KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — Wounded from losing Perak, Pakatan Rakyat fought back with greater ferocity to retain both Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau with bigger majorities, reinforcing a two-party concept and striking a blow to new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's “One Malaysia” idea.
Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional kept the Batang Air state seat in Sarawak with a bigger majority but the results laid bare the lie that its Election 2008 defeat was due to former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's weak leadership.
Ironically, Abdullah's trenchant critic and predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad campaigned vigorously yesterday for Barisan Nasional in both Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau and endorsed Najib as a better leader for the country's future.
The people in Peninsular Malaysia decided otherwise, with Bukit Gantang giving PAS candidate Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin a higher majority of 2,789 votes in what was seen as a referendum of BN's putsch in Perak when it ousted the popular mentri besar. Far from being a washed-up has been politician known for defying a state Ruler, the Pasir Panjang state assemblyman will now have a national stage to fight his cause apart from increasing the Pakatan Rakyat numbers to 82 in Parliament.
In the Kedah state seat of Bukit Selambau, the first scent of BN's loss came when candidate Datuk S. Ganesan told reporters he will not turn up at the counting centre in Sungai Petani. PKR's S. Manikumar retained the seat with an increased majority of 2,403 votes and won himself a state executive councillor post.
Their victories have brought to four by-election wins by the Pakatan Rakyat after earlier victories in Permatang Pauh last August that returned PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to Parliament and in Kuala Terengganu which was won from Barisan Nasional.
Anwar was happy with the results, conceding they did not expect to win in Batang Ai which he had earlier declared was the beachfront to take Sarawak. "Malaysians want to change irrespective of the new PM. They still want a change. They are stronger in their support for Pakatan Rakyat," he told reporters near Taiping.
He said he was satisfied with the results and glad about the Bukit Selambau win where Manikumar was one of 15 candidates, the largest field of candidates in Malaysia. Asked if the Bukit Gantang results reflected the people's desire for fresh state elections, Anwar said: "Certainly there should be fresh elections."
Perak Umno secretary Datuk Ramly Zahari said: "We still maintained the Malay votes that we got in 2008." He said the non-Malays voted for PAS because of the populist policies of the PR-led state government including awarding permanent land titles to new villagers. "And probably our strategy was also not right. We couldn't focus much on the by-election because of the party elections and in Perak itself we have been busy with the political turmoil," he told The Malaysian Insider.
PPP president Datuk M. Kayveas said the results were more disappointing than his own defeat in Election 2008, adding he believed BN could win and this was not a referendum on Najib who is widely blamed for ousting Nizar. "Don't prejudge him. He has not formed his Cabinet yet, give him time," Kayveas said in Taiping. "Najib's takeover and changes are yet to be felt on the ground. It will take six or seven months for it to be felt," he said, adding some did not even know that ISA detainees had been released.
MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat said the defeats reflected a desire for real change and it would take time for BN to regain the people’s trust and accept there is only one political master, the people. "We have a long journey ahead and there is much to be done as well as undone before we can firmly say BN is well grounded with the people to know how to serve the people.
"We must seize the opportunity to change or be forever silenced," said the Transport Minister, adding the setback will spur BN to work harder while the win in Batang Ai is encouraging ahead of the Sarawak state election.
Gerakan president Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon said the results were a reminder that BN has to effect reforms more concretely. "Admittedly, the results showed BN has yet to turn the tide in regaining support from the people, especially the non-Malay voters," he said in a statement. The former Penang chief minister said BN should learn lessons from these by-elections and retune its strategy and approach, which he described as the great challenge for the next two years. But he said BN has a good platform to perform, implement positive reforms and good policies benefiting the people as it remained the federal government and, in winning Batang Ai, retained the confidence of Sarawak's rural people.
Barisan Nasional's only consolation was in Sarawak where Batang Ai returning officer Nelson Mujah declared BN's Malcom Mussem Lamoh the winner at 7.40pm to thunderous applause. He won with 3,907 votes against PKR's Jawah Gerang's 2,053 in the remote constituency of 8,006 voters where the voter turnout was 71 per cent (5,670 voters).
Election officials said the final turnout in Bukit Gantang was 75 per cent or 41,626 out of 55,562 voters while it was 70 per cent in Bukit Selambau or 24,687 voters from 35,140 voters. Counting started at 3pm in Batang Ai while election officials said counting began at 5.30pm in Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau.
There were stand-offs between rival supporters in both Bukit Gantang, where riot police earlier fired tear gas, and Bukit Selambau where police had to stop them from throwing water-bottles at each other. Riot police fired tear gas in Pengkalan Changkat Jering to disperse rival supporters in the Bukit Gantang parliamentary by-election but voters continued to stream in to cast their ballots.
Polling was more peaceful in Batang Ai and Bukit Selambau, although the Kedah state seat had tense moments when PAS supporters stopped several busloads of people suspected of being phantom voters. Police said they were just BN supporters.
Witnesses said the FRU were called into the SMK Pengkalan Aur polling centre in Air Kuning, Changkat Jering to diffuse tension between rival supporters who threw bottles and chairs at each other between 11am and 12.30pm. Some of the elderly who came out to vote were affected by the tear gas which was apparently fired at the Barisan Nasional side. Apart from the FRU, police Light Strike Force personnel had to rush around the parliamentary constituency to keep both PAS and Barisan Nasional supporters apart.
A downpour at 1pm in Bukit Gantang did not last long, and the sun was back within the hour, bringing the voters streaming back. Election officials said the final turnout in Bukit Gantang was 75 per cent or 41,626 voters while it was 70 per cent in Bukit Selambau (24,687 voters). In Batang Ai, Election Commission chairman Abdul Aziz Yusof said it was 71 per cent (5,670 voters).
Bernama reported that six out of the 25 polling stations in Batang Ai were closed by 11am due to the small number of voters. Sarawak EC director Takun Sunggah said the polling stations were at SK Ulu Engkari, SK Nanga Delok, SK Nanga Aup, Sempang Kemas kindergarten, Salcra Batang Ai multi-purpose hall and the Nanga Patoh Agriculture Office. It is learnt that at least three buses with suspected phantom voters were stopped in Lubok Antu. They are now being held at the police station.
The EC said in the three by-elections, senior citizens and women were the majority of voters in the morning, while more young voters were expected to cast their ballot papers in the afternoon and evening.
In Sungai Petani, Kedah EC director Zainal Abidin Zakaria said the voting process for the Bukit Selambau seat went on smoothly and the fine weather was the reason many came out to vote in the morning at the 22 polling centres.
Kedah police chief Datuk Syed Ismail Syed Azizan said police were patrolling the roads and monitoring all the voting areas besides carrying out air surveillance. “So far, so good. No untoward incident has happened except for some shouting and jeering by party supporters in the hot spots,” he said. He also said a busload of BN supporters was mistaken for phantom voters by their political rivals.
Later, police said two men, one aged 37 and the other 54, were detained at Kampung Bukit Lembu this morning for stopping the bus, which was carrying BN election workers to their assigned stations across the constituency. Police said the two men, driving a Toyota MPV, cut across the path of the bus and forced it to stop before boarding it and preventing the driver from proceeding with his journey.
Manikumar arrived at his SMK Taman Ria Jaya voting centre and told reporters he was hoping for a bigger majority. He is one of 15 candidates running for the state seat, making it the largest field of candidates in electoral history. His BN opponent, Datuk S. Ganesan, was seen casting his vote at SJKT Ladang Perbadanan Kedah.
Independent candidate M. Vinsen has complained of discrepancies in the ballot papers at the Institut Kemahiran Mara polling centre. He said that his name was placed next to someone else's logo in the ballot paper. He also said that his name was misspelt in the ballot counting box which would be used for the counting process later.
Vinsen said he has lodged a police report and intends to take action against the EC. But the commission said it was a mistake that has been rectified.
Earlier, some supporters prayed for Nizar's success at the Bukit Gantang parliamentary by-election, where a victory will be seen as vindication for his short tenure as Perak mentri besar before he was ousted in February. He was mobbed by supporters outside the Sekolah Kebangsaan Changkat Jering but booed by BN supporters who greeted him with shouts of “Traitor” for having defied the Perak Ruler by refusing to quit as mentri besar.
The Bukit Gantang constituency has traditionally been pro-Umno but they voted for PAS in 2008 due to dissatisfaction with outside Umno candidate, party treasurer Datuk Azim Zabidi. The BN candidate is local boy Ismail Saffian, who is confident of faring better and regaining the seat. Ismail arrived at the SRK Bukit Gantang about 8.45am to cast his vote and told reporters later that he expected victory with a 3,000-vote majority. Apart from Nizar, the other candidate is independent candidate Kamarul Ramizu Idris. BN supporters were quieter and seemed content to wave BN and Umno flags. All shows of support have been peaceful thus far.
However, seven police Light Strike Force personnel complete with helmets, shields and armed with batons had to form a barrier between vocal PAS and BN supporters outside one voting centre. Taiping OCPD Asst Commissioner Raja Musa told reporters Light Strike Force personnel have been placed outside all voting centres to monitor and prevent rising tensions. The normally sleepy constituency and its main town of Taiping was heavy with traffic and there was congestion in some areas. Supporters from both sides are providing transport for voters to the polling centres which closed at 5pm.
The by-elections in Bukit Gantang and Batang Ai were held following the death of the incumbents, Roslan Shaharum (PAS) and Datuk Dublin Unting Inkot (BN) respectively, while in Bukit Selambau it was due to the resignation of its assemblyman V. Arumugam (PKR). – The Malaysia Insider