By Wong Choon Mei (Suara Keadilan)
Pakatan Rakyat leaders, who met Election Commission chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd this afternoon over several new proposals, said the Penanti by-election has been confirmed as on, but the nomination and polling dates will only be announced on Monday.
“Yes, the Election Commission has confirmed the by-election is on, but they need a bit of time to complete certain preparations, like the choice of venues, etc. So they told us the announcement will be made on Monday,” said Sivarasa Rasiah, Keadilan vice president and MP for Subang.
The EC had wanted to lay down new ground rules, including restricting the number of supporters attending nomination and polling day events. They had also wanted to impose a longer cooling-off period of as much as two days before balloting.
“We discussed and in the end it was the Pakatan’s unified stand to outright rejec t these proposals as they infringe on the rights of the voters. The EC must stop acting on behalf and in favour of the Umno-BN. It must be non-partisan and neutral. How else can the parties have confidence in free and fair polls, what more the voters!,” said Sivarasa.
“We stress there is a cost to democracy, though not to the fantastic RM31 million chalked up by the police in the past five by-elections. Nevertheless, the police must be there to control the crowd. We need hardworking and alert uniformed personnel to be there. What we do not need and what taxpayers should not have to pay for are the overly large numbers of light strike force trucks, FRU trucks, helicopters and water canons.”
Najib kicked up a fuss
The Penanti seat fell vacant after Keadilan leader Fairus Khairuddin resigned amid allegations of corruption. Although the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission had breathed down hard on him, referring the case to its prosecution department, a senior officer told him on Wednesday that he has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
“MACC’s legal and prosecuting division decided that the statements have no basis for prosecution. The Attorney-General also agreed with the decision,” the MACC said in a statement released on Thursday.
The 33-year old Fairus, who also quit as Penang deputy chief minister (I), has re-confirmed his wish to stay out of politics for the time being.
Said Tian Chua, Keadilan information chief: “Of course, the resignations will still stand. This is his wish and we must respect him for doing what he believes is the right thing. We don’t simply resign important posts like a state assembly seat or the DCM post just for fun as the Umno-BN has suggested.”
Having lost four out of the five previous by-elections, Prime Minister Najib Razak kicked up a fuss over Penanti. In fact, his initial reaction was an autocratic ‘No’ to holding another one, citing unnecessary costs. Pro-democracy groups however condemned the refusal and he has since toned down the rhetoric, saying he may offer a walkover to the Pakatan.
Many pundits also believe the ruckus was intentional and part of Najib’s bigger political ploy not to carry out state-wide polls in Perak, where three-quarters of the people want a fresh mandate to re-determine their state’s leadership.
Nevertheless, a walkover offer in Penanti, if it comes, would be welcomed by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. But a by-election would still have to be carried out if there are Independent candidates who wish to participate. The Umno-BN will make its final decision to contest or not after meeting later this month.
A Malay heartland
Penanti is one of three state seats under the larger Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency, held by Anwar.
In the 2008 general election, first-timer Fairus thumped his rival by obtaining 7,346 votes. Abdul Jalil Abdul Majid, who carried the Umno-BN flag, only managed to gain 5,127 votes, giving Fairus a 2,219 majority.
Located on the mainland, Penanti boasts a picturesque expanse of padi fields, with rubber and palm oil plantations dotting the constituency.
It is made up of little villages with a smattering of commercial activities. Most of the residents are industrial workers and small businessmen.
There are 15,421 voters, of whom 11,296 or 73 percent are Malay, 3,732 or 24 percent are Chinese, and 371 or 2 percent Indian.
Penanti by-election is on, dates to be announced Monday
By Wong Choon Mei (Suara Keadilan)