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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Battle for Hulu Selangor

Kenny Gan   
The untimely death of PKR’s Member of Parliament for Hulu Selangor, the well respected Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad, has triggered the 10th by-election in Malaysia since the 12th general election.

Hulu Selangor is a semi-urban constituency in the north of Selangor. In 2008 PKR won this seat by a whisker of 198 votes in an electorate of 63,600 voters with 75% attendance.  BN won all the three state seats under this parliamentary seat.

Hulu Selangor has traditionally been a BN stronghold and this is not changed by the 2008 election result. PKR won the MP seat by a hair’s breadth due to the popularity of their candidate. Keeping this seat will be no walk in the park. A close contest is expected with the odds favoring BN as the incumbent federal government is able to rain down goodies and leverage on the politics of development.

This by-election could not have come at a worse time for PKR which has been rocked by the loss of 4 MPs recently – 3 defected and 1 sacked for intransigence. The party needs to keep this seat badly to stem the loss of one more MP and to keep morale high. BN also needs to wrest this seat to prove that Najib’s policies are on track and reaping rewards with the populace.

Candidate selection

BN has confirmed that MIC which has traditionally been allocated this seat will contest this by-election. MIC has announced that it will field its Deputy President, Datuk G. Palanivel who lost to PKR’s Dr. Zainal in 2008. At the time of this writing, PKR has not announced their candidate yet.

The demography of this constituency is 54% Malay, 27% Chinese and 19% Indian. How much support can PR garner from each racial group?

The Chinese are still solidly behind PR but the support of the Indians is unclear. Some opinion polls suggest that as much as half of the Indians have moved back to BN. The last by-election in Bagan Pinang showed a majority of Indians voting for BN, but due to differing conditions, this one-off result should not be taken as a trend.

But it is the support of the majority Malays which will make or break any candidate.

Some reports suggest that the Malay vote is split down the middle but this unlikely to be true. If so, PR would have won every state seat in Hulu Selangor in 2008 due to the swing of non-Malay voters to the opposition. Other reports based on analysis of polling results suggest that BN won 60% of the Malay vote and this is more creditable.

To add to the fray, Hindraf activist P Uthayakumar’s yet-to-be registered Human Rights Party is set to field a candidate to split Indian votes.

Why not Zaid Ibrahim?

If Umno’s Malay support is indeed 60% it will be tough for PR. Assuming attendance is evenly spread among all races. PR’s share may be:

40% of 54% Malay = 21.6%
80% of 27% Chinese = 21.6%
50% of 19% Indian = 9.5%
Total = 52.7% of the vote.

This is too close to call so it could go either way.

PR must increase their Malay support by at least 5% to be comfortable. The selection of PKR’s candidate is most important for a victory. Their best bet is a strong Malay candidate such as Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who is widely respected among all races.

Although PR has embraced multi-racial politics, the fact remains that race is still a big factor in elections. Any party which ignores this does so at its own peril as mindsets need time to change. 53 years of racial politics cannot be swept away in a few years.

A suggestion was made by DAP’s assemblyman M Manoharan to field Uthayakumar for this seat. This is ill-advised and will guarantee an easy victory for BN as Malays and Chinese have no reason to vote for an Indian extremist, who speaks only for the Indians.

The Indian vote

Despite the contention being bandied about that Indians are the kingmakers in this seat this is not true. Minority races only have a chance to be kingmakers if the Malays are split evenly down the middle which is not the case here.

Getting the majority of the Indian vote is certainly welcome in this close contest but it is a shame that the Indian vote cannot be relied on even though BN has marginalized them for the past 53 years. Under PR states Indians are treated as equal partners in government. Do they want to prove that Nasir Safar calling them “descendant of beggars” is justified and continue begging from BN for another 50 years?

I would expect the Indian vote share going to HRP to be minimal as Uthaya does not have much influence left with the Indian community, who can now see through him as nothing more than a race champion barking at PR for his political survival. He is unable to muster any meaningful crowd these days. Only 100 Indians (probably all of the party's members) turned up when he led a demo against PKR at their HQ in PJ. However in a close contest, every vote counts and we must remember that in 2008 PKR scraped through with only a 198 vote margin.

Uthayakumar’s attempt to split the Indian vote is a contemptible act. There is absolutely no chance that his party can win based on the Indian vote alone so he can only be a spoiler which may help BN win. Despite deriding PR Indian leaders as ‘BN mandores’ he is about to become one just to spite PR. If PR loses this by-election by a margin smaller than HRP’s vote share, Uthaya will indeed be reviled as the “Ultimate BN Mandore” irrespective of his pontifications of fighting for Indians.

Favourable factors but are they enough?

There are several factors which may help PR retain Hulu Selangor including the following:

1. The rise of Perkasa with their excessive racial demands with the tacit approval of Umno and the silence of minority component parties will disgust many non-Malays and moderate Malays.

2. Chua Soi Lek’s winning the MCA presidency does not go down well with the Chinese community due to his adulterous affair captured on DVD.

3. The case of Norizan Salleh, a Malay single mother shot 5 times and assaulted by police with no apology and no admission of culpability is shocking. The Selangor government gave a compassionate sum of RM5,000 while BN turned a blind eye.

4. Anwar’s sodomy persecution is still on-going and may influence the Malays who view his treatment as cruel and unjust.

5. As Hulu Selangor is a semi-urban constituency, people are more well-informed and less susceptible to manipulation by being fed a diet of distorted official news.

6. There may be a sympathy factor for PKR over the loss of four of their MPs. The personal attacks of these renegade MPs in Parliament on Anwar with the connivance of the partisan Speaker may swing more sympathy votes. As usual, Umno is clueless on what helps them and what helps the opposition.

7. As this is a parliamentary seat, voters are more likely to vote for a stronger opposition in Parliament than a BN representative to take care of their community.

8. The PR Selangor government has done well with programs to help the poor such as micro-credit scheme and to a certain extent free water. Mentri Besar Khalid Ibrahim has shown fair treatment to all races by personally getting involved in the relocation of a Hindu temple - which is unheard of for a BN Mentri Besar.

But are these factors enough to overcome the BN juggernaut? Only time will tell. What I would like to see is Kugan’s mother, Teoh Beng Hock’s siblings and Norizan Salleh speaking at the PR ceramah. Their firsthand accounts will be stunning as examples of multi-racial abuse by BN.

An epic battle lies ahead and both sides badly want the victory as moral boosters. BN needs to overcome its fear of by-elections as shown by the resignation and then persuaded-withdrawal of MCA’s assemblyman for Titi Tinggi in Perlis. PR needs to show its supporters that its path to Putrajaya is still on course.

Whoever wins will have reason to crow!


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