Friday, April 02, 2010

Don't dismiss a third force

IN KEEPING with the current trend of politicians opting to be independent legislators, will an independent candidate contest in the upcoming Hulu Selangor parliamentary by-election?

If there is one, an immediate suspicion - as there usually is - would surely be that he or she is sponsored by the Barisan Nasional to split the votes, perhaps, to the ruling party's advantage.

The seat has 64,500 registered voters, with an almost equal number of men and women. The seat also has 800 postal voters.

The voters comprised Malays (more than 34,000), Chinese (about 17,000) and Indians (about 12,400).

The seat fell vacant following the death of incumbent Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad from brain cancer. The PKR representative was 71.

Polling on April 25

The Election Commission has fixed April 25 as the polling day, while nomination for candidates will be on April 17.

The Barisan is looking for a do-or-die win as it will be the first by-election in Selangor since the Pakatan Rakyat took over the state in the 2008 general election.

More than that, the party is bent on scoring a big win in the constituency as an anniversary gift to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to mark his first year in office.

On the other hand, for  Selangor mentri besar Khalid Ibrahim it will also be a test of sorts as he would be gauging whether the electorate accept the policies of the Pakatan government and the leadership of
Anwar Ibrahim.

The battle for Hulu Selangor is, therefore, expected to be intense and as closely watched as the Permatang Pauh by-election in 2008 which saw the return of Anwar from a decade of political wilderness.

The voters are probably aware of what the Barisan or the Pakatan can offer them and they will have to weigh between Najib's administration of the past year and the Pakatan's performance over the past two

The deciding points for either side would probably be in the manner they approach the voters - who want facts, not fiction; action not rhetoric; and sincerity not arrogance.

However, even before the campaigning had started  the lobbying for the right to nominate the candidates has already become a heated affair in both the Barisan and the Pakatan camps.

In the Barisan, the MIC wants its deputy president, G Palanivel, to represent the coalition, considering he had held the seat before.

It had been a handsome win for Palanivel in the 2004 polls but in the subsequent election in 2008, he lost by a narrow 198 votes to Zainal Abidin, a former Selangor deputy mentri besar who quit Umno and
crossed over to PKR in 2005.

The Hulu Selangor seat also recorded a high number of spoilt votes - 1,466 - in the 2008 elections.

The three state seats in the constituency  - Hulu Bernam, Batang Kali and Kuala Kubu Baru -  were all won by Barisan candidates and Umno has pointed out that it had big wins in two of the seats.

In Hulu Bernam, Umno gave the Barisan a more than 3,500-vote majority and in Batang Kali, the party won by more than 2,000 votes.

In Kuala Kubu Baru, represented by the MCA, the Barisan won by a majority of less than 500 votes.

Umno's view

Umno reckons that Palanivel may not have a chance this time around, considering that the party's influence had eroded to the extent that even MIC president S Samy Vellu could lose to a political novice in
his stronghold of Sungai Siput.

Umno is recommending to the leadership the name of former Rural and Regional Development Minister Muhammad Muhammad Taib, also a popular former Selangor mentri besar.

Muhammad, nicknamed 'Mat Tyson' by friends and foes, was once the state assemblyman in Batang Kali.

He is known to be a fighter, who first made his mark by mounting a hugely successful campaign for then political newcomer Ong Tee Keat in his maiden effort to be MP against another former Selangor mentri
besar, Harun Idris, in the Ampang Jaya parliamentary by-election in 1989.

Harun had contested as an Independent but fighting for the cause of Semangat 46 (which was awaiting an OK from the Registrar of Societies then). It was an embarrasing defeat for the veteran politician.

In the current environment where the Barisan is considered the underdog,  Muhammad is regarded the better candidate than Palanivel to save the blushes for Najib and the PM's  just-unveiled New Economic Model.

In a sense then, Hulu Selangor will be the first test for Najib since his announcement of the NEM last week and his other 1Malaysia policies and pledges after taking over the helm from fifth prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Varied opinions

There are some in the Barisan camp, including those from Umno, who prefer the coalition to stick to tradition and field a candidate from MIC.

But they also feel the MIC should field a fresh face to get the interest of the over 12,000 Indian voters there and some more from the Malay and Chinese constituents.

The other school of thought is that the Barisan should simply pick someone who is acceptable by the majority of people in the kawasan and put aside the "communal" factor.

Otherwise, it will again suffer a fate similar to that in 2008 where disunity brought the Barisan's downfall.

The Opposition speculates that the Barisan would suffer a backlash from non-Malay voters if an Umno candidate is fielded even though the Malays make up the majority of vote casters.

However, Pakatan - and the PKR in particular, which recently saw its politicians leaving the party to either join the Barisan or become Independent legislators -  has its own problems and suffered bouts of internal conflicts over its policies.

For Khalid, one big hurdle he faces is the contentious Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) campus project at Serendah, which is smack-dab in the middle of Hulu Selangor.

Permodalan YBK Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of poverty-eradication foundation Yayasan Basmi Kemiskinan (YBK) has filed a RM73.8mil suit against Khalid's government and two others defendants over the campus row.

The two other defendants named in the suit are the state executive council and the Hulu Selangor district land office.

Permodalan YBK alleged that the three defendants had refused to allow the development of  the UiTM campus on its land in Serendah, resulting in the foundation suffering financial losses.

Selangor is the PKR's "crown jewel" like Penang is to the DAP and Khalid would surely not want  the gem to be scarred by the loss of this big chunk to the Barisan.

PKR leaders have stated that there must be a strong candidate in Hulu Selangor as they expect it to be a high-profile by-election with a myriad of state and national issues surfacing on the campaign trail.

The PKR Indian members, therefore, have to provide a credibe man or woman who is able to take on Najib's gang of seasoned politicians.

Zaid factor

Failing this, the leadership is likely to opt for the favoured nominee, former cabinet minister in charge of judicial matters, Zaid Ibrahim. He is also among the prime movers of the soon-to-be completed "1Pakatan" charter.

Zaid is, at the moment, the only key leader in the PKR (aside from party leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail)  who is neither an elected representative nor a senator.

He has only the reputation of being a rebel Cabinet member when he was a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department during his Umno days.

The choice of candidate, for both sides, will therefore be a crucial factor for either party to win  the by-election.

And this is where an Independent candidate might come in.

The word is already spreading that should there be an Independent candidate, it would be someone purposely planted by the Barisan to siphon off crucial votes from the Pakatan.

"Furthermore, there is already much jostling in the Barisan between MIC and Umno. There is bound to be someone from either party who will not be satisfied with their leaders' selection.

Independent advantage

"The Independent will come from a disgruntled group - but will be gladly sponsored by the Barisan," said one Pakatan insider, alleging that this had happened in past by-elections.

Then again, the Independent candidate - if he surfaces -  may not have the blemishes of a political party and could make an impression by just telling  the voters with a warm heart that he is the wakil rakyat who can get things done - at least in bringing up the people's bread-and-butter grouses to the Dewan Rakyat.

He can tell the voters he is neither a recycled politician nor a bombastic legal eagle and leave it at that.

Let the voters decide. — Malaysian Mirror

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