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The meaning of Permatang Pasir

PAS candidate Mohd Salleh Man (right), Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Guan Eng on nomination day, 17 Aug
(Pic courtesy of theSun)

IT was a by-election the Barisan Nasional (BN) knew it would lose, but had to fight anyway. Unable to use the same excuse it had for opting out of Penanti, the BN went into Permatang Pasir disadvantaged from the start with its choice of candidate.

Rohaizat Othman lost to PAS’s Mohd Salleh Man by 4,551 votes — a dip in margin from the 5,433 obtained by the Islamist party in the 2008 general election, but a comfortable margin nonetheless. This drop comes with a reduced voter turnout of 73%, compared with 82% last year.

Permatang Pasir was a by-election of little significance to the balance of power in the Penang government. Salleh defended a seat PAS has held for the last three terms.

Still, his victory means the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s tripartite alliance remains intact in the state legislative assembly. Additionally, Salleh will soon assume the post of Penang Islamic Religious Council president. This would be a welcome bonus to PAS, which was not given an executive council post in the state government after the general election.

The by-election also clearly indicates sentiment towards the PR and the BN, given the PR’s internal problems of late, and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s recent moves to liberalise the economy and re-brand Malaysian unity.

In the lead

But PAS was already the lead horse before the by-election candidates were announced, based on a canvassing exercise among Permatang Pasir voters by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

Director Ibrahim Suffian told The Nut Graph that those queried said they were concerned about the economy and lack of local amenities and services. Yet, their support was already leaning towards PAS even before they knew of Rohaizat’s disbarment.

BN candidate Rohaizat (Pic
courtesy of theSun)
“It suggests some amount of cynicism towards the federal ruling government despite their concerns about livelihood issues,” Ibrahim said in a phone interview.

As such, the BN’s choice of a bad candidate only made its chances harder. Its development promise to make Permatang Pasir the federal government’s “anak emas” also had little impact on voters.

Neither did voters accept Umno‘s racial rhetoric to rally the Malay Malaysian vote around the BN’s candidate. Nor was the exploitation of inter-racial issues like Selangor’s beer sales dispute and the Kedah PAS government’s closure of a pig abattoir effective in convincing voters about ideological differences within the PR.

Other topics, like Teoh Beng Hock‘s death and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission‘s investigation of Selangor PR assemblypersons, were not posed to Permatang Pasir voters by Merdeka Center, but these were exploited by PR ceramah to stir emotions. Yet, these were not definitive issues, but merely piggybacked on prevailing national sentiment on corruption and abuse of power in government institutions.

Anwar factor

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin says it’s hard to draw any national conclusion from Permatang Pasir. This is in large part because of its position as one of three state seats within Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency.

“This by-election was a confluence of both national and domestic issues, but you cannot say it’s a referendum on national issues or the government under Najib. Past results for this seat have a strong correspondence to Anwar’s roots in this area, even while he was with Umno. The localised sentiment which favours him is a strong factor,” Khairy tells The Nut Graph.

Political analyst Prof James Chin from of Monash University Malaysia agrees, noting that if the BN had won, the result would say more about Anwar than about PAS.

“It would have reflected badly on his leadership of the PR. It can be taken that voters here still believe in his ability to lead Pakatan,” Chin says.

Chinese Malaysians at a DAP dinner on 23 Aug listening to Anwar speak

Guan Eng’s symbolism

Detailed information on where the votes went according to ethnicity and age are not available at press time. But PAS central committee member Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad says the large winning majority, despite a slightly lower turnout, means that voting trends remain unchanged from the general election.

“For sure it looks like the Chinese [Malaysian] votes are still with us and the Malay [Malaysian] vote remains unchanged. The lower turnout is likely due to it being a working day and the absence of outstation voters,” he tells The Nut Graph in an immediate reaction after the results were announced tonight.

Malay Malaysians comprise 72.6% of voters and Chinese Malaysians 26%.

If there was any ambivalence Chinese Malaysians here may have felt about PAS given the disputes over beer sales in Selangor and the pig abattoir in Kedah, Chin believes that Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng played a crucial role in retaining their vote for PAS.

“Having a Chinese [Malaysian] chief minister is an important symbol for them. Chinese [Malaysians] in Penang are pragmatic and their reaction will be to fend off the threats the DAP and PR are facing from Umno.”

Local opinion on Lim is divided, with some saying he could do more, and others conceding that his hands are tied by decisions made by the past BN state government.

Preparing for the general election

Political parties will be looking for lessons on voting patterns to prepare for the next general election.

For the BN, Permatang Pasir should tell them that the Malay Malaysian vote in ethnically mixed areas is a lot harder to rally than in a rural, overwhelmingly Malay Malaysian seat like Manik Urai. There, the swing of votes to the BN was said to be due to a new bridge promised to constituents if the BN won.

Salleh with PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang (left) meeting voters at the Kubang Semang Ramadan bazaar

But to truly gauge trends ahead of the next national polls, a better seat for a by-election would be in Umno’s stronghold of Johor, or one where the PR won for the first time in the 2008 general election.

Permatang Pasir was not the right test bed to gauge the BN’s popularity given local sentiments towards Anwar’s incumbency.

“I see Permatang Pasir as more of a popular referendum on Umno and Anwar,” says Chin.

While it’s good news for Anwar, who will mark a one-year anniversary in recapturing the Permatang Pauh seat tomorrow on 26 Aug, it comes at a time when the viability of PKR, PAS and the DAP to rule together will face renewed questioning.

News of Anwar’s purported secret meeting with Najib, and PAS’s latest moves to let mosque officials arrest beer-drinking Muslims and to stop a pop concert, will cast question marks on the PR’s commitment to stay together. For now, though, the PR can bask in their record of winning all but Batang Ai in the eight by-elections Malaysia has had in the last 18 months. 

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4 Responses to “The meaning of Permatang Pasir”

  1. Parameswara says:

    Let’s console BN that PAS also lost, in a way.

    In the March 2008 election – PAS secured 65.5% of the 16,803 votes cast. In the by-election this time, it secured [65.1%] of the [14,768] votes cast.

    PAS’s majority over Umno has reduced by [0.4%] this time. A very commendable effort by Umno, using the might of the mainstream media and Patriot Bloggers like Parpukari, Shamsul Yunos and RockyBru.

    Anyway, it was only in this by-election, the rakyat knew the following Umno wisdoms:

    a. That fines by Bar Council are like fines for parking offences.
    b. That it is not wrong to marry a second wife secretly and not [inform] the first wife.
    c. When misappropriated funds are subsequently settled, then there is no element of fraud. (Courts – not the one selling furniture but the institutions that administer justice, please take note of this drift).

    Other observations:

    a. BN’s accusation of 3,696 phanthom voters

    Even if 3,696 phantom voters had cast their votes and the votes were rejected from the total of 9,618 votes cast for PAS, its new tally would have been 5,922, which would have 855 votes higher than what Umno secured. So PAS would still be the winner.

    4D punters may also be winners. Go for 3696 all the way. RM1,000 BIG and RM2,000 small. You, too can be rich. After all, there are many special draws approved by BN to make you all wealthy.

    b. Bernama reported that PM also took note of the fact that the BN managed to reduce PAS’s majority in the area. He conveniently forgot that BN’s own vote bank had reduced from 5,571 in 2008 to 5,067 this time, a reduction of 504 votes from its 2008 tally representing almost 11%, despite using all the mainstream media to its advantage, assisted by Patriotic Bloggers […]

    This seems to be a perennial problem in Umno. Cannot see deterioration of its own influence, but quick to compare its impact on the other party. Can Umno take note and tell the big bosses?

    A post-mortem is scheduled to be done by Umno. There you go again. Umno only. It’s not a BN post-mortem.

    So the remaining component parties are not relevant in this “post-mortem”? What is this 1Malaysia all about then? Cannot even discuss defeat together?

    Where is collective responsibility of the BN? Talk only?

    No wonder, the public are getting fed-up with the BN rhetoric. And BN never learns!

  2. janganbohong says:

    BN government should go ahead with their plans to help the people of Permatang Pasir regardless of their loss in the election. This will prove their sincerity and genuine-ness of making promises. But we know, they are not the kind of people with integrity and honesty, least of all forgiveness. Too bad, sore losers – that’s what they are.

  3. kanna says:

    Congrats to PR! Shows that they are on track but still alot of internal issues to be ironed out ……….. any misunderstanding should be voiced out openly and handled professionally …….. no hiding everything in the name of party unity …….. see what happened to the country due to BN following this policy ……… all other component parties other than Umno have become toothless tigers and Umno has become too big-headed for its own good ………

  4. banana says:

    Despite the own goal in fielding a disbarred lawyer, BN/Umno still garnered about 35% of the votes. Imagine what would have happened if BN/Umno fielded a better candidate? Another view would be this: Despite the fact that the BN/Umno candidate was proven to be ethically-challenged, 35% of the voters were okay with that. What does that say about Malaysians?

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