By Baradan Kuppusamy (Malaysia Insider)
JAN 14 - As the battle for Kuala Terengganu enters its final lap, indications are the Pas candidate may end up winning the minority Chinese support but losing the majority Malay votes. It would be both significant and hilarious if this happens.
The DAP's top leaders – adviser Lim Kit Siang, Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok – and along with influential blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, appear to have eased Chinese fears of Pas's fanaticism that they had witnessed during the 1999 to 2004 period when PAS ruled Terengganu and enacted into law the Hudud and Qisas laws.
Four years later, it is the reverse. Chinese voters, who number about 11 per cent of the 80,000 electorate, are enthusiastic about Pas and its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners the DAP and PKR.
Large numbers of Chinese voters have lost their fear of Pas and hudud and now pack the DAP rallies and dinners. They are also donating enthusiastically to the PR cause – all signs of how the Chinese vote will go.
A big crowd puller is the DAP's Kok. After her ISA ordeal, she was successfully packaged and sold as a heroine – a Joan of Arc of Malaysian politics.
She is hugely popular and is a fantastic vote puller and, by most counts, is significantly influencing Chinese voters in favour of Pas.
Ironically, Pas appears to be trailing behind Umno in winning over the majority of Malays who form 88 per cent of the voters and whose final preferences will decide the outcome of the by-election.
Umno is attracting larger than the usual number of Malays to its rallies compared with the Permatang Pauh by-election, where it lost miserably.
Although its election machinery was hit by infighting, Umno leaders have managed to patch up differences and are able to show a united front, led by Prime Minister-designate Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Umno is also showing humility, besides dishing out development money and promising more, including oil royalties of up to RM3 billion annually.
In addition, the ghost of Altantuya and alleged defence contract kickbacks that dominated the Ijok and Permatang Pauh by-election are not an issue in this campaign.
Here, Pas is relying on more traditional themes – Islam, Umno corruption and arrogance – all time tested and calculated to delivered.
But voters have heard it all before. With a recession on the horizon and the cost of living rising, voters are focusing on bread and butter issues and here Umno/BN have an edge.
Rightly or wrongly, it is fixed in the minds of people that Pas equals economic stagnation and Umno/BN, warts and all, stands for economic development.
A recent assessment by Umno officials also found that more Malay voters were leaning towards Umno not just in Kuala Terengganu but also nationally, and are beginning to see the party in its traditional role as 'protector' of Malays, especially with the national political scene in a flux.
In a recent poll, the independent Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research confirmed that more Chinese are likely to swing to Pas as they feel a stronger opposition in Parliament was very much needed but the majority of Malays polled had disagreed.
About 37 per cent of Chinese polled also said PR, of which PAS is a member, could take care of their interests, but only 19 per cent of Malays shared that sentiment.
In fact, 60 per cent of the Malays surveyed felt Barisan Nasional was a better choice with only 26 per cent of Chinese agreeing with them.
In the survey, 94 per cent of the Chinese also supported a political system based on the supremacy of the people with only 38 per cent of Malays agreeing. Over half of Malays preferred a system giving preeminence to Malays.
In the 2008 election that was won by BN, 53 per cent of Malays had voted for PAS while 64 per cent of the Chinese voted for Umno/BN. The voter turnout then was 87 per cent.
If Malay voters are not really evenly split between Umno and PAS as earlier election statistics suggested, but are now favouring Umno, then the importance of Chinese voter support for BN would recede.