Thursday, January 15, 2009

In final stretch, BN campaign still plagued by problems

By Adib Zalkapli

KUALA TERENGGANU, Jan 12 - With only five days left before polling day, the Barisan Nasional (BN) campaign has yet to reach its peak, while party workers are still finding it difficult to gauge the support of voters in the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

BN candidate Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh is still fighting off the perception, mainly from within his own party Umno, that he is elitist, even as the BN campaign appear ever more defensive in the home stretch of the contest for the mainly-Malay constituency.

The Malaysian Insider understands that in most polling districts, BN was still unable to gauge the people's sentiment while the party machinery has been stop-start with no clear theme in the campaign. Some observers have attributed the poor performance of the party machinery to the internal bickering in the party, as some state party leaders are worried that a victory in Kuala Terengganu could be translated as an endorsement of Datuk Ahmad Said's leadership, whose appointment as Menteri Besar last year caused a stir in the party.

There are 38 polling districts in the Kuala Terengganu constituency and the campaign machinery in each district is jointly headed by the local branch chiefs, a division from the state and a national leader assigned by the party headquarters. But a Terengganu state assemblyman said that the failure to judge the voters inclination in each polling districts one week after nomination did not mean that the party machinery has not been functioning. Jabi assemblyman Ramlan Ali however admitted that there were still minor problem in the machinery work.

'Like in the polling districts of Durian Burong, where I am overseeing, they projected victory with the margin of 56 votes, but based on my assessment we are still trailing, as I doubt all the outstation voters who returned during the last election will come back this time,' said Ramlan, adding that last year, BN won in the area of 1,838 voters by 21 votes. He added that different methodologies rather than inefficiency has resulted in the discrepancy.

But a dysfunctional campaign machinery is not the only problem faced by the Malay nationalist party, as its candidate Wan Farid has been fighting the perception that he is an elitist that cannot relate to the largely rural people of Kuala Terengganu. Interestingly, the personal attacks against him are not coming from Pas or its candidate, Wakaf Mempelam assemblyman Abdul Wahid Endut, but from Umno, a fact that has been admitted to by the president Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi. Yesterday at a campaign stop Wan Farid once again had to defend himself, denying the rumour that he cannot converse in the local dialect.

'Some people said I cannot speak the Terengganu dialect and how can I be the Kuala Terengganu MP. I studied in Terengganu and I opened a legal firm in Terengganu,' Wan Farid told reporters.
The former political secretary to Abdullah is also battling the view that the election is a referendum on Datuk Seri Najib Razak's leadership, who is slated to take over the government by March, preferring to believe the election is about the people of Kuala Terengganu, in an effort to show that he is a people friendly leader.

'I am not unique, this is just like any other by-election,' said Wan Farid when met recently.

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