The dividing race for voters

“Najib smelt blood and when he came in, he brought his presence, his clout and the targeted expenditure,” said DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong.

Zaid, said Liew, came in as a national figure with a principled reputation. But Zaid’s attributes did not shine through in the campaign.

PKR’s dilemma is the mirror opposite to that of the Barisan Nasional. It is in danger of being over-reliant on Chinese votes while Barisan has to lean on Malay support.

When it finally sank in at about 8pm that PKR had lost in Hulu Selangor, the party’s boyish-looking Selangor Youth chief Khairul Anuar made his way to the nearby mosque.

His parents who had come from Malacca were waiting there and he also needed to contain his disappointment.

Like many PKR supporters on Sunday night, he thought his party was on the way to winning based on the early results coming in from the Chinese-majority areas.

But it was not to be and Khairul really had to control his feelings because he was the emcee for the post-election rally or what they had thought would be a victory rally.

It was an emotional evening and the defeated Datuk Zaid Ibrahim finally gave in to some discreet tears. He seemed to have aged in the space of a week and his hair looked more grey than when he began the campaign.

Zaid had been through the most stressful week of his life, forced to endure all sorts of accusations about his life and his politics. As such, he could not be blamed when he let out some of the frustration and declared this the “dirtiest and most corrupt” by-election ever.

His chief advocate Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim could only manage a short speech because his voice had been reduced to a croak after all those ceramah.

Those who spoke consoled their supporters with words of encouragement while slamming the winning side.

PKR supremo Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had left for an overseas assignment earlier. Otherwise, he would have set the night on fire with his rhetoric.

Zaid did not do too badly despite being hit left, right and centre. Although he lost by more than 1,700 votes, his own total tally exceeded that of the deceased MP by about 100 votes.

But the irony is that while Barisan Nasional is disturbed about losing the Chinese ground, PKR is worried about its standing on the Malay ground.

Zaid was the preferred candidate among Chinese voters in a survey commissioned by the party and he went on to secure up to 78% of the votes in Chinese majority areas.

Barisan won in all the three state seats that make up Hulu Selangor in 2008.

This time, the Kuala Kubu Baru state seat, which has several Chinese new villages, fell to PKR. But Barisan held on to Batang Kali and Ulu Bernam where Malays make up more than 60% of the electorate.

The battleground, as predicted, was the Malay votes.

“The first thing that comes to mind is PKR has to seriously think about what it means to the Malays,” said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian.

“PKR and also Pakatan Rakyat has to come out with a clearer idea of what it wants to offer the Malays, the sort of message it wants to send out to the Malays,” said Ibrahim.

The result is a very polarised situation where one side has more than 60% of the Malay votes, the other has three-quarters of the Chinese votes.

Umno, Ibrahim said, still has its cache of Malay votes and has strong underpinnings among the Malays. Umno’s psychological linkage with the Malays is very much intact.

The Malay trust in Umno as the vanguard of Malay interests and rights are still strong even as Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak tries to liberalise the economy and loosen the nuts and bolts of the quota system.

PKR’s message of fairness, or ketuanan rakyat has not been well translated on the Malay ground.

“Malays still see themselves as a disadvantaged group and this is reinforced by hardline people in Umno and groups like Perkasa. It is hard for PKR to bridge that gap of Malay insecurity with its multi-racial message,” said Ibrahim.

PKR has played it by ear most of the time, veering between social democratic ideals to a liberal form of politics. These ideals play well on an urban and sophisticated crowd but not on a rural and conservative setting.

The Pakatan side has admitted to several setbacks, the most serious of which was the Prime Minister’s role in the campaign.

“Najib smelt blood and when he came in, he brought his presence, his clout and the targeted expenditure,” said DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong.

Zaid, said Liew, came in as a national figure with a principled reputation. But Zaid’s attributes did not shine through in the campaign.

“The Barisan successfully narrowed the discourse to his drinking and racehorses and nothing else,” he said.

Most of all, PKR finally came full frontal with a Najib-led Barisan. They had a foretaste of it in Bagan Pinang when Najib had just come in as Prime Minister.

“It showed us how difficult it is to fight him and it was a good reminder that Barisan is a mighty opponent. This will allow us the opportunity to go back to the drawing board,” said Liew.

The experience has also shown Pakatan they have no choice but to go into the next general election as a coalition. No party can do it alone.

More than anything else, Hulu Selangor has taught both sides to sit up and take note of the new political landscape and that the people should not be taken for granted.

The Star

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