APRIL 26 — It was rather anticipated that Barisan Nasional would snatch the Hulu Selangor seat yesterday from right under Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) nose and without giving too much credit to the former, two factors contributed to this somewhat predestined outcome.
First, the notoriously poor and inefficient machinery. The second is the candidate factor itself.
PKR’s Datuk Zaid Ibrahim lost to MIC information chief P. Kamalananthan by a 1,725-vote majority. The former law minister garnered 23,272 votes while his opponent, a public relations practitioner whose qualifications were subject to tactical scrutiny by Zaid and Co, bagged 24,997 votes.
Yes, there were strong intrinsic statistical factors that led to Zaid’s loss as reflected by past voting patterns. After all, the sizeable constituency of 64,500 eligible voters has been opposition-proof up until the unpopular Datuk G. Palanivel, a four-term incumbent, was dethroned in Election 2008.
But let us not allow this factor give PKR the convenience of an excuse.
In politics, no fight is impossible to win. Did the opposition not prove this axiom right when boasting of its unprecedented success in Election 2008?
In his short and simple tweet, Klang DAP MP Charles Santiago noted that Pakatan (what he intended to say is PKR, I presume) had lost out to its rivals in the machinery battle. Now exclude the “money” and the “intimidation” part, without devaluing its merits, the veracity of the Santiago’s concise assessment on Pakatan’s defeat hit the bull’s eye.
Anyone on the ground throughout PR’s eight-day campaigning trail would, without a doubt, concur.
PKR’s Hulu Selangor election machinery was phenomenally hopeless. It was frayed, uninspiring, shoddy. Too many “egos” were involved. To be straightforward without revealing too much, there were “three” egos involved.
Ground reports and observation showed PKR’s machinery was slow to move. Complaints were ever loud of how campaign materials arrived only after the third day of campaigning.
They lacked co-ordination. The string-pullers on the ground were too busy busting and nurturing their local image as low-level leaders and instead of co-operating, they engaged in a popularity contest among themselves. The PKR machinery was divided into many camps. This paralysed them.
And it is no exaggeration to say that PKR campaigners were arrogant. They refused to work hand in hand with their PAS and DAP counterparts. If there was any collaboration at all, it was half-baked.
It may be of superficial value, but the fact that PKR and PAS had two polling stands erected just 10 metres from each other is testament to the lack of co-operation. To add insult to injury, PKR accused PAS of sabotage for its own weaknesses.
This proved to be fatal for Pakatan amid an uphill battle to win the Malay voters of Hulu Selangor, the majority of the electorate there. Their votes were pivotal for victory as proven by BN’s less than convincing triumph.
The only party that had made inroads in the Felda settlements, a known Umno fortress, is PAS and yet PKR had failed to use it to the fullest, preferring to be snobbish.
And what of the candidate? Zaid is not and will never be a Hulu Selangor guy.
Being local would have mattered but it would not help in influencing the by-election’s outcome. What would have mattered was Zaid’s manner when engaging the Malays. It was deplorable to say the least.
He lacked the “grassroots language”. When meeting the Malay voters, he did not walk but rode in his expensive four wheel-drive and stopped only briefly to shake their hands. Even that seemed half-hearted.
He did not ask them what their problems were, how their families were doing, have teh tarik with them, talk about their pets. All this may seem petty to the urban voters but to the rural folks, it matters.
Pakatan leaders may lament such an analysis is trivial and that a “national cause” beckons, leaving no space for petty emotions. But for the rural voters, they don’t care about the Westminster court system or Scorpene submarines.
What they want is a leader who can talk to them, to like what they like, someone who puts himself on par and not come out of nowhere and thinks he’s above them and start asking them for votes. If you cannot do this then what kind of leader are you.
One can’t help but think about the outcome in Hulu Selangor if Zaid had put his heart into charming the Malay voters; it could have made a major difference to the by-election’s result.
But not all is lost here. The silver lining of this defeat is that it will force PKR leaders to lower their heads, to realise that they have their heads too high up in the clouds of Putrajaya, that they have lost touch with the ground.
A bit of humility, PKR, goes a long way.
* Syed Jaymal Zahiid is a reporter with The Malaysian Insider.