Tenang steps into the limelight
The last days of campaigning for the Tenang state seat has come to this moment. The outcome, although a foregone conclusion, will have huge implications for both sides.
IT is now down to the wire for the voters of Tenang who go to the ballot box today after a campaign that has been hectic, intense and even emotional.
The last two nights have seen a concerted push by both sides, with programmes and ceramah scattered over as big a catchment area as possible.
There has been lots of political rhetoric, food and drinks, singing and, in the case of MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, dancing.
At times, the candidates, Barisan Nasional’s Mohd Azhar Ibrahim and PAS’ Normala Sudirman, have played a secondary role to the political big guns who rolled into town to campaign for them.
The Tenang contest has been a rather lopsided race from the start.
This is the second of the 14 by-elections where Barisan is going in as the side tipped to win; the first was Bagan Pinang where Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad won easily. But having the upper hand did not mean an easy time for the coalition.
It had to work hard for votes because of the challenging campaign mounted by PAS and especially DAP, which ran a rather creative and aggressive campaign in the Chinese enclaves.
Barisan is nowhere near its 5,000 majority target. It is now looking at a more realistic figure of between 2,500 and 3,000.
The Malay and Indian vote looks secure but the Chinese hearts and minds have been much harder to win over. Barely halfway into the campaign, it became clear that the battleground would be the Chinese vote.
As such, while the contest was officially between Barisan and PAS, the real fight seemed to be between MCA and DAP.
A great deal of the campaign shock and awe has been aimed at the Chinese who make up 39% of the total voters; Malays comprise 48% and Indians and others 13%.
At about 3pm yesterday, MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek was still going door-to-door in the Chinese heart of Tenang, saying hello, shaking hands and canvassing for votes. He has left no stone unturned and has actively petitioned the powerful temple committees as well as the guilds and associations in Tenang to reach out to their constituents to support Barisan.
“Saturday was the most crucial day for us to reach out to a big catchment of Chinese voters because those working outstation have started to come home. It was the do-or-die day,” said Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong.
There is a plus and minus side to the early homecoming. One is that the parties concerned will have the chance to touch base with the voters.
“We may have met their parents who live here in our rounds but this is our chance to personally bring the message to the other family members,” said Dr Wee, who is also MCA Youth chief.
The downside is that they may be bringing home Klang Valley sentiments which are not necessarily favourable to Barisan.
Chinese New Year is on Thursday, but the family reunion dinner takes place on Wednesday. With school closed for the week and Feb 1 being a public holiday in Kuala Lumpur, many of those who work in the Klang Valley have taken Monday off so that they can be home by the weekend.
There is also a sizeable number of Tenang folk working in Singapore but they may not return in as large a number.
Local Chinese associations estimate that Chinese outstation voters make up about 30% of the Chinese vote.
“I would not dare say we are confident, I have to be realistic.
“Let’s just say we have done our level best,” said Dr Wee who was in charge of campaigning in Bandar Labis Tengah, considered a “black area” for Barisan.
As such, in spite of predictions of rain and thunderstorm for today, the signs are that voter turnout will be quite high.
There are also 600 new voters who have registered since 2008 and the parties have been struggling to reach them personally or through their families.
The DAP’s grand finale actually took place at a dinner event on Friday evening where PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang grinned like a schoolboy when the crowd inside and outside the hall gave him a rapturous welcome.
The dinner featured among others, PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
It was definitely a show of force on the part of DAP which is out to prove its command of the Chinese ground to its Pakatan allies.
Or as a journalist put it: “PAS is using the DAP bridge to reach the Chinese.”
At another level, it is about Umno reclaiming the Malay ground and whether the Chinese and Indian voters have warmed up again to Barisan parties.
The by-election has also seen an unusual flood of accusations and counter-accusations, some of which have been very personal but which, at times, threatened to eclipse some of the real issues facing voters here.
But amid all the excitement and rhetoric, there was a sense that a large number of voters had already made up their minds in the early stages of the campaign. There was also a sense that among many people, it was less about the two individual candidates than the coalition or parties behind them.
Tenang is what is known as one of those places along the national trunk road that one passes on the way to somewhere else. But for more than a week, this small town was the venue for big-time politics. And it has all come to this moment of decision-making for the people of Tenang.
-Analysis, Joceline Tan, THE STAR-