KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — The upcoming Bagan Pinang by-election is the best chance for Barisan Nasional (BN) to end the opposition’s winning streak, but the ruling coalition is starting off on a defensive note.
In an all too familiar scenario, Umno yet again enters the campaign defending its choice of candidate.
It picked former Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Tan Sri Isa Samad to contest the by-election.
Isa, 59, is popular with the grassroots but is tainted, having been suspended for three years from Umno for buying votes during the 2004 party elections.
By picking Isa, Umno is seen as riding roughshod over public sentiment.
The by-election was called after a former Umno assemblyman died last month. Polling will take place on Oct 11.
Umno was also on the defensive in the last by-election in Penang when it fielded a disbarred lawyer. It lost that round.
Its leaders are trying to paint the choice of Isa as that of the people of this coastal constituency in Negri Sembilan.
“The people of Bagan Pinang and Teluk Kemang, and not only Umno but people of all races, wanted him,” Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said.
Few would disagree that Isa has what it takes to win. He has a loyal base of support in the area.
An Umno divisional leader told The Straits Times that the party could not afford to lose after six consecutive losses in by-elections in the peninsula since last year’s general election.
“The party is fragile now,” he said.
It is thus reluctant to take a risk even though the demographics of the seat heavily favour the BN.
Of the 13,600 voters, 4,600 are postal voters from a nearby army camp. Postal votes are a safe vote bank for the BN.
The remaining 9,000 voters are divided into 63 per cent Malays, 21 per cent Indians, 11 per cent Chinese, and the rest classified as others.
Umno won the seat in last year’s general election with a majority of 2,333 votes.
Analyst Ong Kian Ming, who specialises in electoral politics, said 63 per cent of the Malay vote then went to the BN, excluding the postal votes.
As for the non-Malays, the BN picked up 42 per cent of the votes.
The high level of Malay support and large number of postal votes are factors that favour Umno.
But it is clear that Umno does not want to take any chances.
Its pledge to reform has suddenly started to ring hollow, say critics.
“Malaysians shook their heads in dismay at Isa’s nomination,” said veteran opposition MP Lim Kit Siang.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who strongly opposed the choice of Isa, said he will not be campaigning for the BN.
“Well, he is the party nominee… My personal feelings do not count,” he said.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, an MP in Negri Sembilan, said the party has to be proactive in countering the inevitable backlash.
“He has paid the penalty. There must be some rehabilitation,” he said.
He also pointed out that the opposition cannot take the moral high ground because it, too, has tainted leaders.
Isa will be up against Negri Sembilan PAS commissioner Zulkefly Mohamad Omar, 44.
A Parti Keadilan Rakyat divisional leader, Shahruddin Abdul Hamid, 52, plans to contest as an independent. — The Straits Times
Umno plays safe with Mr Popular