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Sluggish in Bukit Selambau

Manikumar speaking to journalists after the announcement of his victory on 7 April

BY the end of campaigning in the Bukit Selambau by-election, even novice reporters sensed that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) had an edge over the Barisan Nasional (BN).

It is not that the PR has not had its own set of problems. For one thing, the internal backlash within Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) towards the fielding of now-victorious S Manikumar was vicious and often aired publicly.

But it was obvious to reporters that no matter what problems beset the PR, their machinery cranked into high gear, with the help of political heavyweights, in the last four days before polling on 7 April 2009.

The BN machinery, however, remained sluggish and distracted with no new tricks in the bag.

For example, on 3 April, Bukit Selambau seemed bereft of big BN names. Leaders such as newly minted Umno Wanita chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and party vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein rushed back to the capital to witness Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s swearing-in as prime minister. Granted, they eventually returned to Bukit Selambau. But even 24 hours is a long time in an election campaign.

Losing the youths

Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang disagrees that such distractions caused the BN’s loss in Bukit Selambau.

Tan Keng Liang
“Even if the big BN names had stayed the whole while in Bukit Selambau, I don’t think the election result would have changed much,” he tells The Nut Graph in a post-polls phone interview.

In Tan’s opinion, it is not that voters were genuinely enthusiastic about voting for the PR. Rather, the results show the extent to which the public still dislikes the BN’s policies.

“If you look at the patterns in the voting streams, you will see that it is the young voters who voted against the BN,” Tan explains. “This means that something has happened in the lives of the present 20- and 30-somethings with regard to their relationship with the BN.”

For example, Tan says, has the BN done enough to ensure their welfare, education, and employment opportunities?

“Take the case of young Indian [Malaysians] now. There are many who actually qualify to go to university but are not awarded scholarships or even places to further their studies locally,” he says.

Tan says this has bred deep-seated resentment in some non-Malay Malaysians, and even Malay Malaysians who have not benefited from certain policies. This, he says, is something Najib has to look at seriously fixing.

He says the BN will now have to be very careful because in the next general election, students currently in secondary schools and universities will be the ones registered to vote. His caution to the BN is simple: if young Malaysians continue to be disenfranchised by the BN, the coalition will probably lose the federal government in the next general election.

Losing Chinese Malaysians

Newly elected Umno Wanita exco member Suraya Yaacob, who is also Sungai Tiang state assemblyperson, has a different perspective.

“It is clear that Chinese [Malaysian] voters do not trust MCA or Gerakan to uphold their rights compared to the DAP,” she tells The Nut Graph in a post-polls phone interview.

“This is unrelated to Umno — there are some unaired grievances within the Chinese Malaysian community and they are deserting the BN because of this,” she says.

Some might say that Suraya and Tan are missing the forest for the trees — that the weaknesses of MCA, Gerakan, and even MIC are but symptoms of the real problem of Umno’s intransigence.

“But it would be petty to blame Umno leaders for everything, since the BN really is a coalition of different parties,” Suraya says.

Same tricks

Nevertheless, Umno still has a lot to answer for, if the Bukit Selambau campaign was anything to go by. In its numerous slogans, press conferences and ceramah, Umno tried to paint itself as being simultaneously more Islamic-fundamentalist — to Malay Malaysians — and more liberal — to non-Malay Malaysians — than PAS.

Umno also seems to think that all will be well now that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has returned to the party. The 4,000-strong crowd that cheered Mahathir at Institut Kemahiran Mara in Sungai Petani on 6 April seemed to validate this belief. What is jarring is that the 4,000 who showed up for Mahathir were mostly Malay Malaysians who were die-hard Umno supporters or members. The thousands who had showed up at PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s ceramah in Bukit Selambau were consistently multiracial, lay citizens.

A strange twist was when BN Youth, led by Umno Youth, tried to rouse the spirits of some 200 mat rempit on 6 April, less than 12 hours before polling officially opened. In trying to co-opt mat rempit, the BN youth leaders attempted to paint themselves as more “hip” than their allegedly stodgy PAS peers. However, it is almost a truism that when all other rhetoric fails, Umno will resort to one surefire crowd-pleaser — calling Anwar a faggot.

Thus, homophobic and conservative fires were fanned among the young, Malay Malaysian mat rempits. And yet, their edgy counter-culture was simultaneously defended by their uber-homophobic BN benefactors.

Crowds braving the rainy weather to listen to Anwar’s ceramah on 6 April

What’s the strategy?

To some extent, Umno’s strategy of firing up the Malay Malaysian masses is painfully logical. PKR supreme council member Saifuddin Nasution tells reporters that PKR actually lost the Malay Malaysian vote in Bukit Selambau, which Umno’s Suraya confirms. PKR’s victory was on the back of Indian Malaysian votes, which it retained, and Chinese Malaysian votes, which it gained.

But is this a calculation that is going to pay off for BN? As evidenced in Bukit Selambau, and in Bukit Gantang, the coalition cannot survive on Malay Malaysian votes alone.

Does the BN, and more importantly Umno, realise this? Is it a lack of imagination that is stopping the BN from truly reforming its rhetoric and policies, or is it a more calculated, last-ditch attempt at staying in power by playing racial politics?

Some of the younger BN leaders such as Tan and Suraya do inspire hope for a more principled, conscious BN. But these potential young leaders notwithstanding, is the BN complacent, unschooled in political competition, and unable to up its ante even when the stakes have been raised by the PR?

The election results in Bukit Selambau and Bukit Gantang therefore beg the question for the umpteenth time since March 2008 — can the BN change?

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12 Responses to “Sluggish in Bukit Selambau”

  1. Suresh says:

    What Tan Keng Liang said was right….we, the young people of Malaysia, don’t want to vote for Pakatan Rakyat….but what choice do we have, since BN does not want to change? It is the same old people witht same old policy.

  2. din haron says:


    Saya nasihatkan Umno jangan sombong, jangan rasuah, jangan menidakkan rakyat, jangan perbodohkan rakyat, jangan guna jentera kerajaan seperti polis, badan kehakiman dan banyak lagi, jangan fitnah e.g. kes liwat Anwar, jangan zalim, jangan salahguna kuasa, jangan salah guna wang rakyat. Banyak lagilah kalau nak disenaraikan di sini. Dalam BN, Umnolah yg paling ketara dan ketua dalam melakukan segala kejahatan ini. Ubahlah sebelum parah……salammmmmm

  3. aiyo says:

    It’s not a healthy trend that is developing in BN.

    Every other component party in peninsular BN is not performing except Umno. So, what does it mean?

  4. Desmund HH says:

    People like Suraya and Tan got no chance in BN because they will not fit in!

  5. Desmund HH says:

    PKR or DAP should invite Tan Keng Liang to join them. Maybe PAS…if he chooses to convert to Islam..hehehe.

  6. kip says:

    Umno and BN change? Change, my foot!

    If want to change, be more sincere. Different crowd, you say different things. How are we supposed to believe which is true?

    It is true that the people do not like PR more but they really hate the discriminating policies enacted by BN. Change? Very hard lor…

    If want to change, no way, brother…too many “handicapped” able-bodied people piggy bagging on you…..good luck to you…

  7. P.A.Chew says:

    Suraya definitely is missing the forest for the trees.

    How can the loss of non-Malay [Malaysian] votes be unrelated to Umno? It is precisely because Umno plays the racist/religous card that causes that non-Malay [Malaysians] to vote PR. Umno has hamstrung their own partners in BN by going this way.

    Only genuine change can bring back voter support to BN and this has been flogged by all the press since 0308 but Umno refuses to listen and conveniently says that MCA, Gerakan and MIC needs to buck up to win back non-Malay [Malaysian] support. With leaders like Suraya, Umno is going down……

  8. Kenny says:

    I have to say that Tan more or less hit the nail on the head when he offered the reason for why the young (non-Malay Malaysians) generally vote for the opposition.

    The short answer is education opportunities. When young non-Malay Malaysians leave school, the stark discrimination in education opportunities for them compared to the Malay Malaysians is enough to make them hate BN for life.

    What an effective way to recruit supporters for the opposition!

  9. kahseng says:

    If Umno believes it has gained the Malay Malaysian votes and intends to push this strategy, the constituency delineation process coming up (before GE13) in 2010 will see more racially desegregated seats, and many small Malay [Malaysian]-dominated seats.

    This way, the powers-that-be can create more MPs who win by playing with narrow ethnic issues that favour Umno.

  10. Ganesh says:

    BN needs more new young leaders! Old ones have to change already!

  11. sans says:

    How can they change when each party is a cocoon. BN is meant to breach that cocoon, but is dominated by one party.

    PR has to fight for all votes. Each member can appeal to everyone, but BN depends on its component members to appeal to different segments of people.

  12. yanto says:

    It’s true…I don’t really believe in PR…but’s better to give them a chance than just let my country go down together with Umno…Umno will never change….Tun Maha is back…that even worse…one thing for sure…they never learn from their mistakes…they keep on doing the same thing that created the 8 March tsunami..please…for God’s sake….please wake up….

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