A strange wind is blowing through Semenyih.
That is the feeling on the ground even though the campaign has only just begun.
In the run-up to the general election, one of the most powerful terms of attack used by the opposition against the then government was “rasuah” or corruption.
But now in Semenyih, the opposition’s most effective attack word is “tipu” (cheat or lie), a reference to Pakatan Harapan’s inability to deliver on its election promises.
Arguments that it is unfair to expect Pakatan to fulfil its promises within the first year do not wash on those coping with cost of living issues.
The “tipu” rallying cry has resonated especially among the Malays, posing a dilemma for Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia which is struggling to hold on to the seat.
But the start of the campaign has been dominated by a fascinating sideshow starring Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
Dr Mahathir caused confusion among the main political players when he claimed that PAS had agreed not to support Umno in Semenyih. This came a day after a photo of the Prime Minister and Hadi exchanging a warm handshake went viral.
PAS leaders have since clarified that their cooperation with Umno in Semenyih still stands.
At the same time, they admitted to supporting Dr Mahathir’s Malay and Islamic agenda.
To those unfamiliar with Malay politics, it looked like a love triangle – PAS is dating Umno while holding hands with Dr Mahathir.
But political insiders claimed that PAS’ support for Dr Mahathir has less to do with Semenyih than with what is known as the “grand design” aimed at preventing Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from becoming the next prime minister.
The Prime Minister is aware of gossip of a vote of no confidence at the next sitting of Parliament and he wants as many MPs on his side as possible.
All 18 MPs from PAS have also apparently signed statutory declarations to that effect.
In short, a Malay-Muslim configuration is in the process of forming behind the leadership of Dr Mahathir.
As for Dr Mahathir’s claim that PAS has ditched Umno in Semenyih, well, that is vintage Dr Mahathir for you.
It has happened to many other people – they meet Dr Mahathir to talk about one thing and he emerges to say something else to his advantage.
He did not live to become the world’s oldest prime minister by walking the straight and narrow path.
Nevertheless, Dr Mahathir has played PAS like a violin. He has cast doubts in the minds of PAS supporters, some of whom may now choose to support Bersatu candidate Muhammad Aiman Zainali.
“People can say what they like, we are still working together on the ground,” said Selangor PAS election director Roslan Shahir of the joint PAS-Umno campaign.
Dr Mahathir should also check on the enemy within. The by-election is taking place at a time when ties between Pakatan partners are being tested.
The Bersatu chairman’s ongoing push to recruit ex-Umno leaders has embarrassed and ruffled feathers among his Pakatan partners.
They want him to stop but do not know how to tell him off.
Even Parti Warisan Sabah chief Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, the king of the hill in Sabah, has caved in, saying that he has no power to stop Bersatu from setting up base in his state.
As such, there have been whispers of internal sabotage against the Bersatu candidate in Semenyih.
Bersatu is depending on PKR to run the show in Semenyih. But everyone has noticed that it is the faction aligned to Datuk Seri Azmin Ali that is going all out for Bersatu.
The PKR deputy president, widely seen as Dr Mahathir’s blue-eyed boy, has thrown his all into the campaign.
However, the sideshow involving Dr Mahathir and Hadi has had limited impact on the ordinary folk in Semenyih.
The buzzword in Semenyih has been “Bossku” a.k.a Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
“We thought he was joking when he said he intends to steal the hearts of the people here but it is not a joke after all. He is going to be a central figure in the campaign,” said photo journalist Minaq Jinggo.
Najib’s popularity on the Malay ground has ballooned.
A large part of it has to do with the perception that the economy was better under him.
There is also the sympathy factor – he has come across as the victim of a witch hunt with the overkill of court charges against him.
“He has positioned himself as the questioning voice of the opposition. His social media presence is very relatable and he has tapped into the people’s unhappiness over the economy,” said political commentator Amir Fareed Rahim.
He has ventured twice into Semenyih and the reception has been overwhelming.
On Sunday night, as he finished speaking at a ceramah at a low-cost housing enclave, the emcee urged the crowd to be orderly and not to mob Najib.
But everyone ignored the emcee and surged forward to greet and take wefies with him, almost ignoring Umno candidate Zakaria Hanafi.
“No one in Pakatan was connecting with the Malay ground and Najib stepped into that role,” said Amir.
Anwar, given his personal charisma, should be playing that role but he has chosen to spend his time travelling and meeting foreign leaders.
The wind that blew Najib out of power may now blow Bersatu out of Semenyih.