BARISAN Nasional leaders were grinning when the result of the Batu Talam by-election was announced a little after 8pm on Sunday.
A win was a foregone conclusion, but the increased margin of victory was the icing on the cake.
BN’s Aziz Kiram won by 5,857 votes, more than double the previous majority of 2,781 votes, whereas his opponent, independent Ng Chee Pang, lost his deposit.
But for a wild-card candidate, Ng’s 419-vote cache was not too bad. Many had thought that with his limited campaign he would get only about 100 to 150 votes from his family, friends and neighbours.
Aziz, a down-to-earth and rather shy man, was reserved even in victory.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was far more exuberant, his cheeks flushed pink with delight when he and Aziz were hoisted onto the shoulders of BN workers on Sunday night.
Even the macho Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob felt so mellow about the win that, at a late night supper in Kuantan later, he entertained campaign workers with a sentimental song, Menimbang Rasa.
It is possible that the BN leaders felt more relieved than victorious.
This had been a campaign that was not really a campaign, and the opponent not exactly a real opponent. It was difficult to hit out at an enemy that was so anomalous and minor.
In fact, shortly after nomination day, BN workers had to be persuaded to stay on and campaign because some of them had wanted to pack up and leave.
So much effort, time and money put into the campaign. Was it worth it? Was it even necessary?
“A fight is a fight, no matter how minute the enemy,” said Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said.
The incumbent party could not afford to sit back. For a ruling party as big and powerful as the Barisan Nasional, it was more than just defending the seat. It also had to do with what the Malays label as maruah or dignity.
A reduced majority or a poor turnout of voters would have been a terrible slap in the face. It would have given the Opposition grounds to claim that its boycott had worked.
Hence, the BN campaign was not only to win with a stronger majority but also to get voters to come out to vote.
Pahang state executive councillor Datuk Sharkar Shamsuddin was campaigning in the village of Batu Malim when an elderly woman told him that she would not come out to vote unless the tall and charming politician came personally to fetch her.
Sharkar turned up on voting day and even managed to get hold of a Mercedes Benz to ferry her to the voting centre.
“That was how serious we were about people coming out to vote,” said Sharkar, who is also the state Umno information chief.
Another reason the BN machinery went all the way despite an assured victory had to do with Pahang being the Deputy Prime Minister’s home state.
Anything less than a sweeping win would be a loss of face for Najib, who is MP for Pekan.
“Datuk Najib campaigned like mad. He was there every day and he went everywhere,” said Sharkar.
It had a big impact because it was not every day that villagers get to see the Deputy Prime Minister walking into their village, sitting on the floor of their living room or perched on the steps of their kampung house.
The elderly folk like him because he reminds them of his father the late Tun Razak Hussein, so he was assigned to visit homes with elderly voters and those categorised as OKU or orang kurang upaya (people with disabilities).
Najib has continuously told people in Umno not to take things for granted. He learnt a very bitter and important lesson in the 1999 general election when he retained Pekan by the skin of his teeth.
He has not forgotten that, as shown by his commitment to the Batu Talam campaign.
But as Azalina pointed out, the by-election demonstrated that regardless of what people are saying about the Government or the Prime Minister in the urban centres, the bedrock of Malays in the rural areas still believe and hope in the Barisan.