The Barisan Nasional win is an affirmation for the politics and direction of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s leadership.
AN early hint that the Barisan Nasional team smelt victory in Hulu Selangor came on Saturday night, just hours before the by-election campaign drew to a close.
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was in a fighting mood. No one can be really sure in a by-election but he looked anything but worried as he spoke to a packed crowd.
On the same stage was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad looking healthy and “handsome betul,” as someone in the crowd called out when the elder statesman’s name was mentioned.
Barisan closed its campaign with the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister on the same stage and in an area in Hulu Selangor that had turned against the ruling coalition in the 2008 general election.
The tide has started to turn for Barisan. Barisan’s P. Kamalanathan beat PKR’s Datuk Zaid Ibrahim with a 1,725-vote majority.
This by-election was widely seen as a referendum on Najib’s first year as Prime Minister, on his Government and the policies he has put in place. The outcome is a vindication of the many challenges he faced from day one of his leadership.
This was one of the reasons why he decided to add his clout to the campaign. There were so many accusations from the Pakatan side against him, his party and his administration and he wanted to rebut it in person.
This has been one of the more exciting of the 10 by-elections to date. It was a fast-paced battle between two ruling coalitions in their own right, both sides fought tooth and nail and they brought in their big canons.
Zaid said he was battling three giants – Najib, Dr Mahathir and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. But Barisan was fighting three “anak Ibrahim”, namely, Datuk Sri Anwar Ibrahim, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
The terminology was more colourful on the ceramah circuit – pengkhianat vs penyamun (traitor vs robber) and pemimpin rejek vs boneka Umno (rejected leader vs Umno puppet).
In the final days before polling, supporters from both sides were genuinely convinced that their man was ahead. Pakatan, relying on feedback from a survey it had commissioned to the Merdeka Centre, were telling people they would win by 1,000 to 1,500 votes.
This was by the crowd that packed the stadium in Kuala Kubu Baru for Pakatan’s closing ceramah on Saturday night and which caused the biggest traffic jam the town had ever seen.
If there’s anything to be said about the Barisan campaign, they have learnt from their 2008 setback. It made them more hungry to win and more organised as a team.
They had the manpower and funds but no access to state facilities and had to make do with shelters constructed in vacant lots. For instance, the ceramah featuring Najib and Dr Mahathir actually took place on a service road beside some low-cost flats.
Zaid was legislator material but he never really recovered from the drinking and horse-racing accusations.
PKR was hoping that Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat would absolve Zaid of his “sins” but the top PAS leader was under pressure from his members, who did not want their party to be seen as condoning drinking and gambling, so he merely slammed Umno for resorting to personal attacks and dirty tricks.
Zaid’s advocates had read the Malay ground poorly. They pushed for Zaid because they wanted to cement the Chinese vote but the battle ground in Hulu Selangor turned out to be for the Malay vote.
Malay society can be very judgemental when it comes to morals and religion and Zaid, unfortunately, was being assessed not only on his qualifications and potential as a leader but also on his standing as a Muslim.
As the unofficial results trickled in, Zaid was initially leading by as much as 1,000 votes at some points. But these were ballot boxes from the more urban locations where PKR supporters were concentrated.
When the ballot boxes from the more far-flung Malay and Felda areas started to come in, the votes slowly shifted in favour of Barisan.
As expected, Zaid had dominated in the Chinese-majority areas. Unlike the Malays, the Chinese approve of his outlook and views and it is evident that they still have unresolved issues with the Barisan and these issues go beyond the domain of Hulu Selangor.
MCA president Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek was not in denial of the stark outcome of the Chinese vote. Acknowledging it as a wake-up call, he said Chinese concerns today were no longer just about schools and infrastructure but also national issues and the MCA would have to take note and be vocal.
Barisan did reasonably well in all but one of the Indian majority areas.
The Malay voter turnout was low at 65%. It is likely that those who abstained included PAS supporters and Malay fence-sitters who did not feel comfortable with Zaid’s image and decided not to vote. At the same time, they did not want to give their vote to Kamalanathan. It has been a hard-fought battle and the win is an affirmation for the politics and leadership of Najib, that Barisan is starting to move in the right direction.
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