A victorious Kamalanathan with Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (left)
and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak
THE Barisan Nasional (BN) has wrested back Hulu Selangor from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), but who is the real winner — MIC candidate P Kamalanathan, or Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak?
Kamalanathan polled 24,997 votes against Datuk Zaid Ibrahim‘s 23,272 in a closely fought race. There were 731 spoilt ballots. Voter turnout was 75.87%, compared with 75.24% in the 2008 general election. In the 2008 polls, PKR won the federal seat by a slim 198-vote margin. This time round, it lost by 1,725 votes.
Kamalanathan’s campaign was run not on what his principles would be as a parliamentarian, but on what the Najib administration wanted to sell. Hence, the MIC information chief was labelled a “1Malaysia candidate”. Indeed, even his name was adapted to suit his audience — Kamal to Malay Malaysians, Nathan to Indian Malaysians, and Alan to Chinese Malaysians.
For certain, the results reflect some degree of support for Najib’s initiatives. Beyond that, however, what do the results mean for both the BN and the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)?
How they voted
A quick count of votes in Malay Malaysian-dominated polling districts like the Felda settlement Sungai Tengi showed that Kamalanthan polled 66% of the votes. Other villages like Gedangsa, Sungai Dusun and Kampung Gesir also showed improvements over the BN’s results in 2008.
These polling stations are all in the Hulu Bernam state seat, where the BN reaped an almost 1,700 majority.
In the Chinese Malaysian-dominated state seat of Kuala Kubu Baru, Zaid obtained a majority of about 1,400 votes, also a marked increase from PKR’s share of votes here in 2008.
Zaid, accompanied by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah
Wan Ismail and Nasharuddin Mat Isa (far right), on nomination day on 17 April
Both rivals were neck-to-neck in the Batang Kali state seat, where voters’ racial categorisations are more mixed. The BN polled just over 50% of votes here.
Meanwhile, Indian Malaysian votes in estate areas like Changkat Asa, Ladang Kerling, Ladang Nigel Gardner, and even the semi-urban area of Taman Bukit Teratai, showed improvement for the BN candidate from MIC.
Impact of results
Possibly, the most pertinent impact on the country as a result of stronger Malay Malaysian support for the BN in this by-election is the shape of Najib’s future decision-making.
If Malay Malaysians, but not Chinese Malaysians, are endorsing the BN, will Najib come under greater right-wing pressure to slow down on liberalisation, including readjusting affirmative action policies, and increasing Islamisation? Conservative groups could easily argue that since Chinese Malaysians have not appreciated the government’s efforts, there is no further need to fulfil their demands.
On the other hand, continuing pro-bumiputera policies and greater Islamic fervour may not necessarily be priorities for Malay Malaysian voters in Hulu Selangor, especially those concerned with bread-and-butter issues.
For local grassroots politicians, returning the seat to the BN could simply have been the desire for a return to the patronage system. By having a BN-elected representative, Umno and MIC division leaders would once again enjoy the spread of federal constituency allocations received by a BN Member of Parliament (MP).
The BN should also not be too quick to claim the win as an endorsement of Najib’s government. Disgruntled Malay Malaysian voters here, especially Felda settlers who still have not obtained their land titles, may have decided to enjoy the promised campaign benefits for the next two years or less, before deciding again in the 13th general election.
This would be a similar phenomenon to the Ijok state by-election in 2007, where the BN poured millions of development ringgit into the contest. Voters picked the MIC candidate then, only to turn around and vote for PKR in 2008.
Kamalanathan with his wife Shobana Subramaniam,
after the polling results were announced
Political observer Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, Universiti Sains Malaysia deputy dean of the School of Social Sciences, says the by-election was a “test to see whether the BN has changed”. But given the above scenarios, the coalition’s win is unlikely motivation for change from the old school of race-based, patronage-driven politics.
The declining Chinese Malaysian support for the BN — a consistent trend in the past nine by-elections — continues to raise questions about the role of some of the BN’s component parties.
If — after 10 by-elections and a seemingly reform-minded prime minister — the Chinese Malaysian vote continues to side with the PR, the MCA and Gerakan ought to be assessing their game plan. A possible worst-case scenario within the ruling coalition is that Umno could start pressing for the return of seats “given” to component parties.
As for the Indian Malaysian vote, which showed improvements in areas where this racial group was dominant, support for the BN may have been out of practicality.
Ibrahim Suffian (File pic
courtesy of Merdeka Center) “The campaign issues about personal morality, although sensational, are less important than the development, economic as well as practical needs of the electorate,” notes Merdeka Center for Opinion Research director Ibrahim Suffian.
The earlier influence of groups like Hindraf has also lessened over the past two years, more so with Najib’s populist move as prime minister to release the group’s activists from Internal Security Act detention. Hence, the theory that Najib’s move to woo Indian Malaysians without waiting for MIC to resolve its internal problems seems to have borne fruit in Hulu Selangor.
“It seems that the momentum of the opposition has been blunted for now, and that the public has agreed to give the PM the benefit of the doubt. Najib will have to deliver on his promises,” Ibrahim tells The Nut Graph.
The new MP
If Kamalanathan wants to shine, he will now have to prove his mettle in Parliament against a more popular opposition. Public relations skills may carry him only so far. To gain the respect of his peers across the floor and a more sophisticated public, he’ll have to showcase his own capabilities or risk being known as Umno’s lackey. He is now the fourth MIC MP.
“The fight all along was between Umno and PKR, even though he was an MIC candidate. It was a Najib versus (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) fight. It’s going to be tough for the MIC [to assert itself in the BN], even with Kamalanathan’s win. If he swung the Malay [Malaysian] votes, it was because they saw him as a proxy to Umno,” political analyst Khoo Kay Peng tells The Nut Graph.
Khoo also feels that in this day and age, Kamalanathan cannot afford to function solely as a problem-solving MP. Khoo refers to Ijok, where PKR’s Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, who lost the by-election, was “resurrected” on the back of public desire for reform.
Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim greeting supporters in Kuala Kubu Baru town earlier on polling day
Lesson for PR
For PKR, the loss is a good lesson ahead of the next general election, USM’s Sivamurugan says. It needs to urgently address internal problems and the loss of confidence among its members, as noted by the rise in party defections.
“There is a gap in PKR between top leaders and the grassroots, and between those who joined the party in its formative days in 1999 and newer members. The old guard was cast aside and left to feel threatened by newcomers who were in a hurry for power and position.
“Anwar has to balance and synthesise between the old guard and the new,” Sivamurugan says in a phone interview.
Indeed, the PR as a whole has so far been riding high as the underdog. Its popularity is fuelled by external crises such as the BN’s takeover of Perak, and, of course, the second round of sodomy charges against Anwar.
In Selangor where Hulu Selangor is, however, PR was the state government. National issues of corruption and injustice, too, had little traction among the more rural electorate.
PKR’s challenge in the remaining two years before the next general election is to lead an effective state government in Selangor. As for the BN, without having suffered a resounding loss in Hulu Selangor, change might still be a long way off.
Moment of truth in Hulu Selangor
Hulu Selangor assessment and strategies
Convincing the Orang Asli in Hulu Selangor
What Indian Malaysian voters want
Saving Parliament from the EC
BN’s “nice guy” offer for Hulu Selangor
On the Hulu Selangor trail
Irrelevant PR rhetoric
Is Zaid’s drinking relevant?
Campaign delusions and contradictions
Hulu Selangor’s significance
What will Kamalanathan do?
Hulu Selangor’s four-corner fight
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