Mat Taib or bust for Hulu Selangor voters

By Clara Chooi (Malaysian Insider)

HULU SELANGOR, April 10 — If there is an absolute about the coming Hulu Selangor by-election, it is this: Barisan Nasional (BN) will cruise to victory if Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib is fielded as a candidate.
The ruling federal coalition lost the seat by a mere 198 votes despite winning all three state wards in Election 2008, prompting local leaders to pitch for the popular ex-Selangor mentri besar as the candidate to claw it back from incumbent PKR.
Some quarters claim PKR is praying that this would not happen, believing it would completely strip them of their chances to secure a crucial win on the April 25 polling day, after losing five federal lawmakers, one of which has caused this by-election.
However, this is an unlikely scenario as BN chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak had already discounted the possibility, when he announced recently that the parliamentary seat would stay with the MIC.
In fact, contest will likely see MIC deputy president, Datuk G. Palanivel, who was the constituency’s former MP, fielded once again as a candidate.
The four-term MP had failed in his bid to retain his seat during the tsunami of Election 2008 and lost to PKR’s Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad.
[A banner calling for Muhammad’s candidacy in Hulu Selangor. — Pictures by Choo Choy May]
A banner calling for Muhammad’s candidacy in Hulu Selangor. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
Interviews with the locals across the constituency the size of Malacca over two days, however, showed two glaringly significant trends: that voters on both camps, BN and Pakatan Rakyat, want Muhammad —or “Mat Taib” — as their MP, and that BN may face defeat if they put up Palanivel again.
While hardcore BN supporters are willing to cast a grudging vote for Palanivel if he remains their candidate, others feel their vote would certainly then go to the PKR candidate, who is expected to be Malay.
It is doubtless Mat Taib, who was once the state assemblyman for Batang Kali, one of the state seats in Hulu Selangor, had left a lasting impression on the semi-urban constituents during his tenure.
The faces of villagers lit up with smiles at the mere mention of his name, and Mat Taib’s popularity did not just end with the Malay community or the older generation of voters.
In fact, it is also clear that when it comes to Mat Taib, or “Mike Tyson” as he is also known in Umno for his rugged good looks, no one cared which symbol he represented — whether it be BN’s or any other party’s.
Hamzah Ali Bakat, 45, from Kampung Sungai Masin, who is short of hearing in one ear, said that it was Mat Taib who had helped him gain access to facilities for the underprivileged.
“It was under his rule also that I managed to get my four children to school for free,” he said.
Mat Taib, he added, was not just a leader, but a rakyat just like everyone else.
“He was so popular with everyone, everyone knew him, everyone liked him. He worked for us and that’s what we admired,” said Hamzah.
[Sapuan says that even the Chinese and the Indians in Hulu Selangor love Mat Taib.]
Sapuan says that even the Chinese and the Indians in Hulu Selangor love Mat Taib.
Another trader, Roshidah Mohamad, 46, agreed, saying that no problem was too small or too dirty for Mat Taib to handle.
“The PKR government, they have taken over for two years now but I see no changes. The village of Kampung Sungai Masin floods every single time during a heavy downpour and they have done nothing. They come in their vehicles to look around but they never get down to see what is happening,” she said.
Cyber-cafe operator, Rozairi Mohd Zain, 31, said that he would look at the “skin colour” of the candidate before casting his vote in the coming by-election.
“In fact, I will look at the skin colour of the candidate, not the symbol. If they field Palanivel, I believe he will lose. If it is Mat Taib, the BN does not even need to campaign at all — he will win without question,” he said.
Rozairi, who resides in Rasa, admitted that the PR government had done well for the people in its two years of rule but insisted that it was Mat Taib who had truly contributed to Hulu Selangor.
“He brought so much development to the constituency — the factories mushroomed, the industries came here, the Perodua factory was built here… and the spill over effect is good. For business people like us, this is what we want to see — development,” he said.
He pointed out that the only reason why Palanivel had lost in the last election was because of “protest voters”, who were angry with the MIC man and BN, and wanted change.
“It may likely happen again. Do not forget, people these days are not so stupid anymore, they will not buy into money politics or allow themselves to be convinced to vote for someone just because the person offered them rewards,” he said.
[The peaceful town of Rasa has not yet been hit by the election fever but already constituents are calling for former MB Mat Taib to contest.]
The peaceful town of Rasa has not yet been hit by the election fever but already constituents are calling for former MB Mat Taib to contest.
Rozairi agreed that the Malaysia needed a stronger opposition voice in Parliament in order to spur the “complacent” BN politicians into action.
“We want a stronger opposition in Parliament — it cannot just always be DAP’s Lim Kit Siang yelling. With a stronger opposition, the BN government has to work harder to maintain their places.
“Look at how Najib is trying to bring reform to the people now,” he said, referring to the prime minister.
Fellow cafe operator, Azlan Hassan, 31, from Kampung Sungai Kamin, said that Palanivel had caused voters like him and Rozairi to look at the candidate’s skin colour before voting.
“He (Palanivel) and the MIC did nothing here. They held on to the seat for four terms; it is too long. What have they contributed?” he said.
Meanwhile, in the BN stronghold of Sungai Tengi, more objections were also heard against Palanivel’s possible candidacy.
Sungai Tengi Umno branch chairman, Sapuan Bohari, said that the general ground sentiment, especially among the Malays, of Hulu Selangor, was the same — Palanivel had to go.
“We respect whatever decision the BN leadership makes but it is true that Palanivel has lost support. However, most of us would be willing to cast our votes based on the symbol the candidate represents and not who the candidate is.
“However, if Mat Taib is fielded, that is a different story. Even those in the opposition love him. And I am talking about even the Chinese and the Indians. When he comes for functions, they all rush out to greet him,” he said.
Branch committee member, Zainol Abidin Asngari, said that it would be a great disappointment to BN supporters and the Malay community at large if the BN leadership were to field Palanivel.
“We respect [their decision] and we will vote but we will not be happy. But if it is Mat Taib… even the fence sitters will jump off the fence for him. He is truly well-liked because he has proven himself before.
“And Sapuan is correct, it is not just the Malays who love him. The Chinese, especially the elderly ones, are all very fond of him. After all, he is a local boy,” he said.
[Kampung Chuang Rasa penghulu Lim Kem Seng says that no candidate from PKR could beat Mat Taib in the election.]
Kampung Chuang Rasa penghulu Lim Kem Seng says that no candidate from PKR could beat Mat Taib in the election.
True enough, interviews with several Chinese locals at the town of Rasa, just outside of Kuala Kubu Baru, a state seat held by the MCA, proved that Mat Taib’s popularity indeed transcended racial boundaries.
An elderly Chinese man in his 70s who would only identify himself as Kau went to great lengths to explain just how much the people adored Mat Taib in the area.
“He was not just any politician — he really respected us and he listened to us. He helped us all and brought so much development to the area,” said Kau.
He related a personal experience when he once approached Mat Taib for help in the latter’s mentri besar’s office.
“He saw me and called me to come in and tell him every single detail of the problem I was facing. And then he asked me — why aren’t all the other Chinese asking me for help, too?
“He said to tell my friends not to be afraid of him for he was a fair man to all the races, and he was right. And I told everyone about it, too,” said Kau.
Ironically, Kau, a retired soldier, was formerly a DAP loyalist.
“But Mat Taib is good,” he insisted, despite knowing the party that Mat Taib represented.
Kau explained that during his tenure as MP, Palanivel had hardly worked for his constituents.
“What did he do? I hardly saw him here,” he said.
Kau continued, saying that he had lost faith in local politics now and had become a fence-sitter, waiting for either side to offer him rewards if he voted for them.
[The Chinese community of Rasa in Hulu Selangor still favours Muhammad.]
The Chinese community of Rasa in Hulu Selangor still favours Muhammad.
Kampung Chuang Rasa penghulu Lim Kem Seng, whom the PR government had appointed to the Village Development and Security committee , was also quick to admit that no PKR candidate would stand a chance against a Mat Taib candidacy.
“He was the mentri besar here before and he did a lot of hard work for the constituency. There is hardly any doubt that he would win if he were fielded.
“It does not matter if the PKR fields a big, strong candidate — Mat Taib will win. But if it is Palanivel, then I think the opposition stands a chance,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is expected to announce BN’s pick for Hulu Selangor on April 15 while the PKR will announce their choice two days before that.
There are 64,500 registered voters in Hulu Selangor, with 63,701 regular voters and 799 postal voters.
Of the total, the Malays make up the majority with 34,020 voters or 52.7 per cent. The next largest group is the Chinese with 16,964 voters (26.3 per cent) following by the Indians at 12,453 voters or 19.3 per cent.