Friday, April 10, 2009

Questions on Kuala Terengganu

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Raja Petra Kamarudin

If you were to look strictly ‘on the surface’, this is what you would see.In the 8 March 2008 general election, PAS won the Wakaf Mempelam constituency with a 2,193-vote majority. In the 17 January 2009 by-election, PAS’s majority decreased to 2,061.In the 8 March 2008 general election, BN won the Bandar constituency with a 1,142-vote majority. In the 17 January 2009 by-election, PAS won this constituency with a 160-vote majority.In the 8 March 2008 general election, PAS won the Ladang constituency with a 31-vote majority. In the 17 January 2009 by-election, PAS won this constituency with a 357-vote majority.

In the 8 March 2008 general election, PAS won the Batu Burok constituency with a 1,161-vote majority. In the 17 January 2009 by-election, PAS won this constituency with a 1,006-vote majority.More voters came out to vote in 2008 compared to 2009, which saw lesser voters. Wakaf Mempelam saw a reduction of 138 voters, Bandar 460 voters, Ladang 241 voters, and Baru Burok 569 voters.

The total reduction of voters in 2009 over 2008 comes to 1,408.The areas where the Chinese form a fair percentage (or majority) of the voters are Pulau Kambing, Kampung Cina, Pejabat Bandaran and Paya Bunga -- all from the Bandar constituency -- and Batas Baru and Gong Kapas -- from the Ladang constituency. PAS lost in all these ‘Chinese’ areas.The drop in voter turnout was higher in these ‘Chinese’ areas compared to the ‘Malay’ areas. In some ‘Malay’ areas, the voter turnout actually increased slightly.

Figures do not lie, as they say, but there is a story behind these figures. What appears to be so is that the voter turnout reduced and that the Chinese voted BN. But there is more to this than the figures show.First of all, many Chinese did not come home to vote. It is estimated that at least 3,000 of the 8,000 Chinese voters work and live outside Terengganu. This was something very visible when we did our walkabouts in the Chinese areas. The Chinese we met were mostly in the 40s and older. It looked like we were walking through an old folks home.

Understandably, these outstation Chinese are those who could not find work in Terengganu. Many are, in fact, educated and there are no employment opportunities for them in a state that has no factories or multi-national companies. They, therefore, need to earn a living outside the state.

The Kuala Terengganu by-election was held too close to Chinese New Year. If they came home to vote then they would have to stay the whole stretch until after Chinese New Year -- which was not possible -- or go back to wherever they came from and then come back a few days later. This too would be very difficult for those who do not have leave to spare or are employed in a sales job where a day off would mean one day less income for them.

Our worry was that the outstation Chinese would not come home in the numbers needed to make an impact. MCA too would rather they not come home because they would certainly vote opposition if they did -- like their Malay and Indian counterparts from the East Coast who vote in Terengganu and Kelantan but work and live in the West Coast.

Many young Malays came back to Kuala Terengganu to vote. The young Chinese, however, were missing. Even up to Friday, the eve of the by-election, we hardly saw any young Chinese in our walkabouts. We did, however, meet many young Malays who had come home specifically to vote. Many young Malays we met stopped to shake our hand and to take photographs with us and they told us they had come home so that they can vote on 17 January and that they would be voting Pakatan Rakyat.

This was also true in Permatang Pauh where most ‘saluran 1’ saw an almost 50:50 split between Ariff Shah and Anwar Ibrahim, whereas in some ‘saluran 4’ Anwar garnered more than 400 votes against Ariff’s mere seven. It was the young or first-time voters who gave Anwar his 15,000-vote majority in Permatang Pauh. Wahid Endut would have seen a majority of about 5,000, plus a win in the ‘Chinese’ areas, if the 3,000 outstation Chinese had come home to vote in droves.

On Saturday, Polling Day, we did a tour of the Polling Stations and saw only the ‘old folks’ coming out to vote. Where were the younger Chinese? We did not see them. That was when I sent SMSess to various friends and told them to revise the PAS majority to 2,000-3,000. No longer would a 5,000-majority be possible. The younger Chinese are not coming home to vote.Some of my Chinese friends placed bets with bookies for a 2,000-vote majority for PAS and won the bet hands down.

On Friday, I walked into one Chinese coffee shop and a total stranger held my hand and asked, “Boss, PAS boleh menang 2,000 undi ke?” I smiled at him and said, “5,000 undi pun boleh.”“5,000 tak boleh,” he replied. “Cina ramai tak balek undi. 2,000 undi boleh menang.” He told me he planned to make some money for Chinese New Year and had placed a bet on a 2,000-vote majority for PAS.

Last night, a Chinese businessman who had placed a bet on a 2,000-vote majority for PAS invited me for dinner. He had ‘won big’ because of my ‘tip’, he told me, and he wanted to belanja me makan. He never told me how much he had won but I believe it must have been sizeable seeing that he was beaming from ear to ear.

Another Chinese from Kuala Terengganu phoned me on Monday to congratulate me. He too had won his bet. I told him I was actually quite disappointed with the result and had hoped for a 5,000-vote majority. “No way,” he replied.

“The Chinese did not come home to vote because the by-election was too close to Chinese New Year. If not then your 5,000-vote majority would have been possible.”As they say, if you want to know what the outcome is going to be, ask the gamblers. They know what the score is going to be because they place money on the probable outcome. And they do their research and maths before parting with their money.

But the ‘Chinese factor’ is not the only factor that influenced the result. At 3.00pm on Polling Day, the police set up ten roadblocks all over town. Kuala Terengganu was practically cordoned off and no one could get in or out. We tried to make our way to the PAS IT Centre in Kuala Ibai but were turned back. We tried another route and were turned back again. We just went around and around town at slower than walking pace trying to find a way to get out.

In the meantime, those who wanted to get to the polling centres were also turned back and diverted away from town. No one could reach the polling centres and those of us stuck in town could not get out either.

At 4.00pm, voting almost ground to a halt. The voter turnout was only 74% and this was very worrying. The low voter turnout means they can pad the ballot boxes with ‘phantom voters’. One hour later, when polling ended, the voter turnout spiralled to 79%. We were perplexed. Where did the extra 5% come from? This represents about 4,000 votes. Traffic was at a standstill and no one could enter or leave town. How did these 4,000 voters get to the polling stations?Three days before Polling Day, we were told that the 1,100 postal votes had been counted and that more than 300 votes had gone to the opposition. The Elections Commission issued a statement denying this and said that the postal votes had not been counted yet. When the official results were announced, 1,039 votes went to BN and only 86 to Pakatan Rakyat.

What was more alarming was that if you added the BN votes to the PR votes, the sum total does not tally with the total number of postal votes cast. This issue was raised with the Elections Commission who promised to look into the matter. Rest assured there will be NFA (no further action).

Around mid-morning of Polling Day, the PAS workers discovered the back gates to the polling stations all unlocked. Suspecting that this may be the route the ‘phantom voters’ would use to get into the polling stations, they locked the gates and stood guard the whole day. Invariably, the ‘phantom voters’ somehow got in between 4.00pm to 5.00pm to boost the voter turnout from 74% to 79%.

So, there is more to the Kuala Terengganu by-election than what the figures show. Sitting in Kuala Lumpur and analysing what happened based purely on figures does not give you the real picture. You have to be there to see the Chinese ‘old folk’ voters as opposed to the younger Malays who came home to vote to understand what happened. You have to be caught in the traffic gridlock where no one in town could get out and those outside town could not get in to also understand what happened.

Officially, Pakatan Rakyat won with just 2,631 votes and the Chinese voted BN. Unofficially, the figure is much higher and what BN got was only the votes from the older Chinese residents of Kuala Terengganu who had been threatened by BN. The younger Chinese from outside the state who would have told BN to go to hell did not come back to do just that.

Note that Ahmad Said told the Chinese: if you are nice to me, I will be nice to you, and if you are not nice to me, I will be ten times more not nice to you. And Rosmah Mansor reminded the voters that the government knows whom you voted for. While her husband, the Deputy Prime Minister, told the Chinese, you must show your gratitude to the government. And without the 3,000 outstation Chinese to ‘balance’ the votes of the ‘old folks’ who remember only too well the aftermath of the 11 May 1969 general election, the ‘Chinese’ areas ‘fell’ to BN.

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