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)
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
“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.
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