Updated 1:27am, 8 April 2009
(Corrected at 6:30pm, 8 April 2009)
Nizar, the winner in Bukit Gantang (Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)
TAIPING, 7 April 2009: In a major boost for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in Perak, PAS’s Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin won the Bukit Gantang by-election tonight with a comfortable 2,789 vote majority over his Barisan Nasional (BN) opponent.
The embattled menteri besar, who was ousted in the BN takeover of the state in February, received 21,860 votes, against 19,071 votes for the BN’s Ismail Saffian. Results were announced by the Election Commission at 9.14pm at the vote-tallying centre at the Taiping Municipal Council Hall.
Independent candidate Kamarul Ramizu Idris received only 62 votes and will lose his RM10,000 deposit. Voter turnout was 75.1%, with a total of 41,626 votes cast out of a total of 55,562 voters. There were 456 spoilt votes.
Turnout was slightly higher when compared with last year’s general election at 72.6%. The winning majority was also significantly bigger as compared with 2008, when PAS candidate Roslan Shaharum won by 1,566 votes.
Corrected The Bukit Gantang by-election was necessitated by Member of Parliament (MP) Roslan’s death on 9 Feb. With this win, PAS keeps its number of parliamentary seats at 23, with the DAP having 28, and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) 30, giving the PR a total of 81 seats in Parliament. The BN has 137 seats, and there are four independent MPs.
It was sweet victory for Nizar, who is also the assemblyperson for Pasir Panjang. He had come under increasing attack in the run-up to polling day, with BN leaders portraying him as having committed treason against the Perak sultan, and for being the DAP’s puppet.
But the PR had hit back, calling on voters to use the by-election as a referendum on the BN takeover of the state, which they claimed was done illegally, and also on the new premier, Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
A supporter wearing a Nizar mask during polling held earlier in the day
Polling was held from 8am to 5pm today in 38 polling districts throughout the constituency.
Voting was marked by sporadic shouting matches between rival supporters here and there in tense areas such as Kuala Sepetang and Changkat Jering, both of which were won by PKR in the last general election.
In Changkat Jering, it was reported that Federal Reserve Unit personnel fired tear gas to quell a fracas between two groups of rival supporters at the Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pengkalan Aur polling center in Air Kuning. A video of the incident has been put up on YouTube:
No injuries were reported.
There was heavy police personnel throughout the day on all main roads in the constituency, causing traffic jams in this usually idyllic semi-rural area.
PAS supporters had started to crowd outside the vote tallying centre from 6pm onwards. Several PR leaders, including the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang, also made their way to the centre as the night wore on.
When Nizar’s victory was finally announced by the returning officer Datuk Mahmud Masidi at 9.40pm, a small burst of fireworks was let off, providing a jubilant end to the day.
Nizar, in an immediate reaction, said the win was a strong signal to the federal government that the people reject corruption and injustice and wanted a strong system of democracy.
“It is a signal to dissolve the Perak legislative assembly and let the people have their right to vote,” he said at a press conference. The Edge reports that Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who led the BN charge said the coalition accepts the voters’ decision although the party had worked hard to explain issues to the people.
“Maybe the voters had already made up their minds,” he said at a press conference.
“I will propose to the prime minister that an independent post mortem be conducted to discover why we lost, what are the issues or the weakness of our machinery,” said Muhyiddin.
“The outcome of the post mortem will prepare us better in future.”
When asked if the result of the by-elections was a referendum, he said there could be some issues that BN has to deal with.
“But is not a referendum.”
“Maybe the feel good factor of the new leadership or new PM taking over has not really sunken in for the people. It is too early to gauge the transition,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bernama reports that Muhyiddin, who is also Umno deputy president, said the BN would call for an independent post-mortem to be done on the by-election results to identify the factors that influenced to voters especially in Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau.
“I will bring up this matter of an independent post-mortem with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Such a post-mortem would be more objective,” said Muhyiddin, who is also International Trade and Industry Minister.
Asked if the date of the by-election was not favourable coming so close after Umno’s polls, Muhyiddin said the date was set by the Election Commission.
Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir said the BN’s defeat in Bukit Gantang would not break the spirit of the BN to continue with its agenda of championing the interests and aspirations of the people.
“The people have made their decision. It is not a rejection of the BN in Perak” he said.
MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, in accepting the by-election verdicts, also called for BN leaders to go back to the roots and work harder and get ready to face the next general election.
“We have a long journey ahead and there is much to be done as well as undone before we can firmly say BN is well grounded with the people to know how to serve the people.
“Tonight, we thank the voters for again telling us to change, to go back to our roots, be the nation builders we were known to be and be responsive to calls for greater openness, good governance and be more focused on building a 1 Malaysia. We must seize the opportunity to change or be forever silenced,” he commented on the triple by-election results tonight through his blog at ongteekeat.net, reports Bernama
Gerakan president Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon also said BN should take the results as a reminder for the ruling coalition to effect reform more concretely.
Despite the results showing the BN had yet to turn the tide in regaining support from the people, especially the non-Malay Malaysian voters, it could be a blessing in disguise for BN to work harder to win back the people’s support, he said.
“If so, it might be a blessing in disguise for BN in the long run. BN should learn lessons from these by-elections and retune our strategy and approach. This will be the great challenge for the next two years,” he said in a statement.