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STS : Stakes high in polls

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  • Uncle Yap
    Straits Times Singapore Jan 5, 2009 Terengganu by-election Stakes high in polls Less-than-ideal candidates on both sides make this by-election a highly
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4 4:24 PM
      Straits Times Singapore
      Jan 5, 2009

      Terengganu by-election
      Stakes high in polls
      Less-than-ideal candidates on both sides make this by-election a
      highly unpredictable contest

      By Carolyn Hong, Malaysia Bureau Chief

      UMNO's Wan Ahmad Farid carries the baggage of being seen as an ally of
      PM Abdullah and his unpopular son-in-law. -- PHOTOS: THE STAR/ASIA
      NEWS NETWORK

      KUALA LUMPUR - WHEN the political tsunami swept away the Barisan
      Nasional (BN) in the general election last year, Terengganu stood firm
      despite predictions that it would fall.

      Its capital Kuala Terengganu, an urban seat with a significant Chinese
      electorate, also stayed with Umno, bucking the trend of urban
      constituencies nationwide that fell to the opposition.

      'If we win, it will be seen that the BN is the outgoing party, and we
      are the incoming.'
      PAS research centre head Dzulkefly Ahmad


      A recent analysis of the electoral data by political analyst Ong Kian
      Ming showed that the support for the BN in Terengganu fell by a mere
      0.4 per cent in March last year from the 2004 elections.

      This was negligible compared with other states like the Federal
      Territory, which saw a steep 20 per cent plunge.

      Terengganu bucked the trend then. Can it repeat its feat on Jan 17?

      That is when the 80,229 voters will vote in a by-election called after
      the Umno MP Razali Ismail died in November.

      Candidates will register for the ballot tomorrow. Umno is fielding
      former deputy Home Minister Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh, 46, against Parti
      Islam SeMalaysia's (PAS') Abdul Wahid Endut, 52.

      At least two independents - Mr Isma Airfath Hassanuddin, 38, and one
      from a small party Angkatan Keadilan Insan Malaysia - have also
      declared their interest.

      The stakes are high. A win for PAS will signal that the opposition is
      not defeated despite a serious setback when its leader Anwar Ibrahim
      failed to make good on his threat to topple the government.

      'If we win, it will be seen that the BN is the outgoing party, and we
      are the incoming,' said PAS research centre head Dzulkefly Ahmad.

      Mr Anwar is seeking to restart the opposition's momentum that it can
      ride to win another possible by-election in Sabah soon, and the
      Sarawak state elections due in 2011.

      Deputy Premier Najib Razak, who heads the Umno election machinery, is
      in the direct line of fire as it will be a gauge of the acceptability
      of his leadership as he gears up to become Prime Minister by March.

      What was behind the BN's apparent resilience to the March 2008
      tsunami? Being an urban area and a swing seat that has alternated
      between Umno and PAS since 1986, it was surprising that Kuala
      Terengganu held up albeit with a narrow margin.

      Mr Ong believes that the high number of new voters in Terengganu
      helped. The state increased its voter base by 14.4 per cent from 2004
      to last year.

      This surpassed even industrialised Selangor and was due to an effort
      by Umno and PAS to register new voters. It is apparent now that Umno
      did a better job in Terengganu.

      Democratic Action Party MP Liew Chin Tong said many Chinese voters
      were believed to have been moved to Kuala Terengganu from other parts
      of the state.

      This was one reason the Chinese vote held for the BN.

      Dr Dzulkefly also said PAS in Terengganu is less inclusive, and the
      Chinese 'were not impressed' with its leadership.

      This faction, led by its president Hadi Awang, had wanted closer ties
      with Umno after the March general election over fears of waning Malay
      political clout.

      The Chinese vote is crucial as the Malay vote has hardened into equal
      Umno and PAS camps.

      Mr Ong's analysis showed that PAS' heavy losses in the Chinese polling
      districts had cost it the seat in the last two elections.

      Kuala Terengganu is 87.4 per cent Malay, 11.6 per cent Chinese, 0.7
      per cent Indian and 0.3 per cent others.

      It is by no means certain that the BN still holds these advantages 10
      months after the March election. There is a sense that it has been
      steadily losing ground, and the heightened Malay rhetoric has spooked
      the non-Malays.

      Mr Ong points out that Umno also needs a very high voter turnout to do
      well.

      As for the candidates, both PAS and Umno's choices are seen as less
      than ideal.

      Mr Abdul Wahid from PAS was picked over another candidate who would
      have more appeal to the fence-sitters including the Chinese.

      Mr Wan Farid from Umno carries the baggage of being seen as an ally of
      Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and his unpopular son-in-law Khairy
      Jamaluddin.

      Neither has an obvious advantage, making this a highly unpredictable
      contest.

      The battle begins tomorrow.

      carolynh@...

      http://www.straitstimes.com
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