Najib rethinks campaign promise after Sibu vote

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid (Malaysian Insider)
Najib said no decision had been made regarding the RM5 million project promised to Sibu voters. — file pic
KUALA LUMPUR, May 17 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today he has yet to decide if he will approve the RM5 million flood mitigation projects promised to Sibu voters if Barisan Nasional (BN) won yesterday’s by-election.
The prime minister had struck a “deal” with the voters there during the Sibu vote, promising allocations to alleviate the prolonged flooding problems in the area if they backed BN.
“We’ll see first because we have not made any decision on that,” Najib told a press conference here.
The prime minister had made a last-minute pitch in a DAP stronghold on Saturday, when he announced an allocation of RM5 million for flood-mitigation projects in Rejang Park.
“If Robert Lau becomes the MP on Sunday, on Monday I will ask the cheque to be prepared. Do we have a deal or not? We do! You want the RM5 million, I want Robert Lau to win,” Najib reportedly told the crowd.
His remarks sparked an uproar among Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders and election observers who described Najib’s campaigning manner as an insult and a form of “blackmail” to the voters.
DAP chairman Karpal Singh has called on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to probe Najib for alleged corruption. The prime minister’s “deal”, said the Batu Gelugor MP further, was also illegal under the Elections Offences Act.
The DAP pulled off a surprise win in the Sibu by-election yesterday, defeating BN’s SUPP by 398 votes in a hard-fought race.
DAP’s Wong Ho Leng polled 18,845 votes compared to BN candidate Robert Lau’s 18,447 votes. The margin of victory was just a little more than the 395 spoilt votes.
Commenting on the Sibu results, Najib admitted that there were weaknesses in the ruling coalition’s machinery while conceding that PR was more creative in their campaigning approach.
“I feel disappointed by the defeat (in Sibu) of the factors I see is that our machinery there is still operating in the old ways when they are supposed to be more creative and energetic.”
But the BN president remained confident that the defeat did not rattle the ruling coalition’s support base there, arguing that the narrow majority merely signaled a split in support towards both coalitions.
While he maintained that BN would accept the the by-election outcome, the prime minister contended that BN could recapture Sibu in the upcoming general elections.
“We must analyse thoroughly what were our weaknesses and also the message given by the Sibu voters but because the defeat is a narrow one, we need to use the opportunity to bounce back with an invigorated spirit,” he said.
Najib said BN’s defeat may have been caused by the “urban swing”, a political phenomena that contributed to the ruling coalition’s poor performance in Election 2008, the worst in four decades.
The Sibu vote was seen as a bellwether for the Sarawak state elections which must be called by next year.
The BN chairman did not say if the Sibu vote outcome would reflect the voting pattern at the state elections but said the coalition would have to look into improving its performance.