Tug of war for Malay votes in Bukit Selambau

By Shannon Teoh (Malaysian Insider)
SUNGAI PETANI, April 4 — Last night’s ceramah where PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat formed a tag team with PKR de facto chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was just the tonic the opposition needed to consolidate the Malay votes in Bukit Selambau.

Making up just over half the constituency, Malay votes have been a conundrum for the PKR machinery here.
According to its studies, PAS maintains the highest approval among the heartland Malays, while PKR lags far behind, with Umno in between.
“That is why we have been letting PAS work the ground in the rural Malay area,” PKR strategist Saifuddin Nasution told The Malaysian Insider. Saifuddin is also spearheading Pakatan Rakyat’s strategy in Bukit Selambau.
While all the drama here has surrounded the 9,731 Indian voters, both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat have not gotten carried away with it.
Instead they have been trying their best to inch their way into the hearts of the 17,179 Malay voters.
But there is still a disconnect despite the best efforts of both camps.
PKR candidate S. Manikumar and MIC’s Datuk S. Ganesan have both found the going hard among the rural Malays with the idea that the Bukit Selambau assemblyman should be Malay having gained traction after six Malay independent candidates decided to contest the by-election.
BN and PR have instead delegated their efforts in the Malay districts to their respective machineries to act on behalf of the candidates.
Other than the usual rolling out of Kemas (Community Development Department) funds, Umno has put nearly all its efforts into door-to-door canvassing, rather than ceramahs.
It has also multiplied activities by Biro Tatanegara, or Civics Bureau, which is BN’s state-sponsored propaganda arm.
According to senior sources involved in the election machinery, all wings have been ordered to adopt Wanita Umno’s visitation strategy and meet voters head on.
“We can see that three Malay districts may swing back to us,” the source said.
Umno is strongest in the northern rim of Bukit Selambau, where four districts spanning Taman Bandar Baharu to Kuala Sin were the same ones it retained in the last general election.
It is now seeking to reclaim semi-urban “red zone” Malays closer to Sungai Petani town, which is on the far western edge of the constituency.
It has already reclassified them as “neutral” and hope to make further gains by Tuesday’s balloting.
But in these areas, such as the Malay kampungs in Sungai Lalang, BN supporters are worried that the Umno machinery has not been impressive, with PR getting more attention during its visits.
Meanwhile, PR’s ceramah last night was held right smack in Bukit Selambau town, the meeting point right at the centre of the rural districts, while Anwar himself had visited a kampung in Kuala Sin for Friday prayers in an effort to break the Umno stronghold.
Should PR maintain its hold on the seven Malay districts that it won in the last election, then it may look back on last night as a defining moment in the race.
But Umno will probably play the last trick in the contest, with former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad rejoining the party on Monday.
The Kedah native is due to make his appearance at the eleventh hour in the Bukit Selambau by-election, sending the message that Umno and BN are confident of returning to its glory days.