KUAN Chee Heng, known as Uncle Kentang and 10-sen man, describes himself as a non-politician who is contesting in the Semenyih by-election to be the true voice of the people.
“After we gave our mandate to Pakatan Harapan, it made decisions that are not helping the people,” says the 56-year-old founder of the Community Policing Malaysia or COPs (pic).
The no-smoking ruling at all eateries and restaurants, says Kuan, is an example of the Pakatan Government making a drastic decision without consulting the public.
“The business of the restaurants and eateries has dropped and it is an infringement on the rights of the smokers,” says the non-smoker.
He earned his nicknames for handing out potatoes to feed the poor and setting up a 10-sen flea market, 10-sen ambulance service, 10-sen library and 10-sen taxi to help the needy. The former cop has also solved a murder mystery!
Kuan is seen as a sideshow in the by-election. “Never mind. You need a sideshow sometimes to bring the message across,” he says.
The entry of Uncle Kentang, according to political analyst Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim, is interesting because he is no ordinary independent candidate. Kuan, he says, is quite known in the area for his welfare work.
“Ordinary people from the working class and who struggle to make a living may find him a good choice. But they know that even if he does not win, he would still be there to help the folks.”
Whereas, a government assemblyman will be pressured to serve the people, Abdul Latiff adds.
“So here a rep from the ruling party will be more appropriate.”
He believes Barisan Nasional and Pakatan will lose some votes to Kuan.
“It all depends on how the ruling party engages with Uncle Kentang. They would need to work with him if they wanted to retain a good margin of support.”
However, Universiti Utara Malaysia political science lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff does not see the entry of Uncle Kentang having any impact.
For him, it is almost sure that, following trends in GE13, GE14 and previous by-elections, Kuan will lose his deposit.
“Regardless of how big a name you have, the fact is when you have no political affiliation and contest as an independent, you are not going to make it in Malaysian politics, even as an effective spoiler. He is just throwing away his money for some cheap publicity,” he says.
Kuan acknowledges that his chances of winning are “not good”. But, he will try his best, he says.
PSM deputy secretary K.S. Bawani says Kuan does not have Chinese support but has Malay support.
“Racially speaking, he will be able to take away some Malay votes,” she says.
Bawani’s party is contesting in the state by-election. “It is our traditional seat. It fulfils PSM conditions: machinery + candidate. A political party must participate in the political process if it wants to stay relevant,” she says.
Kamarul thinks the PSM candidate will likely lose his deposit, again.
“As we can see, PSM leaders such as Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, S Arutchelvan and A Sivarajan are people of integrity who have been very active on the ground. But still, they lost their deposit in GE14 because voters looked at the party instead of the candidates.”
The best option for PSM, he adds, is to sit out Semenyih and support Pakatan so that it will be easier for the ruling coalition to accept it.
Abdul Latiff says it is quite sad that the potential of PSM has been wasted in the manner the party engages the political system.
“As long as it refuses to budge from its hardline stance of going its own way, it will be difficult for it to gain support from the electorate except for its diehard supporters,” he says, noting that it will not make much of an impact again in the Semenyih state seat.
The main attraction of the Semenyih by-election is the grudge match between Umno and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia – on which party commands the Malay voters.
About 68% of the total voters are Malaya followed by Chinese (17%), Indians (14%) and others 1%. In GE14, Bersatu thrashed Umno. The late Bakhtiar Mohd Nor got 23,428 votes, winning by a 8,964 majority. Umno’s Datuk Johan Abdul Aziz received 8,964, PAS’ Mad Shahmidur Mat Kosim 6,966 and PSM’s Arutchelvan 1,293.
With Umno and PAS’ morale-boosting victory in the Cameron Highlands by-election, where their combined forces won about 90% of the total Malay votes, can they repeat it for the Semenyih state seat?
Kamrul thinks it is very likely that almost all of 6,966 PAS voters will go to Barisan. However, even then, Barisan will still be short of 1,998 votes to defeat Pakatan if the data from GE14 was taken into account, he points out.
“So Barisan and PAS will have to try really hard to get Malay voters from Pakatan and fence-sitters to support Barisan this time around especially by exploiting their insecurity with what they might perceive as the lack of seriousness of Pakatan to pursue the Malay agenda,” he says.
The by-election is very interesting in the sense that it is the first time Bersatu’s strength is going to be tested after GE14, Kamarul notes. What makes it much more interesting is that this by-election involves a Bersatu state seat located within an Amanah parliamentary seat and in a state led by PKR, he says. “Hence, the outcome of this by-election will not only depend on Bersatu but also PKR, and to a lesser extent Amanah and Dap.”
Kamarul adds however remote it is, the possibility of internal powerplay within Pakatan from surfacing in the by-election cannot be totally discounted.
“It could be that those within Pakatan, who are becoming more uncomfortable with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Bersatu, might want to use this opportunity to paint the picture of Tun Dr Mahathir and Bersatu starting to lose their grip if Bersatu loses this by-election,” he says.
“Hence making it possible for them to go on with whatever agenda that they might have, including maybe to push Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to the forefront.”
He says the fake degree issue surrounding Bersatu secretary-general Datuk Marzuki Yahya and possibly other Bersatu leaders might affect its credential further.
If Pakatan does not learn the lessons of Cameron Highlands by-election, it will be tough for it to retain Semenyih, says Abdul Latiff.
“But of course this is a semi-urban seat in a Pakatan state. The state government’s performance has been acceptable so far, so it will be difficult for Umno and PAS to manipulate the racial card.”
Bawani reckons the Malay votes would go 50-50 or more to Barisan because of the recent racial tension like ICERD (International Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination).
“PAS is not going to stand. So, for sure PAS supporters will support Barisan,” she says.
Kuan believes it will be status quo.
“This time it will still stay for Bersatu. Because they are just new. They might be given another chance,” he says.
Nevertheless, Uncle Kentang hopes the voters will pick a non-politician so that the true voice of the people will sprout in Semenyih.