Mad scramble for Hulu Selangor

By Adib Zalkapli (Malaysian Insider)
SHAH ALAM, March 26 — Hulu Selangor MP Datuk Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad’s death last night has sparked a scramble among likely candidates to stand in a seat crucial to both Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) confidence ahead of the next general election.
It is understood that BN might give the seat — with a significant Indian vote — to Umno, and will provide a different seat to MIC, whose deputy president, Datuk G. Palanivel, stood there in Election 2008.
PR will stick to PKR contesting the seat that Zainal Abidin had won with a wafer-thin majority of 198 in the last elections. But the party is keen to present a strong candidate to keep the seat and stem its loss, following the departure of four federal lawmakers, who are now independents.
The Malays make up 53.9 per cent of the more than 60,000 voters in the constituency. The Chinese vote pool there stands at 26.7 per cent, and Indians, approximately 19 per cent, while other races are at 0.41 per cent.
It is understood that, with the Malay vote is evenly split, PKR is hoping to retain the Indian support that it received in Election 2008.
PKR won the seat two years ago on the back of ethnic Indian uprising, which saw the formation Indian rights group, Hindraf.
The Malaysian Insider understands that PKR had identified an Indian professional to contest the seat even before Dr Zainal Abidin’s death.
Another name, PKR political bureau member, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, also emerged last night as a potential PKR candidate but his name is unlikely to appear on ballot paper, said a party insider.
But Selangor PKR election director, Abdullah Sani, dismissed any talk of potential candidates for the seat.
“The party leaders have not even met on this issue, so any name mention now is merely speculation,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
Abdullah also played down the race factor in candidate selection.
“If it is such an important factor, Dr Zainal would not have won in the last election. Furthermore, he was already very sick during the campaign,” he said.
For BN, the sentiment among the Umno grassroots leaders is the seat should be contested by candidate from the Malay party, despite the hard work put in by Palanivel in the constituency for the last few months.
Palanivel’s candidacy and the expected BN victory would give the MIC deputy president the much-needed legitimacy to take over the party leadership from Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu.
“The demand by Umno for the seat is not new, it started since the era of Tan Sri Muhammad (Muhammad) Taib. When I was the division Youth chief in the 1980s, we even sent a memorandum to the leadership,” said Hulu Selangor Umno division chief, Datuk Mohamed Idris Abu Bakar.
“But the division will listen to the top leaders; if they field MIC we will follow, but if they give [the seat to] Umno we will be happier,” said the Hulu Bernam assemblyman.
Palanivel has been campaigning in the seat despite his narrow loss in Election 2008.
“I will work even harder to wrest the seat back for BN,” he said when contacted last night.
“I am ready, I have been working and serving the people non-stop.”
BN has 137 lawmakers in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat, while PR only has 78, after three PKR men turned independent and another was kicked out of the party. There are now five independents and two SAPP lawmakers in Parliament.
“This will be an interesting by-election to watch, especially in the current situation,” political analyst, Associate Professor Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, told The Malaysian Insider.
A senior PR leader admitted as much, saying, “There will be a lot of horse-trading in both coalitions for the best candidate, whose victory will boost the winning coalition’s confidence.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the Indian electorate’s unpredictability will complicate the campaigning in the seat.
“The Indian vote is difficult,” the leader conceded, alluding to the coalition’s loss in the Bagan Pinang state seat by-election, where the Indians swung to support Tan Sri Isa Samad’s political comeback to win for Umno.
Zainal Abidin, who suffered from brain cancer, passed away last night at his home in 9, 1/2, Jalan Cheras, Kajang, and leaves behind a wife, Datin Siti Zaharah Mohd Zin and four children. He was 71.
The Dewan Rakyat Speaker will have to inform the Election Commission, which will then call for a by-election within 60 days,
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had launched Umno’s Juara Rakyat campaign to win votes there last February, promising RM15 million to repair the roofs of public flats in the constituency.
Pakatan Rakyat de facto leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has also spoken there at ceramahs and promised services after the PKR MP fell ill.
Analysts say the Malay vote is evenly split between the rival coalitions, so the significant Indian minority will be crucial to both.
Zainal Abidin was an Umno Hulu Langat state assemblyman from 1990 before being dropped from contesting the 2004 election.
He served as deputy mentri besar from 1995 to 1999 and was also in the state executive council under the then-mentri besar, Datuk Seri Khir Toyo.
Zainal Abidin crossed over to PKR in 2005 following a fall out with Umno.