Hulu Selangor assessment and strategies

By Deborah Loh and Ding Jo-Ann (thenutgraph)
NO doubt about it. The fight for the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat is located within the Malay Malaysian community. Ceramah rhetoric on both sides has been geared towards raising emotive issues for this electorate. Barisan Nasional (BN) harps about Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s liberal ways and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s alleged sodomy. And Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) flogs the Apco-Jewish issue, among others.
But BN’s character assassination of PKR’s candidate for Hulu Selangor, Zaid, and PKR’s de facto leader, Anwar, may not influence Malay Malaysian voters all that much, especially those who see Umno as being a hypocrite. “Datuk Zaid, masa dia minum tu, dia dengan Umno. Dia tertekan orang Umno untuk minum bersama-sama. Ada tekanan, kan kita ikut?” reasons Sungai Tengi Felda settler Mohd Zaini Hamdan.
Likewise, Kampung Keliang resident Idrus brushes aside the campaign mudslinging. But it doesn’t mean he will vote for Zaid. “Minum arak ke, main judi ke, itu semua taruh ke belakang. Masa dua tahun ini, apa PKR buat untuk kami? Tiada!” Idrus, who would only give his first name, says in 2009, he eventually had to repair his zinc roof by himself because PKR didn’t, despite promising help.
Are any of these decisive factors for Malay Malaysian voters? And what of the Chinese and Indian Malaysian voters?
Voters’ profile
The 34,020 Malay Malaysian voters in Hulu Selangor make up 53% of the total number of 64,500 voters. In the 2008 general election, this group gave PKR only 45% of its vote.
This explains why Umno in Hulu Selangor was keen to field an Umno candidate after a ground survey showed that MIC frontrunner, Datuk G Palanivel, was unpopular. Their assessment was likely supported by the fact that it was Malay Malaysians who were the split voters in 2008. These voters supported the BN at the state level but denied the coalition at the parliamentary level.
That was how BN candidates were elected into the three state constituencies in Hulu Selangor but the parliamentary seat itself was won by the late Datuk Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad from PKR.
PAS, whose party members are focusing their campaign in the Felda and rural villages, projects that PKR needs at minimum, 40% of the Malay Malaysian vote in order for Zaid to scrape through. This is a drop from its share in 2008, concedes party research chief Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, who acknowledges the BN campaign’s strength.
“It’s crucial that Chinese [Malaysian] votes must increase to 70% or more to cover up the loss among Malay [Malaysians] if the Indian [Malaysian] vote stays the same,” Dzulkefly tells The Nut Graph.
Chinese Malaysian support for PKR is expected to remain or even increase. At the same time, pundits think Indian Malaysians will be the deal-breakers come polling day tomorrow on 25 April 2010; the 2008 results showed they were split 50-50. But Indian Malaysians can only be the deciders if BN is confident of the greater share of Malay Malaysian votes. Mid-week during the campaign, unofficial readings of ground support among Malay Malaysians were around 60:40 in favour of BN.
That explains Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s strategy in shuttling PAS’s spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat to campaign. It also explains why BN roped in former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for a spot on the stump.
Both men are persuasive crowd-pullers. But in the end, were the issues raised in the Hulu Selangor campaign of any substance? And how relevant were they to constituents?
Weighing the choices
Certainly, the issues of justice, and good and corrupt-free governance that PKR raised are relevant to any citizen. But two years after PR was elected to run the Selangor government, some Hulu Selangor residents say not much in their daily life has changed. BN, meanwhile, has been trumpeting its 52 years of development achievements. As for long-term policies, it says a vote for BN is a vote for 1Malaysia and for Vision 2020.
Both sides have made campaign promises for the constituency, including to the Orang Asli who are usually sidelined and ignored. The promises and goodies clearly show how a federal opposition party in power at state level can be no different from the ruling party in wooing voters with state resources.
Still, it will take more than a new highway interchange, drainage systems and one-off handouts to change the economic fortunes of ghost towns like Bukit Beruntung and Bukit Sentosa.

How about the candidates?

In terms of the candidates, BN newcomer P Kamalanathan added to his relative obscurity by refusing to take a stand on issues such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), affirmative action or broader national issues. PKR’s Zaid is a former Umno minister, a seasoned politician and lawyer. He is known as a principled man who resigned from the cabinet to protest the government’s use of the ISA, which allows for indefinite state detention without trial.
Kamalanathan, however, sparkled on the campaign trail, embracing voters warmly with an infectious enthusiasm. In contrast, Zaid was observed to be relatively detached.
Zaid’s admission to drinking alcohol and owning a race horse was targeted by BN campaigners. At the same time, Kamalanathan’s apparent kissing of Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s hand, defence of Perkasa, and dismissal of Hindraf were cited by PR as evidence that Kamalanathan was in Umno’s pocket.
Left to be seen
Yet, all these might be no more than the media’s chase for stories. Come polling day, there are other considerations as to how voters will vote.
If the split voting mentality prevails, will the Umno faithful, who believed their party deserved the seat instead of MIC, vote against Kamalanathan? This will strengthen Umno’s claims to the seat in the next general election. Or will they support the MIC candidate now that it isn’t Palanivel? Will the fact that the prime minister is also Selangor Umno liaison chief influence their vote?
For the fence-sitters, will they believe the BN’s development promises, or PKR’s? Will voters be swayed by Kamalanathan’s friendliness or look past Zaid’s stiffness?
PKR won Hulu Selangor with a slim majority of 198 votes in 2008. Barring any other tactics in the hours before polling tomorrow, a razor-thin margin is again possible whichever side wins.
For who knows the minds of voters? Unfortunately for Malaysian democracy, what seems likely from the past week’s campaign is that the rural majority will vote less on principles, and more on sentiments and promises.