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Independents’ day

“WITH independent candidates, it depends on their ‘roots’,” says Kedah Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) information chief Ahmad Kasim.

“For example, if they were originally from PKR, they will naturally pull votes away from the PKR candidate.”

But if they were originally from the Barisan Nasional (BN), he says, they will split votes for the BN.

If Ahmad is right, it means that there really is no telling what the outcome will be in the Bukit Selambau by-election.


Sarala
Already, quite a few of these “splinter” candidates can be identified. Radzi Md Lazim is reported to be a disgruntled former Baling PKR division chief. Another candidate who is quite public about splintering from PKR is S Moganakumar, who has openly vowed to bring down the party.

L Sarala, on the other hand, is a former member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) — a BN component party — who quit the party only in mid-March. Tan Hock Huat is a former Gerakan member. And this is by no means anywhere near the end of the list.


Tan Hock Huat
On 27 Mar, the Election Commission (EC) confirmed that 13 candidates had paid their deposits to contest in Bukit Selambau. The EC confirmed that this is the highest number of candidates it has ever recorded. The 13 comprise 12 independents and one BN candidate, Datuk S Ganesan. PKR’s S Manikumar, at that time, had yet to pay his deposit.

On 29 Mar, the EC finally announced a record-breaking 15 candidates for Bukit Selambau — the BN’s Ganesan, PKR’s Manikumar, and 13 independents.

But on 28 Mar, one independent candidate, Mohd Redzuan Md Isa, announced his withdrawal from the by-election, and another three have since indicated they are willing to withdraw.

A different scenario

“There appears to be no hope for independent candidates to win in this by-election,” said Redzuan’s press statement.

Therefore, Redzuan has now decided to publicly support PKR’s Manikumar as the representative of choice for Bukit Selambau. But Redzuan’s claim of there being “no hope” for independents begs the question of how V Arumugam won the seat in the 2008 general election in the first place. Arumugam stood as an independent and only joined PKR after winning the seat.

“That was a different political scenario,” says PKR’s Ahmad. “At that time, the sentiment was purely against the BN, and people would vote for anyone as long as it wasn’t the BN.”

Therefore, PKR is just not taking any chances this time around. It is telling that when asked whether he had approached PKR first or vice-versa in his decision to withdraw, Redzuan told The Nut Graph, “Of course they approached me first.”


Kedah MB Azizan
According to Redzuan, he had consulted with various levels of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leadership, from Kedah’s PAS Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak to PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, before finally deciding on 27 March to withdraw from the race.

But his withdrawal is by no means a reason for PKR to breathe a sigh of relief — Redzuan never paid his election deposit before deciding to withdraw. Thus, before entering the nomination centre on 29 March, there were still 13 paid-up independent candidates to contend with, notwithstanding Redzuan’s withdrawal.

Splitting the vote

Ahmad also says the high number of either opposition- or BN-splintered Malay Malaysian independent candidates is meant to split the Malay Malaysian vote. This resonates with Anwar’s claim that the large number of Indian Malaysian independent candidates is meant to split the Indian Malaysian vote.

True enough, Kedah MIC Youth chief SK Suresh does not seem to mind there being such a large number of independent candidates.

“The more the better. The people who are likely to vote for them will only split the votes for the opposition,” he tells The Nut Graph.

Nevertheless the man Suresh is campaigning for, BN’s Ganesan, says he “respects all independent candidates”.


Ganesan
“It is just that we need to show our strengths and take this seriously now, because we are currently the opposition in Kedah,” Ganesan says.

MG Raja, who is ex-PPP member Sarala’s campaign manager, says that the reason why they are running an independent campaign is that they have no faith in either the PR or the BN.

“There are cracks in both PKR and the BN. In fact, the MIC is also split, and Datuk Seri S Samy Vellu has not done anything for people here,” he tells The Nut Graph.

“I am confident we have the support of at least 35% of Malay [Malaysian] voters, 25% of Indian [Malaysian] voters, and 100% of Chinese [Malaysian] voters,” he predicts.

Frivolity vs independence

Monash University political analyst and The Nut Graph columnist Wong Chin Huat prefers to take claims such as these with a pinch of salt.

“When there are so many independent candidates, they will tend to look frivolous,” he tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview. “It’s pretty hard to take such a large number of candidates seriously when their campaign logos consist of keys, umbrellas and such.”

Wong says that in Peninsular Malaysia, there have rarely been contests with more than five candidates, while in East Malaysia, it is uncommon to find more than six candidates in a contest.


Tian Chua
“And in any case, voters tend to be pragmatic and identify the top two candidates, who are conventionally those fielded by the big parties,” he says. “Then, they will vote on the lesser of two evils.”

Wong’s analysis is echoed by PKR national information chief, Tian Chua, who says, “The rakyat knows that this is a fight between two ideologies, between the BN and PR. The voters will make their own judgments.”

Wong has a disclaimer, however: “It will only be a clear two-horse race if there is a particular issue that polarises or overrides everything else in voters’ minds.”

His cautionary note, therefore, is that if the campaigns by the two major coalitions are fragmented and lack focus, then Bukit Selambau could surprise the rest of Malaysia on polling day on 7 April.

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