BN might win, but if BA ...
7.10pm, FRI: The hot seat now is Lunas, a small state constituency of Padang Serai in northern state Kedah.
Come polling day Nov 29, the main tug-of war will be between Barisan Nasional candidate S Anthonysamy (from MIC) and Barisan Alternatif candidate, Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (from Keadilan), yet to be officially announced (Keadilan's Saifuddin for Lunas by-election, Nov 16).
However, a last-minute change of mind, possibly due to last-minute bargaining between Keadilan and DAP might result in a DAP candidate to substitute Saifuddin.
The one who will be "stealing votes" from both BN and BA candidates is the newly announced independent candidate R Kumarasamy, an MIC member, who says that he will quit from MIC today to stand for the seat.
No matter how one looks at it, the campaigning during the by-election in cowboy town Lunas will definitely be a fishing of votes along racial lines, owing to the fact that this constituency has always been coalition BN's domain.
The constituency has a voting population of 26,746 - with Malays comprising 43.4 percent, Chinese, 37 percent, and Indians making up 19.6 percent.
The Indians are said to be traditionally in favour of BN but if the Opposition manages to convince the Indians that they have not gained anything from BN or will not gain anything from BN, then the Indians might just be swayed to vote for BA.
The Chinese are said to be fully behind the Opposition, what with many controversial issues upsetting the community, such as mother tongue education via the Vision School project and also the alleged misuse of JE fund and a long-dormant education fund linked to MCA.
However, only the Malay vote is confirmed to be split, according to the grassroot leaders of various parties in Padang Serai and of neighbouring parliamentary constituencies of Sungai Petani and Kulim Bandar Baru.
The main issues here vary from place to place.
Among those in the rubber and palm oil estates - mostly Indian voters - the main problem is that of retrenchment that affected many when numerous estates closed down and of basic facilities in estates such as housing.
For the mostly Chinese business community, it is the infrastructure, such as roads, that they are asking for.
For those in the rural Malay kampung, they are asking for roads, dewan orang ramai (public halls) and surau (small mosques).
Views of all parties - including that of the Opposition's - are that victory will most likely go to BN - as is usually the case for by-elections, looking at the victories in Teluk Kemang and Sanggang recently.
One resident of Lunas, who is also an Umno member, simply states the reason BN always wins by-elections in small towns and rural areas is because the whole jentera kerajaan Malaysia (government machinery) is free to be used to ensure victory of BN.
"It is unlike during the general elections when the jentera is forced to scatter. Semua mai turun (Everybody will come down)," said the resident who has been there for the past two decades.
This has been confirmed by MIC president S Samy Vellu, who has publicly declared that he and the whole MIC will be fully based in Lunas during the campaigning period to ensure BN victory.
Then today, Umno Youth head Hishammuddin Hussein chided Kedah Umno heads for "being too busy with the party's division elections and neglecting the Lunas by-election".
MIC and Umno have also started campaigning from house to house before nomination day, fixed on Nov 21, although this is deemed illegal under the election laws. BN party workers have been spotted in kampung and estates around Lunas. There is also news that work has started on water irrigation projects.
PAS MP of Kuala Kedah, Mohd Sabu, says that victory might just be BN's as "all the Santa Clauses of Umno, MCA and MIC will go to Lunas, along with Risda, Felda and Kemas agencies".
"BN will be giving out all the kerbau dan lembu (buffalos and cows) projects, which is what happened in Sanggang. In a rural area like this, people will vote on what is brought to their door during the campaign period, not by looking at the issues that affect them," said Sabu, referring to the farming subsidies given out by the government to the people of Sanggang during the last by-election.
According to Sabu, BA managed to garner a higher number of votes in the Teluk Kemang by-election as the place is more developed and people are very affected by issues, unlike Lunas, where the main worry centres on bread-and-butter issues.
However, Keadilan vice-president Tian Chua is hopeful that BA might just be able to break tradition, if voters can be convinced to vote on issues.
"First of all, BN did not anticipate this and they have been playing with the Malay sentiments when this by-election was called for. Umno is not in a solid state as there is a lot of passive resistance from the grassroots.
"Then there is the blunder with the Chinese community, both by MCA and Umno. The Indians will have to look at the issues and vote, thus they play an important role."
Tian says the people in the estates might vote for MIC but there is a big majority of them, such as industrial workers and civil servants, who feel that BN has sidelined them when it comes to development projects.
"Then there is also the disgruntled group from the estates that feel that election promises have yet to be met," he added.
MIC, in being extremely confident in scooping the Lunas seat, confirmed what Sabu has said - that many goodies are waiting for those who vote for BN come Nov 29.
"They (the opposition) can come alone or they can come in a team, we know we will take the seat," says V Saravanan, Kedah state MIC chief, also a state assembly representative of Bukit Selambau and state executive councillor.
"The one standing for contest is not a stranger. The estate people here know Anthonysamy as he has been the MIC Kedah secretary for a long time and during functions, all the estate people will gather and he will be handing out charities. He is very charitable. What more qualification does one need?" Saravanan asked.
The late state assembly representative Dr Joe Fernandez was also known to be "charitable" as he had his medical clinic in Lunas and this was said to be a main factor why Lunas Indians in the estates and poor Malays voted for him in the last general elections.
Anthonysamy, on the other hand, is not a doctor, but a practising lawyer who runs two firms in Sungai Petani and Butterworth.
"Furthermore, Anthonysamy is also an estate boy who tapped rubber, then worked his way up to be a lawyer. He might hail from Sungai Petani but then again, that is not very far and he has made his mark here by helping out in the estates.
parents are still living in the estates and he still goes to visit them,"
said Saravanan, adding that this will be strong point as the candidate must
"seem" to be able to relate to the grassroots.
Umno division heads, when asked what the chances are of BN winning the seat, say that with the MIC candidate, there does not seem to be any problem.
They seemed to be worried of the split in Malay votes and this might explain why they have allowed MIC to contest the seat, despite the fact that it was reported in the mainstream media that the seat is not in the MIC quota.
"Lunaih ni memang hak MIC. Kalu kita nak pertahan kerusi tu, depa orang India mesti terasa (Lunas is definitely MIC's right. If we (Umno) were to fight for the seat, the Indians would feel challenged)," said Kulim Bandar Baru Umno chief, Haji Rahman Haji Ahmad.
"The Indians will not give their votes to BA. The Malays who vote for the Opposition are PAS fanatics. They will vote the Opposition because they want to bring down BN. These fanatics would rather see (Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) come down and in that situation, they will not vote for an Indian from BN," said Rahman.
Condemning the Malays of Lunas for leaning towards BA, Rahman says that the Indians and the Chinese have pledged their votes to Kedah Mentri Besar Syed Razak Syed Zain when he visited the state constituency yesterday.
Rahman went on to say that there are Chinese who will vote for DAP but "only few Chinese will vote for a Malay".
This statement, however, seemed to be upstaged by a gathering of a group of Chinese residents of Lunas yesterday, who handed over of a petition of 2,000 signatures to demand that BA place a Keadilan candidate there.
While PAS acknowledges humbly that it will be quite difficult to "break tradition" and win the Lunas seat, one Keadilan member says that BA definitely stands a good chance only if Lunas voters take a minute to examine the issues.
For BA, the main task now is to go all out to convince voters that if BA wins, the voters will have a credible voice to represent the people. For BN, even if it were to win by a one-vote majority, there's little doubt that it will be turned into a muscles-flexing triumph.
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