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Hulu Selangor’s significance

Updated 10.55am, 19 April 2010

BN candidate P Kamalanathan (left) and PKR candidate Datuk Zaid Ibrahim

HULU Selangor, the 10th by-election since national polls in March 2008, is a fight neither the Barisan Nasional (BN) nor Pakatan Rakyat (PR) can afford to lose. The BN needs to prove its sincerity about its rhetorically inclusive 1Malaysia in a seat where Chinese and Indian Malaysian voters are a sizeable 26% and 18%, respectively.

The component party which its candidate comes from, the MIC, is still struggling under the personality cult of its long-time president. On the PR side, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) lost four Members of Parliament (MPs) in recent months and an assemblyperson just last week.

As such, the more substantive campaign factors will be:

 1  The personality of PKR candidate Datuk Zaid Ibrahim;

 2  The appeal of the MIC under president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu to voters; and

 3  The Selangor PR government’s performance in the last two years and the federal government after one year under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

So we can now discard the red herrings in this parliamentary by-election. It doesn’t matter if candidates for are local-born or not — many other seats are held by “outsider” MPs from both the BN and PR.

The ceramah rhetoric is also going have little relevance to the outcome of the by-election. Indeed, whether by the BN or PR, they will likely be a predictable mix of caricaturing the opposing candidates, and allegations of hypocrisy and wrongdoings. Politically charged as they are, ceramah are largely where the public go to feel the by-election vibe, see politicians in the flesh, be entertained, and have their biases confirmed.

G Palanivel (Wiki commons)
And speculations of sabotage remain speculations, whether within the PR by those supposedly threatened by Zaid‘s rise in PKR, or within the BN by disgruntled MIC supporters who preferred Datuk G Palanivel‘s candidacy instead of P Kamalanathan. Political rivalry among comrades certainly exists, but will likely be suppressed for such a crucial election.

Even the candidacies of two independents — one with a grudge against MIC and the other against Umno — appear more like a subplot, and are unlikely to be relevant to how the bulk of voters will choose.

The Zaid factor

Zaid may be a new face to Hulu Selangor, but is arguably well known for quitting the cabinet on principle to protest the government’s arbitrary use of the Internal Security Act. Subsequently getting sacked from Umno earned him a martyr’s badge of sorts. Then becoming PKR’s ideologue and crafter of the PR’s common policy sealed his reputation as a democrat and champion of equality. Before politics, there was his sterling law career and active philanthropy.

The PKR political bureau and supreme council member is thus a “believable” candidate because “he’s proven himself principled”, says political observer Khoo Kay Peng.

“He’ll have a strong chance among fence-sitters who may dislike Pakatan but also dislike the BN. His resignation from government and getting sacked from Umno jives with the sentiments of those who dislike the BN. With him, people might be willing to overlook the flaws in Pakatan,” Khoo says in a phone interview.

It means that when the PR talks about justice and equity, the message can ring true for voters because they’ve seen Zaid sacrifice position for those principles. Zaid has a good chance, provided what Hulu Selangor voters want is a stronger opposition in Parliament.

[Updated] If Zaid loses, it might have more to do with the PR campaign than with his own credentials. However, it remains to be seen how he can withstand Umno‘s attacks on his character for his admission to having consumed alcohol. A potentially interesting sideshow is how anti-alcohol, anti-“deviant” crusader, Selangor PAS commissioner Datuk Dr Hasan Ali, will lead the PAS campaign for a liberal like Zaid.

Zaid arriving at the nomination centre on 17 April, accompanied by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,
Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Nasharuddin Mat Isa (far right)

MIC’s compromise

Can Kamalanathan match Zaid’s stature? Despite being a rank outsider, the MIC information chief is an articulate communicator and blogger in tune with national issues and concerns of the Indian Malaysian community.

The Australian-educated Kamalanathan is young at 44, and better represents the generational change needed in Hulu Selangor compared with the elder Palanivel. Kamalanathan has also been active in the party since young, while his father was a party branch leader.

But choosing him as a last-minute candidate after a very public rift between the MIC and Umno shows the weakness in the BN.

Ibrahim Suffian (Courtesy of
Merdeka Center)

“The choice of a compromise candidate shows how hard the BN has to balance political priorities,” says Merdeka Center for Opinion Research director Ibrahim Suffian. He notes that this is due to the BN’s long-standing practice of letting component parties stake claims on seats according to race. Hulu Selangor traditionally “belonged” to the MIC for four terms until PKR took it with a slim 198 majority in 2008.

While Kamalanathan may indeed be the best candidate for the BN, it puts the MIC in a dicey position.

“Pakatan will question the relevancy of the MIC when its original preferred candidate was rejected after Umno objected,” says Khoo.

The MIC, in this weakened position, will have to convince Indian Malaysian voters that it is strong enough, under Umno’s thumb, to deliver results for the community. Issues like whether the MIC did enough during its four terms, and unmet expectations for Samy Vellu to hand over the party reigns, will likely be raised, adds Khoo.

Power of the state

Though unequal in resources compared with the BN, the PR, as the state government, is now in the position to take the same approach in wooing voters: by dishing out by-election goodies. The federal government announced million-ringgit projects for the constituency even before nomination day. However, PKR’s elections director Fuziah Salleh has promised that the PR will not use the same tactic and will observe a strict separation between state and party machinery.

But unless full accounting of campaign funding and spending is disclosed, separating state and party is a matter of perception. Likely, the state’s recent promise to give land titles to some 100,000 families and farmers could influence voters. Recall how the BN nearly wrested the PAS stronghold of Manik Urai by promising a new bridge.

The bridge in Manik Urai

The ruling party, however, still has the upper hand in promising and delivering large-scale development. PKR will have to convince voters that it can continue to perform, particularly when there seems to have been little change in the daily economy of Hulu Selangor folk since the PR took over.

The constituency, which houses the “Selangor automotive belt”, includes the Perodua and Tan Chong Motor factories and numerous vendors. It recorded investments in the manufacturing sector worth RM571 million from April 2008 to December 2009, according to Teresa Kok, Selangor executive councillor for trade, industry and investment. Of this, 54% were foreign investments, she informs The Nut Graph via e-mail.

But what really needs to happen is a multiplier effect that creates more jobs and diversifies industries in the area. The bought, yet still unoccupied, homes in the Lembah Beringin and Bukit Beruntung townships actually suggest a stagnant economy.

Both need happy ending

The question facing voters will be who can deliver better. Zaid with his close ties to the PR Selangor government? Or the BN, with the entire civil service machinery and corporate ties at its disposal?

“The by-election is a kind of mid-term review for the Selangor government’s performance, while for Barisan and the PM, a test as to how far his proposals for reform are accepted,” says Ibrahim.

But all this could still escape the voters, who in the end might vote just for the new road they’ve always wanted, or the streetlights they were promised before. favicon

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5 Responses to “Hulu Selangor’s significance”

  1. Osama says:

    The only way BN knows how to win elections today is by enticing frogs from the opposition, without regard for the feelings of the rakyat. It has taken “buying” of elected representatives to be a normal business deal.

    The beautiful part of Zaid is that when accused of taking alcohol previously, he admitted it and said he had repented. Ask any Umno leaders, we know there are lots of them who consume alcohol, womanise and what not, yet instead of admitting they will definitely deny, deny and deny! By the way, have you heard of any Umno Baru politicians admitting their mistakes?

    True to his principles, Zaid admitted, like the way he walked out of Umno Baru when he could not see eye to eye with the government’s abuse of the ISA and other laws!

    Anyway, being such a high profile and successful businessman, Zaid knows he needed to entertain, and it is not easy to deal with those Umno guys, who want to be feted all the time. It is good that Zaid is now a full time politician, I would rather vote for honesty and the integrity of Zaid, then the so-called “clean” man of Umno Baru! Umno Baru can never win the hearts of the Malaysians again, never!

    Just count the numbers of controversies it had created since 1 Jan 2010 till now, starting with the “Allah” issue, the “Allah” protests, burning of churches, arson attacks on mosques, pig heads found near mosque compounds, missing jet engines, Teoh Beng Hock’s inquest, PKFZ, that the ancestors of Indians are beggars and those of Chinese are prostitutes, please add on what I have missed out, there are just too many. Is this the leadership Malaysians want? Just vote for change and send BN into the opposition!

  2. Poovan says:

    BN vs. PR or Umno vs. MIC?

    Is the by-election in Hulu Selangor something that happens between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) or between UMNO and MIC?

    It is the latter! Yes, it is not the big matter of Pakatan Rakyat that is going to remain the seat of Hulu Selangor, but it is the important question of MIC that is going to protect its personal identity and dignity.

    Umno has declined the requests of MIC where its president Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu emphatically informed that his deputy would stand in the Hulu Selangor by-election and even [that] there was great support [from] the party’s closest relations. On the contrary, MIC information chief P Kamalanathan was chosen to be the candidate for the election upon requests from Umno branch leaders. This is a big loss that happened to the MIC. Umno has created a situation where there is no helmsman for the ‘ship of MIC’.

    The rights of making decisions, whether Indian [Malaysian] society accepts or not the coup d’etat or permanent abduction by Umno in deciding who will be the members of state or the members of parliament for MIC in the future, has been given to the related areas (of Hulu Selangor) MIC leaders of branches through this election.

    Are the MIC leaders and members going to give credit to Umno if they win in the election?

  3. Malaysia First says:

    This election is a tough call and perhaps it will be an indicator of the pulse and hearts of the rural lower middle class represented by the fairly representative racial mix in Hulu Selangor.

    The question boils down to this:
    Are Malaysians wise enough to weigh short-term benefits (questionable economic progress in terms of bridges/factory jobs) versus long term intangible benefits (in terms of greater economic prospects due to liberalisation of the country’s affirmative economic policies).

    They say [humankind] does not live by bread alone. Whatever positives Umno can offer are completely nullified and mitigated by all the negative events/trends it has caused under its race-centric system.

    Can the people of Hulu Selangor see beyond the rhetoric and make a vote against the unrepentant, arrogant coalition party that Kamalanathan represents?

    A vote against MIC/Umno is a vote for 1Malaysia. This should be the slogan for PKR.

  4. azlin says:

    I believe this time people will choose BN instead of PKR. On the BN side, there are not many issues to be played by PKR; but on PKR’s side, there are many issues. In terms of machinery, BN is stronger and more aggressive. On the other hand, PKR’s machinery is weak, and lot of sabotage has happened among PKR members. There are rumors that some PKR and PAS members will deliver their protest votes against Zaid.

    I am expecting BN to win by a majority of more than 3000.

  5. Paul for Democracy says:

    Now is the time for non-Umno people who wish to have freedom to use the word “Allah” in their prayers to be given the freedom to do so. After all, their right has already been deemed permitted by a learned court official, only to be denied by Umno extremists. The word is NOT an original Malay word and has been used by worshipers before Islam came into being!

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