PENANG, 18 Feb 2009: Eleven months after the 12th general election and the political dust has still not settled.
With the Bukit Gantang parliamentary and Bukit Selambau state by-elections to be held simultaneously on 7 April, political parties will hit the campaign trail again, barely a month after the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election.
Political pundits believe that the by-elections will be a gauge of the people’s acceptance of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s leadership because he would have already taken over the reins from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by then.
It would be an acid test for Najib whether he would be able to get Umno leaders and members to close ranks after party elections at its general assembly from 24 to 28 March.
The by-elections will also be a test for the incoming Umno deputy president and deputy prime minister. As in previous by-elections, the deputy prime minister is in charge of the campaigning.
Universiti Sains Malaysia Social Science Studies senior lecturer Dr Sivamurugan Pandian said the Umno leadership transition in March would lead to changes in the party, which would have a bearing on the people’s support.
“Najib faces a daunting task of uniting Umno members, who would still feel the bruises of party elections.
“Umno has to ensure that the losers will not sabotage the by-elections,” he said.
He added that Umno’s poorer performance in the last general election and subsequent by-elections was not because it had weakened or that the Opposition had gained an upper hand, but because of sabotage.
The Opposition meanwhile has charged that the Election Commission (EC) favours the Barisan Nasional (BN) by holding the by-elections simultaneously, with the nomination day on 29 March, a day after the Umno general assembly.
The EC has refuted PAS Youth chief Salahuddin Ayub’s insinuation that the date was chosen to please the BN, especially Umno, to ensure that the party’s general assembly was unhindered.
On the contrary, Sivamurugan said PAS should look at the date positively as it would give the Opposition an advantage over Umno, which would be busy with the tussle for top posts in the supreme council and its wings.
“Besides Umno, MIC will also be having its elections for top posts including the presidency in March.
“Umno and MIC need to divide its time between the by-elections and party elections whereas the opposition can concentrate on the by-elections,” he said.
On Perak politics, Sivamurugan said the Opposition felt that the sentiment at the grassroots at the moment was in its favour but was worried that it would no longer be the case in the next general election.
On the other hand, BN is ready for the crunch. Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said that party elections would not be a stumbling block in the coalition’s preparation for the by-elections.
“We have enough machinery and manpower at the divisional and branch levels. This is not a problem for us,” said Muhyiddin, who is vying for Umno deputy-presidency. — Bernama