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|Written by Yong Min Wei & Chua Sue-Ann|
|Thursday, 22 April 2010 22:32|
KUALA KUBU BHARU: Just like the race for the English Premier League (EPL) title this season, the battle for the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat remains too close to call with just two days before polling on April 25.
The eight-day official campaign period has now entered its last legs, but party insiders from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Barisan Nasional (BN) blocs agree that the Malay votes are split down the middle, making it difficult to predict how they will vote.
Both sides have expressed some optimism when asked about their chances, but do not want to appear overly confident.
Malays constitute 52.7% of the electorate or 34,020 voters, with over 6,000 voters located in the Felda settlements in the Hulu Bernam state constituency bordering Perak.
Most Malay voters appear to be unperturbed by criticism against PKR candidate Datuk Zaid Ibrahim for drinking.
Zaid had admitted that he drank in his younger days and has since repented, which is likely to contain the damage on that score.
Many Malay voters, particularly in the town area, prefer instead to talk about what the elected representative can do for them and what development he can bring to the semi-rural constituency, which is littered with abandoned housing and commercial projects.
The "alcohol issue" is largely a non-factor for the Chinese and Indian voter pool, which consists of 16,964 voters (26.3%) and 12,453 voters (19.3%) respectively.
The Chinese votes appear to favour PR, with many voters expressing disdain for BN's Chinese-based party MCA and approval of the Selangor state government's efforts, particularly on land issues, free water and other welfare measures.
Support from Indian voters too remains difficult to read, with many of the older voters expressing strong support for BN while younger voters seem more open to the idea of voting for a non-BN party.
For many fence-sitters, the decision could boil down to whether the BN-led federal government or PR's administration of Selangor has produced more tangible results.
While the "alcohol issue" played up by certain groups within BN had appeared to lose steam towards the end of the week, PR's subtle attacks against BN's candidate, MIC information chief P Kamalanathan, have had little effect too.
Kamalanathan had been portrayed as being "subservient" to Umno, after photographs of him kissing Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's hand surfaced. The authenticity of the 44-year-old public relations manager's communications degree also appears to be a non-issue for voters.
Party officials too have realised that the electorate here are "matured voters" and know what they want from their elected representatives.
Kamalanathan could win over some support from those who are glad to see a fresh face from MIC as well as a "local boy", given that he hails from nearby Rawang town. However, many voters point out that Zaid had quit as de facto law minister in 2008 to protest the use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) to detain three people.
The temperature in Hulu Selangor had been scorching from the word go with both BN and PR leaders focusing their attention in the vast constituency immediately after the death of the incumbent Hulu Selangor member of parliament from PKR Datuk Dr Zainal Abidin Ahmad.
BN ministers and the PR-led Selangor state administration have also gone down to the constituency, bringing many programmes and aides to the area.
Zainal Abidin's death on March 25 had brought about the country's 10th by-election since the 2008 general election, in which the opposition did surprisingly well, clinching five states and denying BN a two-third majority in parliament.
PKR leaders have been leveraging on the Selangor state government's "people-friendly" policies, including the granting of land titles to squatters, quit rent exemption for unoccupied shophouses, additional land for vernacular schools and promises to look into the plight of children of Felda settlers requesting for homes on the settlement.
BN, on the other hand, has fired several shots at the Selangor government for its alleged "incompetency" to fulfil pledges despite ruling the nation's richest state for the last two years.
The federal ruling coalition has also promised to practise "more inclusive" politics and pledged to bring continued development to Hulu Selangor, reminding voters of its "proven track record" in running the country for over half a century.
They have also promised some goodies in relation to education, health and welfare matters for the rural voters and would look into the large number of abandoned townships in Hulu Selangor.
BN's campaign has been banking on the popularity of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his 1Malaysia concept, with more posters bearing Najib's photographs than the BN candidate.
Originally a four-cornered fight, the withdrawal of the two independent candidates has set up a straight but heated fight between BN and PR. Some pundits have been quick to see this as a battle between Najib and Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's credibility and leadership.
Will Najib's 1Malaysia concept prevail or will PKR remain unscatched with its recent defections and internal bickering?
Hulu Selangor's voters are not merely voting for a member of parliament but could signal whether BN stands a chance to recapture Selangor in the next general election.
For once, the opposition has not brought up the issue of phantom voters in a by-election but has raised their concern at the Election Commission changing the polling stations of some 14,000 voters without notification as it might confuse voters on polling day.
The 799 postal voters, largely army and police personnel, began casting their ballots over two days from on Thursday. The rest of Hulu Selangor goes to the ballot on Sunday.
Over the weekend, both BN and PR will be bringing down their big guns in the last ditch effort to secure as much support as possible for their respective candidates.
Najib, who recently returned from an official tour overseas, is set to campaign house-to-house on Friday and Saturday, while PAS' spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is also campaigning on Friday to lend the PR campaign a boost.
It will be down to the wire as both BN and PKR need this psychological win badly before the next general election. A strong turnout is expected as outstation voters are expected to return from nearby Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding areas. With that, all eyes will be on returning officer Nor Hisham Ahmad Dahlan as he announces the winner at 11pm on Sunday.
(Source: The Edge)
Url of article: http://www.theedgemalaysia.com/political-news/164564-down-to-the-wire-in-hulu-selangor.html
Lim Guan Eng