Testing the waters in highland seat

  • Analysis
  • Saturday, 12 Jan 2019

IN the old days, a by-election just weeks before Chinese New Year would have been seen as an early angpow for the constituency concerned.

Promises of projects and endless free dinners would have been in the works as political parties canvassed for votes.

But this is supposed to be New Malaysia and nobody is talking about angpow or goodies raining down from the sky.

Besides, political promises are not worth very much these days and seem made to be broken.

Instead, the Cameron Highlands by-election which kicks off today, has seen the election watchdog Bersih warn political parties, especially Pakatan Harapan, to walk the talk and not to abuse their powers as the ruling coalition.

Election Commission chairman Azhar Harun has also indicated that MACC officials will be watching the campaign.

Having a clean and fair election in Cameron Highlands is all the more important given that the polls are being called as a result of evidence of money politics during the general election.

The last four by-elections have been a walk in the park for Pakatan.

Their outcomes were foregone conclusions so much so that the guessing game was over the voter turnout rather than who would win.

Pakatan was then still in the honeymoon phase with the voters, while Barisan Nasional was freshly out of ICU.

In that sense, the Cameron Highlands polls will be the first real test for both sides of the political divide.

Moreover, it is a rare face-off between DAP and Umno, two parties that have been at each other’s throats for a big part of the last decade and which regularly slam each other for being chauvinist, ultra and racist.

Some see it as a must-watch encounter between two of the fiercest parties on the local political landscape.

According to political commentator Khaw Veon Szu, Cameron Highlands will be a test at several levels.

The trend in by-elections is that the incumbent usually wins. The exception to the rule in recent times was the Teluk Intan by-election where DAP, the incumbent, suffered a shock defeat.

The Cameron Highlands seat has long been a Barisan stronghold and it would be a devastating blow if the seat falls to Pakatan.

It is all the more crucial given that Pahang, where the seat is located, is the last bastion of Umno. Barisan needs to hold on to it or risk sliding further down the bottomless pit.

DAP would love to snatch the seat from Umno and prove that its political appeal has not waned despite the daily bashing the party comes under on social media.

Managing success is sometimes as difficult as managing failure and Pakatan leaders are shocked that Malaysians are giving them the nasty treatment that used to be reserved for Barisan.

The thing is that when you are on top of the hill, it is easy for people to take aim at you.

“Pakatan is coming in as a party in power. The by-election will be an opportunity for them to assess their standing after eight months as the government.

“DAP will want to assess their Chinese vote bank, to test whether they still have 95% Chinese support,” said Khaw.

The Chinese make up about 30% of the voters and the slowing economy is starting to make itself felt among those Chinese who are dependent on a stable and thriving economy to do business.

Everywhere one goes, be it the humble kopitiam or five-star hotels, one hears the same rumblings about the rising cost of living and the lack of direction in the economy.

On the Umno side, it is the first big test for Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, or Mat Hasan, as he is known in the party.

Mat Hasan, who is carrying out the duties of the party president, has carried himself rather well over a divided party.

There was criticism when Umno took over the seat from MIC but the negative comments stopped when Umno picked Ramli Mohd Noor, a retired police officer from the orang asli community.

It was what some termed as a thinking-out-of-the-box strategy.

Ramli is a Semai and the community is the majority among the orang asli voters who make up 22% of the Cameron Highlands electorate.

“What’s important is that he (Ramli) has no baggage,” said Khaw.

DAP candidate M. Manogaran should be able to get the lion’s share of the Indian vote.

Pakatan has treated the Indians well. There are four Indian Cabinet ministers while Penang has an Indian Deputy Chief Minister.

However, Manogaran scored a home goal even before the match could start when he made the derogatory remark that, “Malays don’t even buy kuih from orang asli vendors”.

He quickly apologised but the damage was done and that remark will return to haunt him during the campaign.

At the time of writing, MyPPP president Tan Sri M. Kayveas was determined to join the fray.

He is seen as a spoiler but he is a well-known name in those parts.

He has done work there and he should be able garner votes.

The question is whether Kayveas will cannibalise the Indian support for Barisan or take away Indian votes from DAP.

But again, the over-riding question in the Cameron Highlands polls is whether the out-of-base voters will return to vote on Jan 26.

There are doubts that they will make the effort, especially after the Port Dickson by-election. Port Dickson was about voting for the future Prime Minister yet the turnout was barely 60%.

And even as the battle for Cameron Highlands begins, another battle looms in Semenyih, Selangor, following the death of assemblyman Mohd Bakhtiar Mohd Noor yesterday.

Mohd Bakhtiar, from Bersatu, defeated Umno warlord Datuk Johan Aziz with the biggest majority ever recorded for the seat.

But the Malay ground has shifted and nothing can be taken for granted.

Semenyih will be a test of the Malay ground but for now both sides have their eye on Cameron Highlands.

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