The hottest action in the coming Hulu Selangor by-election has been behind the scenes as would-be candidates and their supporters lobby their respective leaders.
HULU Selangor has not seen this much political activity in years.
The number of people and cars that flooded the area when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was there last weekend has been the talk of villagers.
It was the first time many of them had seen the Prime Minister in the flesh.
Even the fact that Najib took a bath in the home of a Felda settler is being talked about. After all, how often does the Prime Minister bathe in one’s house?
Some of the Chinese reporters joked that it was a pity the Malays did not believe in gambling because the owner of the house in the Pandamaran Chinese new village that Najib visited during the Chinese New Year, struck the lottery three times, two of which were first prize wins.
The level of activity in Hulu Selangor will increase even more over the next few weeks. But the real action is actually happening behind the scenes.
There has been intense lobbying on both sides on the issue of candidates. Although whoever wins will have only about two years on the job, the win will be a staging point for them to contest the next general election.
The lobbying on the Barisan Nasional side initially included both MIC and Umno until Najib put his foot down on MIC getting the seat.
But the word on the ground is that the candidate may not necessarily be MIC deputy president Datuk G. Palanivel, the only name nominated by the MIC.
MIC information chief and Putera MIC coordinator P. Kamalanathan is apparently being considered as well.
The Barisan leadership is now weighing the merits and demerits of the two men. Palanivel, 61, has the experience and stature. But he had spent four terms as Hulu Selangor MP before his 2008 defeat and, given the way the locals talk about him, it seems like he has accumulated quite a bit of baggage.
It is no secret that his political career hinges on whether he contests and wins the seat.
Kamalanathan, 44, a public relations consultant, is a relatively fresh face.
He was born in Kuala Lumpur but has lived in Rawang since he was a year old which probably makes him the most local of all the local faces being touted for the seat.
PKR has no shortage of names for the seat and the lobbying on this side has been even more intense than that in Barisan.
“A by-election is the best battle to get into. The national machinery is there, money pours in and there is no shortage of campaigners and ceramah speakers,” Selangor state assembly Speaker Teng Chang Khim said.
But the lobbying has narrowed down to three names: Hulu Selangor PKR treasurer and neurosurgeon Dr Halili Rahmat, party coordinator and lawyer Datuk Zaid Ibrahim and PKR Youth chief and lawyer Shamsul Iskandar.
Dr Halili has emerged as the clear favourite although some claimed he is rather reluctant, having lost twice before – first in Kuala Kubu Baru and then Batang Kali.
Dr Halili had jokingly told some friends: “Ini macam kahwin dua; mula-mula seronok, kemudian banyak masalah” (it is like having two wives, fun in the beginning, lots of problems later on).
He was probably thinking of his busy medical practice and the fact that this will be a short-lived term.
Dr Halili, reportedly the first Malay neurosugeon in the country, is from a kampung in Batang Kali. He is also fiercely loyal to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and they are said to be related or what the Malays term as bau-bau bacang (reminiscent of the bacang fruit or distant relative).
Zaid and Shamsul, on the other hand, are very keen.
Zaid has his eye on the PKR elections scheduled for later this year and a shot at the parliamentary seat would boost his prospects. For Shamsul, this could be the stepping stone to bigger things.
Their problem is that they lack the local boy factor – Zaid is a Kelantanese while Shamsul is from Negri Sembilan.
Although Anwar will have the final say, Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim will also have a big say because he will be controlling the campaign machinery and funds.
It has not gone unnoticed that Khalid has appointed himself the election director for Hulu Selangor rather than assign it to Fuziah Salleh, who is the national election director or Abdullah Sani, who is Selangor election director.
Khalid is said to favour Zaid who also enjoys the tacit support of DAP leaders. The question is how far Khalid is prepared to push for Zaid as the man.
PKR has had the upper hand in most of the previous by-elections. But Hulu Selangor is still very much Barisan territory and PKR will be going in as the underdog.
The party has been rocked by resignations and its leader is fighting sodomy charges in court. A win will salve its wounds.
But this is one battle that the Barisan not only intends to win but is confident of doing so. However, both sides will first have to get past the politics of picking the perfect candidate.