Monday, March 30, 2009

Even Contest for A River and Two Hills

A TAMIL-TYPE movie is being staged in the Bukit Selambau State Assembly by-election.

Bukit Selambau is a Malay-majority seat but has become an Indian “stronghold” since it was taken away from Umno and handed over to the MIC in 1988.

But it promises to be better than an average Chennai-made Tamil movie because the cast are truly Malaysian – eight Indians, five Malays and a Chinese – making a total of 15.

They are Barisan Nasional’s S Ganesan and Parti Keadilan Rakyat's S Manikumar, who are the real contenders.

But don’t count out the independents -- Anuar Abdul Rahim, Radzi Md Lazim, Khamis Awang, A Jayagopal, Tan Hock Huat, T Chandrarajan, S Moganakumar, Husaini Yaacob, Abdul Rahim Abu, L Sarala, M Venason, R Loganathan and Mohd Fazil Abdul Wahab.

In the 2008 general election, V Arumugam stood as independent and won. He later joined the PKR and was made an Exco in the Pas-led state government

That explains why the by-election attracts so many independents. But there’s a more fundamental reason to that. Not all BN component parties are happy with the selection of an MIC candidate.

Out of 35,140 registered voters, 50.2 per cent are Malays, 29.5 Indians, 19.3 per cent Chinese and one per cent other ethnic groups, mainly the Thais.

The seat fell vacant when, on 9 Feb Arumugam, resigned following controversies surrounding his marriage to a woman who was allegedly still married to another man.

Reflecting the rejection of the BN, in particular the MIC, and the protest by the unhappy voters, Arumugam easily defeated MIC’s S Krishnan with a majority of 2,362 on a lower than average voters’ turnout of 74 per cent and spoilt votes totaling 1,694.

The Merbok division Umno had demanded that the seat be returned it.
Bukit Selambau was given to the MIC in an effort to increase the Indian representation in the otherwise Malay dominated state assembly. A Chinese seat was also created called Gurun.

With the Malay seat of Tanjung Dawai, they then made up Merbok Parliamentary constituency, whose MP was Tun Daim Zainuddin.

A Chinese and an Indian seat in a Malay majority parliamentary seat was considered viable because Daim, being a powerful minister, could theoretically make it work. He did with some difficulty.

In the Bukit Gantang Parliamentary seat a three-way contest pitches the BN’s Ismail Safian from Umno against Pas’ former Perak Menteri Besar, Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin, and independent Kamarul Ramizu Idris.

Like Bukit Selambau, Bukit Gantang is a Malay-majority seat that had on occasions been handed over to non-Malay BN parties. In the 2004 general election it was given to the Gerakan.

Out of 55,562 voters, 63.5 per cent are Malay, 27.1 per cent Chinese and 9.1 per cent Indian.

In the 2008 general election, Umno put an outsider -- Azim Zabidi, who is Umno Treasurer and a close ally of Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – and lost.

He obtained 18, 449 votes against Roslan Shahrum of Pas who received 20, 015 votes, giving the latter a majority of 1, 566.

This time around, Umno is putting a local boy -- Ismail Safian. He is facing a formidable challenge from the controversial Nizar, who may benefit from sympathy votes.

The Batang Ai, which in the Iban language means big or main river, state seat will see a straight fight between Sarawak BN’s Malcolm Mussen Lamoh from Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Jawah Gerang of PKR.

In the May 2006 state polls, the late Dublin Unting Ingkot led the BN to victory, beating Nicholas Bawin Anggat of Sarawak National Party (SNAP) by 806 votes in the 8,000-strong rural constituency.

These by-elections are an important barometer of the national and local politics.

They are held in the wake of the recently concluded Umno leadership election and at the time when cracks are showing within and among the Pakatan Rakyat’s component parties.

Umno and the BN are counting on the voters giving their approval to the changes that have taken place since the 2008 general election.

With the exception of the MIC, all major BN parties have installed new leadership and in less than a week Abdullah will hand over the Prime Minister’s job to Mohd Najib Abdul Razak.

The PKR and Pas are directly involved in the by-elections. The latter is in a dire situation with a series of scandalous news affecting its elected representatives.

Its own chief, Anwar Ibrahim, is facing sodomy charge in the High Court.

Pas, on the other hand, may have to answer charges that it allowed itself to be manipulated by the DAP in the state to the extent that its members were willing to show disrespect to the Sultan via their street protests.

For Umno, the election of a money politics offender, Khairy Jamaluddin, as Umno Youth Chief, could prove to be its Achilles heel, opening party to ridicule by the oppositions.

Even Umno and BN supporters are not likely to be too happy to see him spoiling the broth for them.

The PKR’s chances of retaining Bukit Selambau are good given the dissatisfaction of Umno with losing the seat to the MIC and the lack of changes in the MIC leadership with S Samy Vellu still holding sway.

The BN stands a good chance of retaining Batang Ai and may even recapture Bukit Gantang. Or, at the very least, it should seek to reduce the oppositions’ victory margin.

The task of leading the BN in these and future by-elections is now in the hands of Muhyiddin Yassin, the Umno Deputy President and Deputy Prime Minister designate.