NST, March 19 2009
THE Bukit Selambau by-election is shaping into a battle that neither
Pakatan Rakyat nor Barisan Nasional could regard as a walk in the park.
The task for Pakatan to retain the seat and for BN to wrest it back,
has been made difficult with an imminent multi-cornered fight on April
The excitement over the prospect of people from varied backgrounds contesting as independent candidates is simply unbelievable.
The interest expressed by some individuals has also sparked speculation
that they could be sponsored by Umno which, before the announcement of
MIC's Datuk S. Ganesan as BN candidate, had made a bid to get back the
right to contest the seat.
If stories circulating in Umno
about sponsored candidates are true, Malay voters -- who number about
18,000, including some 7,000 Umno members -- would be split. This is
something BN could ill afford.
Umno was allocated Bukit Selambau for two consecutive terms
from 1986 before the seat was given to MIC to contest in 1995, which
from then on until 2008 was held by Kedah MIC chief and former
executive councillor Datuk V. Saravanan. He did not contest in the last
Should there be more than one independent Indian candidate, it would be
a disadvantage to Pakatan and BN candidates -- both local Indians,
since Indian votes will also be split.
Should this happen, the 7,000 Chinese votes will be crucial.
The latest "independent" to express interest is businessman Husaini
Yaacob who announced his candidacy in Sungai Petani yesterday.
Umno division member Zahran Abdullah, the son of Umno veteran and
former Kedah assembly speaker Datuk Abdullah Ismail, had paid the
RM5,000 deposit to be a candidate and RM3,000 for election materials.
So have six more independent candidates.
"The Malays here have been sidelined for a long time. Voters want a Malay representative," said Zahran.
On the ground, fear of the by-election turning violent as candidates play the race card is real.
The state police had confirmed there were at least 17 hot-spots in the constituency.
Police beat bases have been set up, one conspicuously in front of a row
of shophouses in Taman Tuanku Haminah, where four operation centres are
operating too close together for comfort.
centres belonging to Taman Ria Jaya and United Petani polling areas are
just two doors away from Parti Keadilan Rakyat's main operation centre.
"It's the experience of Lunas," said state BN chief Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid.
"The police want to ensure public safety.
"We hope the by-election will not be marred by incidents caused by provocation from supporters of the candidates."
Lunas, another constituency in south Kedah, witnessed the most violent by-election in 2000.
watchers believe the fact that Bukit Selambau's voters elected V.
Arumugam, wresting the former BN stronghold and traditional MIC seat on
an independent ticket, attracted other Independent candidates to
Those who had expressed their desire to stand as
independents, however, claim they only want to serve the people living
in the semi-urban area with 30,850 voters. Fifty per cent are Malays,
29 per cent Indians and 19 per cent Chinese.
Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, under pressure to ensure Ganesan wins to
boost his popularity at the MIC presidential election a few days after
the by-election, seems unperturbed over the increasing number of those
expressing their intention to contest.
Samy Vellu has been
making sure he spends three days a week in Bukit Selambau, meeting and
hearing grouses of the people in estates and other Indians in the
This displeases some BN leaders, who think he is a liability, having lost the support of the Indians.
fear Samy Vellu's appearance would alienate Indian voters, who comprise
about 9,800 of the constituents, although Samy Vellu insists that the
by-election is where he could test the acceptance of MIC's re-branding.
All the ingredients of excitement are there and what is certain
is that there is a bumpy road ahead for candidates contesting in Bukit