in Negri Sembilan. But the coalition must also acknowledge the desire of a large part of the electorate for change.

Source: NST (April 2, 2010)

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