Thursday, March 25, 2010

Everything to play for

And now they are 77. The death on Thursday night of PKR's ailing Zainal Abidin Ahmad, after a long battle with cancer, adds political and personal grief to the opposition coalition, especially to PKR which has just endured a bout of internal turmoil.
State of play
Dewan Rakyat 222
Barisan Nasional 138
Pakatan Rakyat 77
PKR 25
DAP 28
PAS 23
SAPP (non-aligned) 2
Independent (BN-friendly) 4

Now the party and its Pakatan Rakyat coalition partners must gear up for by-election battle to restore its numbers in Parliament. It will find a rejuvenated opponent. The Barisan Nasional has been crowing for weeks after PKR's loss of three MPs since February.

Their hogging of the headlines over the past weeks, especially with revelations about opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's still-born 916 federal power grab, has already put PKR on the defensive in the battle for public opinion.

Now PKR will have to do battle where it counts, at the ballot box, in defending Hulu Selangor, which even in 2008 was won by only 198 votes when Zainal unseated the MIC's deputy president G Palanivel. Since then PKR has had to tend to the seat as Zainal battled his illness, while at the same time contending with internal bickering, and seemingly adrift.

At first glance, the Barisan Nasional thus appears to have the edge. It has a headline act in the ex-PKR pair of Zahrain Hashim and Zulkifli Noordin, and their ally Ibrahim Ali whose new Malay rights campaign could be used to fine effect in Malay-majority Hulu Selangor.

Circumstances seem to have given the BN a realistic chance to land a blow for itself and avenge a string of by-election defeats after the 2008 general election. Victory would allow the BN to claim it had regained the initiative and renewed its relevance to the electorate.

But that's a big if.

The BN remains deeply nervous about facing the people again, as seen in Perlis this week in another curious case of a resignation that wasn't when the MCA's Yip Sun Onn made an about-face after resigning as assemblyman for Titi Tinggi. The bitter feud within the topsy-turvy MCA, resulting in another party election this week, is unlikely to end, whatever the outcome of the voting.

2008 results: N94 - Hulu Selangor

Party Candidate Votes Majority
PR/PKR Zainal Abidin Ahmad 23,177 198
BN/MIC G.Palanivel 22,979
Voters: 63,593 (Malay: 54%; Chinese: 27%; Indian: 18%; Others: 0.40%)
Turnout: 47,845 (75.42%); Spoilt votes: 1,466
State seats: N5 - Hulu Bernam; N6 - Kuala Kubu Bahru; N7 - Batang Kali
That confusion is also likely to be a factor in Kuala Kubu Bharu, where a large MCA vote bank evaporated in 2008, to Zainal and PKR's benefit.

In addition, the almost-moribund MIC will fight to contest the seat, particular with Palanivel eager to avenge his defeat and shore up his own party position against the scheming of party leader S Samy Vellu. He will be banking on securing the 8,000 Indian votes now without hindrance from the Hindraf movement. Umno, however, will want a chance to prove its ability to regain Malay confidence after the major erosion of Malay votes in 2008, particularly in Batang Kali, left the balance of power in Indian hands.

For the opposition, and particularly for PKR, it's an opportunity to prove that the recent defections were only the natural consequence of having had to forge alliances with whatever resources were available at the time.

The by-election can help channel energies towards one common objective again, and the fear of a rout may indeed help to concentrate minds and restrain powerful egos. But Anwar Ibrahim and Zaid Ismail will need to provide firm leadership in marshalling their forces and keep up the pressure.

Everyone thus has a stake in Hulu Selangor. Without being morbid, they will all be trying to show that there is indeed life after political death.

by FMT

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