Tuesday, October 6, 2009


High stakes in Bagan Pinang
5 Oct 09 : 8.00AM
By Shanon Shah
Corrected at 1:50pm, 5 Oct 2009

Outside the BN headquarters in Bagan Pinang prior to nomination day on 3 Oct

"IF the Barisan Nasional (BN) loses, it will be catastrophic," Umno Youth chief and Rembau Member of Parliament Khairy Jamaluddin tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.

Talk about high stakes. But he is right. The BN has lost six out of the eight by-elections held after the historic 8 March 2008 general election. It only managed to retain Batang Ai in Sarawak, and technically did not lose the Penanti seat to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) because it did not contest. And so, as Khairy says, "this is a crucial victory" for the BN to keep its hopes up for the next general election, which is due by 2013.

A victory in Bagan Pinang is no less crucial for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Of the six by-elections it has won since March 2008, five have been in PR incumbencies. The only constituency that the PR managed to wrest away from the BN was the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat in January 2009.

Negeri Sembilan may hang in the BN's favour, but it hangs rather precariously. It is to the BN what Perak was to the PR prior to the state assembly takeover in February 2009. The BN currently rules Negeri Sembilan with a simple majority. Before this by-election, it held 21 out of the 36 seats, while the PR had 15. Granted, it is not as insecure a gap as what the PR faced in Perak, but the BN probably does not want the gap narrowed in any way.

So, what are some of the crucial issues that stand in the way of victory for both the BN and the PR, which they are likely to exploit during the campaign?

PAS paraphernalia

The Isa factor

PAS vice-president and the PR's Bagan Pinang election director Salahuddin Ayub tells The Nut Graph what his party intends to highlight. "We do not plan to play with personal issues, but we really need to ask if the BN is serious about upholding integrity?" he says in a phone interview.

Rohaizat Othman (Courtesy
of theSun) "It does not matter who the candidate is. The BN did it in the Permatang Pasir by-election, and is repeating it in Bagan Pinang," he explains.

By Permatang Pasir, Salahuddin is of course referring to the BN's mind-boggling decision to field Umno's Rohaizat Othman as the candidate, a lawyer who was disbarred by the Bar Council for swindling a client. Rohaizat eventually lost by 4,551 votes — not a close call.

And by Bagan Pinang, Salahuddin is referring to the BN's candidate from Umno, former Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar Tan Sri Mohd Isa Abdul Samad. In 2005, Isa was found guilty of money politics by Umno's disciplinary board and was initially suspended by the party for six years. Upon appeal, the sentence was commuted to three years and eventually ended in June 2008.

Even Umno veterans Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah have voiced their disapproval of the BN fielding a tainted candidate like Isa.

Khairy, however, disagrees. "This is very, very different from Permatang Pasir. Isa Samad is very different — he is the godfather of Teluk Kemang politics. The tainted candidate in Permatang Pasir was an unknown."

At least one study, by research firm Ilham Centre, backs Khairy's claim. The survey found that 52% of 594 respondents said voters would reject the BN because of the perception that Umno was corrupt.

Isa Samad But look at what else the survey unearthed: 81% said Isa was Umno's best bet for Bagan Pinang. About 44% agreed that the BN would win by a bigger majority this time, as opposed to 17% who disagreed. Furthermore, 65% gave the thumbs up to Datuk Mohammad Hassan's performance as the current menteri besar from the BN.

Here's the other thing the survey found: only 33% agreed that Teoh Beng Hock's death would affect votes, while 39% agreed that the cow-head protest in Selangor would sway votes.

But surveys will be surveys, and this one was conducted from 15 to 16 Sept on a sample of respondents who form only a fraction of the total number of registered voters. Still, it seems as though the PR faces an uphill battle in Bagan Pinang.

The Indian Malaysian vote

The Indian Malaysian vote is expected to tip the scale in this poll. Political analyst Prof Dr James Chin tells The Nut Graph: "The interesting phenomenon here is that the Indian Malaysian vote will hold the key for both the BN and PR."

According to Chin, 80% of the Chinese Malaysian vote is still behind the PR, and analysts suspect that 60% to 70% of the Malay Malaysian vote will go to the BN. This is why the Indian Malaysian vote is so crucial, he explains in a phone interview.

However, according to Chin, the Indian Malaysian vote will probably be influenced by the Malaysia Makkal Sakti Party (MMSP) and the MIC trying to outdo each other. He says the BN-friendly MMSP will be trying its best to prove to Prime Minister and BN chairperson Datuk Seri Najib Razak that it can get the Indian Malaysian vote. The MMSP's fervour might threaten the MIC, though, which could then be incentive for the MIC to "disturb" the vote.

Khairy (File pic) But what about the colossal number of postal votes — 4,604 in all, or 33.7% of the number of registered voters? "You can assume that virtually all the postal votes will go to the BN," he says.

According to Khairy, though, it is the bigger picture that's important. "The PR is almost schizophrenic in its inconsistency. Not just between a secular party [like the DAP] and a party like PAS, but even within PAS," he says. "How can you have one party member going to a church [to reach out to non-Muslim Malaysians] and another wanting to ban a soft-rock concert?"

He says although the BN is often inconsistent, the "inconsistencies are managed better in the BN than in the opposition."

Salor state assemblyperson and ex-PAS vice-president Datuk Husam Musa disagrees. On nomination day on 3 Oct, he told reporters: "There is no split in the PR. Our candidate has a multiracial curriculum vitae. He has a clean track record, and is accepted by all races."

Polling is on 11 Oct.

As past election campaigns have demonstrated, internal problems in rival parties and coalitions and the candidates' flaws are often dredged up in such contests. Bagan Pinang will be no different, especially when the stakes are this high for both the BN and the PR. Will voters be swayed by questions on Isa's, and Umno's, integrity, or on the PR's inconsistencies?


Bagan Pinang seat profile
Ethnic composition
(Source: Election Commission)

Malay Malaysians 8,577 (62.77%)

Indian Malaysians
2,834 (20.74%)

Chinese Malaysians
1,498 (10.96%)

Other Malaysians
755 (5.53%

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