BUKIT GANTANG, 7 April 2009: Barisan Nasional (BN)’s candidate Ismail Saffian has predicted a win for the coalition in the Bukit Gantang by-election.
“I expect a majority of 1,000 to 3,000 for the BN,” he told reporters after casting his ballot shortly after 9am today at Sekolah Menengah Bukit Gantang, where he has cast his ballot all his life.
His village Kampung Kubu is not too far down the road.
Ismail, holding hands with his wife Fauziah Noh, said a win for BN in this Perak parliamentary seat would be an endorsement of BN’s leadership under new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Ismail with his wife, Fauziah Noh
When asked what it would mean if PAS won instead, he said: “I leave it to the people to decide.”
He also said the BN campaign was helped by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahahtir Mohamad who was in Bukit Gantang yesterday. “It will create a positive impact for this by-election,” Ismail said.
Ismail said he slept at 3am last night and rose at 6am. He had to face a surprise attack on his reputation on the eve of polling when a photo allegedly of him and a bar worker in Thailand surfaced.
Ismail has said the photo was doctored and called it a desperate attempt by his rivals to sully his reputation ahead of voting today.
Polling this morning began at 8am. As of 10am, voter turnout was 17.77%, according to the Election Commission.
Roads throughout the constituency were jammed with traffic, police officers and party supporters as voters made their way to the polling centres on a working day.
Ismail’s main rival, PAS’s Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin did not vote as he is not registered to vote in this constituency. Independent candidate Kamarul Ramizu Idris, who is the third contender in Bukit Gantang, is not a registered voter.
Outside the schools used as polling stations, PAS and BN supporters lined both sides of the narrow roads in last-minute attempts to influence voters on their way to the polling station.
Although campaigning was to have ended at midnight last night, supporters waved their party logos and chanted at passers-by. They also heckled passing vehicles that bore stickers or logos of the rival party.
Outside the school where Ismail voted, a group of Wanita Umno members waved the BN flag as they shouted “Boneka! Boneka!” to PAS supporters on the other side of the school’s entrance.
The PAS crowd shouted “Allahu Akbar!” and sang religious songs in response.
A small team of Light Strike Force were called in to monitor the supporters as vociferous shouting continued.
Wanita Umno members shouting “Boneka!”
The supporters, mostly from outside the state, were often reminded by police to keep the entrance to the school clear for voters to pass through.
In the early part of the morning, many of those who came to vote included the elderly and wheel-chair bound. These are the Saluran 1 and 2 voters, aged 55 and above, whom analysts and observers here predict will continue to vote for BN.
Polling will close at 5pm and the results could be known as early as 9pm if there are no recounts, Election Commission chairperson Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Yusof has said.
After voting, Ismail said he would visit other polling stations for the rest of the morning. When he arrived at his polling station earlier, he went around shaking hands with BN supporters gathered outside.
Nizar will do the same, also in a bid to raise the spirits of supporters in what many say is a race too close to call. Nizar arrived at the Bukit Gantang PAS headquarters in Air Kuning at 7.35am to meet up with supporters before heading off to make pit stops at 34 polling stations.
Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is also in the constituency visiting some polling stations this morning.
Of all the three by-elections simulataneously happenning today, the Bukit Gantang by-election is seen to be the most significant because it will reflect voter sentiment of the BN’s 5 Feb takeover of the Perak government.