SUNGAI PETANI, March 29 – Just imagine, 15 candidates for one by-election. It’s unprecedented and the presence of the 13 independent candidates for the Bukit Selambau by-election weighs heavy on the minds of both the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and the Barisan Nasional (BN).
The record number of candidates – and the fact that many of them are disgruntled PKR members, both past and present – has brought a different dimension to the contest for the Kedah state seat.
However, PR leaders are confident that they hold a large enough lead on the ground to mathematically overcome whatever votes these independents may “steal.”
“Even if each candidate takes 100 votes, based on our 2,362-vote majority last year, we will still win. That is the formula,” Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak told The Malaysian Insider.
PR’s election director Azmin Ali added that voters would not back the independent candidates as those in rural areas have “been marginalised for the past 50 years, so they now need a strong leader.”
The PKR vice president added that if S. Manikumar wins, he would sit on the executive council by virtue of the fact that the previous incumbent V Arumugam vacated the post reserved for an Indian PKR assemblyman.
“So the people of Bukit Selambau will vote for him, as he can bring direct development to the area,” Azmin said.
But MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek said that the high number of independent candidates would affect PKR adversely, although BN will also have to struggle with anti-MIC sentiments among the Indian community.
“Most of the independent candidates are disgruntled PKR men who are unhappy with their candidate,” echoed MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu.
He added that Indians here were “overwhelmingly happy” with Datuk S. Ganesan, an MIC central working committee member, citing the support he received when he attended a function last night attended by 1,200 Indians.
However, eyewitness reports said that Samy Vellu was forced to leave the event after 10 minutes because he was booed aggressively by the crowd.
Judging by the head count of supporters, Azmin would seem to have a case, as the 5,000-strong group accompanied by a lion dance troupe waving PKR, Pas and DAP flags cheered boisterously for “Reformasi!”
Barisan Nasional’s 2,000-strong camp was dominated by the baju kurung of Wanita Umno and supported by Malay percussion instruments.
Deputy Election Commission chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar pointed out to police that using musical instruments on nomination day was an election offence and requested that they “advise the supporters to stop” but the supporters kept banging on.
PR supporters engaged in a battle to see who could be louder not with their BN counterparts, but with a police helicopter which whirled incessantly overhead.
The only undesirable incident was when Samy got caught up in a war of words with some PKR supporters, but police quickly moved in to break up the situation.
With over 100 riot police supported by FRU personnel, supporters did well to keep within their allotted areas.
BN election director for Bukit Selambau Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was visited by Azmin at the BN tent and both agreed to a clean and fair campaign.
“No provocation and no violence,” they said and shook on the deal with Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil, MCA vice president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and Pas information chief Mahfuz Omar as witnesses.
The first to arrive this morning was Husaini Yaacob, who was bright and early at 7am. By the time nominations began at 9am, 10 independents and Manikumar were in the centre, but Ganesan was still waiting with the BN ranks for Samy Vellu and Hishammuddin to arrive.
The 10 independents included Radzi Md Lazim, a last-minute candidate who said he was a PKR Baling division chief up to 2007, turning the 14-way fight into a 15-way contest.
But Ganesan and the three independents all managed to show up by 9.45am, 15 minutes before nominations closed.
It included A. Jayagopal, whose PKR membership was suspended when he declared that he would contest Bukit Selambau.
He arrived and spoke to reporters in English, Hokkien and Tamil and even sang in Mandarin.
“I am very close to MB Azizan but I do not want an exco post. I just want to help the poor people who do not even have clean drinking water,” he said before going on with more details about himself to the point that reporters told him to hurry into the nomination centre.
At noon, returning officer Datuk Abdullah Mat Akhir announced that nine objections were received and rejected, confirming that 15 candidates would take part in the historic by-election.
While Manikumar will run under the PKR flag, and Ganesan the BN scales, the other 13 selected various logos such as a rooster, an alarm clock, an aeroplane and a fish.
The battle for the April 7 polls is expected to be fierce, with more than just a state seat at stake.
It is seen as a referendum on the relevance of MIC and forms part of a triple header that will reflect the acceptance of Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s newly-minted leadership of BN.
It will also see how the rakyat is responding to the PR administration in Kedah with a series of recent scandals afflicting the coalition’s state governments in Penang, Perak, Selangor and also here in Kedah.
PR look set to ignore a ban on open-air ceramahs reportedly issued by state police with Azizan saying that “the only black and white on that is the newsprint from the media reports.”
BN, on the other hand, is riding on the new leadership of Umno. Vice president Hishammuddin said that “the process of returning support to BN has already begun with the new Umno line-up.”
May best party win