Morning after: What does Hulu S’gor augur?

Written by KTemoc (
The dictionary defines ‘bellwether’ as “a person or thing that shows the existence or direction of a trend”.
I have stated that the outcome of the by-election in the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat would be the bellwether for the next Malaysian general election. And my observation that it would be déjà vu the 2007 Ijok by-election has come to pass.
Notwithstanding the BN victory in this by-election, I still believe the first salutary lesson is that no candidate can win solely on ethnic appeal.
Najib Razak has played the game well by having an Indian candidate in a Malay majority area a la Ijok. Shades of Ijok also brings us to the second lesson of Hulu Selangor, that by-elections in Malaysia means the party with juggernaut-sized political machinery (including those ‘public institutions’ in name) and deep pockets can focus all its resources on one locality in the very short span of time of official campaigning.
To crush the PKR candidate Zaid Ibrahim, the Umno-led BN political campaign adopted a tripodal-style strategy.
Unprecedented buy election
The first of the tripodal attack was sheer raw pork barreling worth tens of millions of ringgit, so much so that it’s a wonder there was no complaint by locals of porcine presence in the area.
Hulu Selangor enjoyed a festival medley of Raya dinners, Christmas presents and Chinese New Year ang pows inclusive of walking ATM facilities. Grandiose promises galore were made to an extent that prompted Lim Kit Siang to challenge the MACC to investigate Najib’s guarantee of RM3 million to a Chinese school in Rasa.
No doubt also, another outcome of the (covert aspect of) pork barreling had been a ‘coincidental’ surge in political defections from PKR, comprising its erstwhile Malay members who have returned to Umno.
Same old race-religion cards
The second prong of the campaign strategy was a relentless assault on the personal character of the PKR candidate Zaid Ibrahim, using a mix of ethnocentric accusations against him and pointed questions about his propriety as a Muslim. Previous and newly recruited defectors from PKR were fully employed to rubbish Anwar Ibrahim and thus vicariously Zaid.
One of the more sublime examples of such ethnocentric insinuations had been Malay mainstream media showing Zaid surrounded by Chinese aides talking to the Chinese in Hulu Selangor while by contrast the BN’s candidate Kamalanathan was photographed together with Malay voters and Umno bigwigs.
The communal message was clear and would have done Perkasa proud. Ironically the ultra-nationalist NGO joined in the campaign for MIC’s Indian candidate to the delight of Kamalanathan who had earlier defended Perkasa and subsequently hugged the movement’s president Ibrahim Ali himself.
While the tactics of character assassination and pork barreling would be considered BN norms in Malaysian elections – recall 2007 Ijok and its infamous 600 Janome sewing machines and then-Works Minister Samy Vellu’s boast of compressing 10 years of public works into a month – the most questionable of its strategy has been its third prong, the use of the Election Commission (EC).
EC acting beyond its powers
Just prior to Election Day, the EC changed the polling stations of nearly 14,000 voters from the ones they had voted in March 2008. The action affecting one-fifth of the total number of Hulu Selangor voters, mainly Pakatan Rakyat’s supporters, created not only confusion and chaos but hardship for the more elderly voters to cast their ballots.
Most shockingly, the EC also violated the Constitution when it illegally transferred 228 voters from the Hulu Selangor constituency to the Selayang constituency without the approval of Parliament.
Former Bar Council chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan condemned the EC for usurping the powers of Parliament, explaining that transfers of voters across constituencies could only be done at the voters’ request or during an electoral delineation exercise. She advised voters to take legal action, though I wonder whether that would be worthwhile considering our equally remarkable judiciary.
The word ‘bellwether’ was meant to indicate voters’ preference or trend but such unmitigated pork barreling, dirty tricks and illegalities have now given us pause as to the appropriateness of this word in the context of Hulu Selangor.
PAS’s commitment to Pakatan
Another lesson for Pakatan is that its PAS component, with the exception of Nik Aziz Nik Mat and his Erdogen faction, has not been a reliable and committed coalition ally.
PAS still remembered Zaid Ibrahim as a former bête noire for opposing its previous declaration to introduce hudud laws in the Peninsula east coast states. Additionally, the Umno ad hominem campaign of labeling the PKR candidate as a non-observant Muslim added to the local PAS grassroots’ disdain of him.
So the Islamist party put on a feeble, lacklustre and lukewarm effort in the Pakatan campaign for Zaid, until the arrival in Hulu Selangor of its Mursyidul Am (spiritual leader) the Tuan Guru after his return from Mecca.
PAS seemed to have forgotten the DAP’s total and committed support for PAS candidates had ensured its victory in Bukit Gantang and other by-elections.
Pakatan is a formidable coalition when every member party plays its part fully and sincerely (as the DAP does), but the DAP and PKR should remember that Pak Haji Nik Aziz won’t be with them forever. They should now plan for the day he ‘retires’, when Pakatan may well have to soldier on without PAS.
Diminished roles of MIC, MCA
Najib’s pork barreling of RM64 million (as far as is known) has been so notorious that political pundits had set for him a minimum 3,000 votes majority to justify spending that scandalous amount. Perhaps Pakatan supporters may console themselves that P. Kamlanathan had won with only a 1,725 majority, well short of that benchmark.
Worth noting too is the fact that BN won the three state seats within the Hulu Selangor federal constituency in 2008 with a combined majority of 6,000.
Even though the EC has already issued the official results on yesterday’s by- election, the real answer would have to be viewed in context of what the all-powerful Umno had done to achieve the result – namely, can the Hulu Selangor outcome really be a bellwether given the factors discussed above?
Then we need to ask the Indians and their community leaders including MIC: ‘Quo vadis’ or ‘whither goest thou’? Despite their complaints about 52 years of marginalization under successive Umno-led governments, the majority of them have returned to the BN fold.
Nonetheless, MIC leaders must also question themselves on how sovereign is their party and where they now stand when Hulu Selangor had been purely an Umno show, including Umno’s direct choice of the MIC man as their by-election prop. Not unlike their Indian community, MIC should realise they have also been marginalized by Umno.
As for the Chinese votes, Lim Kit Siang’s call for the Herculean marshalling of 85% a la Bukit Gantang to support Zaid Ibrahim fell short by 10%. However, it is the MCA that is the real loser. It was not able to prevent many of its claimed 8,000 members – half of the Chinese registered voters in Hulu Selangor – from voting Pakatan.
I have a feeling that Najib is less jubilant than he has shown in public for the BN victory. While he no doubt relishes increased Malay heartland support and the bizarre return of Indians to the BN fold, he must wonder about MCA and its inability to regain Chinese support!