Avoiding issues in Bukit Selambau

By Shanon Shah (thenutgraph.com)
THE Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) both seem keen to avoid their vulnerabilities in their campaigns to win the state seat of Bukit Selambau in Kedah.

For example, at BN press conferences and interviews, including by candidate Datuk S Ganesan, leaders refuse to address allegations that new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is tainted with multiple scandals. BN leaders have predictably stayed away from talking about accusations that Najib was involved in the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.
At the same time, several Umno leaders, such as newly elected vice-president Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil are touting the BN’s takeover of Perak as PR’s just desserts.
While less obvious, the PR is also struggling to come up with a convincing campaign that is relevant to local concerns and sentiments.
In kneejerk fashion, every single PR leader has brought up the Altantuya issue. Some like DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang have used interesting ways to talk about her without actually mentioning her name. Issues such as the Perak takeover and the violent death of A Kugan under police detention have also featured prominently in the PR’s campaign. The crowds have lapped all this up, of course.
DAP insiders have confessed to reporters, including The Nut Graph, that talking up the PAS-led Kedah government’s achievements is an uphill task. Apparently, Kedah’s PR government pales in comparison with the new PR governments of Penang, Perak and Selangor. So, even while PAS’s formidable machinery is itching to lead PR in canvassing votes, ceramahs and press conferences by the PR remain devoid of highlighting local issues.
Indeed, even PKR’s S Manikumar is running a campaign focusing on “building intangible assets within individuals”.
There has hardly even been a peep about reviving local council elections, something that PR, and in particular DAP, has been pushing for in other states. Similarly, pet PR issues like abolishing the Internal Security Act has also hardly been brought up in PR ceramahs.
Doesn’t add up
Of course, going by the numbers attending the ceramahs, PR wins hands down. Not only that — from The Nut Graph’s observations, PR’s ceramahs have been most consistently attended by a gender-balanced, multi-racial, multi-generational crowd.
But Sungai Petani is no Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur — it would be impossible to attract gigantic crowds here. Having said that, even with the banning of open air ceramahs, PR seems to be doing quite well in its shop lot ceramahs. Crowds from around 200 to more than 1,000 have turned up.
BN leaders, however, have started touting a visit by former prime minister and former Member of Parliament (MP) for Kubang Pasu, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on 6 April 2009, a day before the polls. It is left to be seen if Mahathir can draw in the same numbers as Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, or if he will even attempt to.
PR ceramah in Bukit Selambau
At the end of the day, it is not the number of ceramah attendees that determine victory. The two coalitions know this. The BN is therefore banking on voter disillusionment with PR — in fact, this is the backbone of BN’s campaign narrative. The BN also says it is focusing on canvassing votes door-to-door and organising cultural events.
Nevertheless, campaigners for PR and also some independents have told reporters they have not bumped into BN party workers during their daily rounds.
The PR is banking on still-high anti-BN sentiment to prevail over infighting in PKR and what several observers have referred to as a bland candidate in Manikumar.
In this case, the 13 independents are not as frivolous as they seem. For example, Major (Rtd) Anuar Abdul Hamid could genuinely split the Malay Malaysian vote, being an ex-Umno member and a local who has access to local community leaders. Such a split in the vote will probably hurt BN more than it would PR.
Nevertheless, even among the 13 candidates, issues seem to rank low on their list of priorities. In fact, the only issues-based candidate is L Sarala, who consistently talks about uplifting single mothers and retrenched women workers.
It is strange that a by-election which is seeing 15 candidates contesting — a record, it has been repeatedly stressed — is discussing so few issues that are relevant to locals.
Something is up in Bukit Selambau. Going by observation alone, perhaps the issue voters are facing is this: how to avoid returning to a BN representative while not entrenching a PR government that is turning out to be quite uninspiring.