Pakatan: Low voter turnout still our biggest fear at Penanti
At the halfway mark of their Penanti by-election campaign, Pakatan Rakyat believes its chances for another thumping win will hinge on getting voters to come to the ballot boxes this Sunday, rather than on the competition put up by the three Independents, including the controversial Aminah Ahmad.
Said PKR strategic affairs director Tian Chua: “Our main focus remains on how we can encourage people to turn out to vote. Many of our supporters here are too sure of victory. We have to work extra hard to persuade them not to be too confident and to make the effort to come to the polling stations this Sunday.”
Pakatan partner PKR is fielding former USM lecturer Mansor Othman in the four-cornered contest. Mansor will face Aminah, a former PKR state Wanita chief, Nai Khan, the newly-resigned Gerakan Youth chief of Teluk Wang branch and businessman Kamarul Ramizu.
Arch-rival Umno-BN is sitting out after coalition president and Prime Minister Najib Razak decided to ‘save costs’. His controversial decision has drawn jeers of cowardice, not just from opposition politicians, but also from within his own Umno party.
A revealing referendum – already trailing in the approval ratings
Despite the decision not to face up to Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim at Penanti, the by-election is still billed and eagerly watched as a revealing referendum on Najib’s first 60 days in office. He assumed the premiership on Apr 3.
“Najib will have a tough time convincing Malaysians he is offering anything new. He has neither demonstrated his ability to provide leadership nor far-sighted planning,” said Tian..
“Look at his handling of the Perak crisis, the split within the PPP, the unresolved tensions in Terengganu and the new challenges in Kelantan and Perlis. By not contesting in Penanti, what has he achieved? More flak for himself and his party! He must realise that he can never gag people or police their thoughts. Respect must be earned not forced.”
Indeed a poll carried out by PKR in Penanti showed that the unpopular PM only managed to score a 28 percent approval rating. The poll was carried out on a sample size of 3,374 constituents.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng took top place with 59 percent of respondents saying they were satisfied with him, while Anwar bagged 58 percent approval rating. Even Najib’s deputy Muhyiddin Yassin scored higher than him with 39 percent.
Tian said despite Najib’s boycott, Pakatan ceramahs or political lectures were well attended even by Umno supporters, who had been asked to ignore the campaigning. In fact, Umno leaders have been busily offering free trips to northern border sex-and-shopping towns in a bid to lure voters away on the May 31 polling day.
“I suppose our supporter laugh at Najib’s cowardice, his inconsistency in not wanting to contest here but his eagerness to put up a candidate in Manik Urai in Kelantan.”
“So far, Umno supporters have been quiet, although many come to our ceramahs. But it is still early to gauge what Umno supporters will do on voting day,” Tian said.
A quiet and pleasant electorate unruffled by Aminah’s bid for publicity
Penanti is a small constituency of 15,384 voters. It is located on mainland Penang, with padi fields, rubber and palm oil plantations dotting a landscape made up of little villages and a smattering of commercial activities.
It is also a Malay heartland. Most of the folk are industrial workers and small businessmen. Some 73 percent of voters are Malay, 24 percent are Chinese, and 2 percent are Indian.
According to Tian, most of the electorate have been generous with their feedback.
While keenly interested in national issues and the troubles overwhelming their counterparts in neighbouring Perak, they have also been vocal on local issues and the direction Penang was headed for in the coming years.
“Yes, the audience likes to hear talk on Perak. They are quite a savvy lot and very in touch at the national level. On the local side, their feedback, if anything negative, would be on smaller matters such services, lamp-pole, road repairs etc,” Tian said.
Of the three Independents, it is Aminah and Gerakan dark horse Nai Khan who are likely to pose the bigger problem to Mansor. Aminah hit the headlines by releasing a controversial CD recording of a conversation with two PKR leaders whom she alleged had tried to ‘bribe’ her into withdrawing from the by-election.
Both men – Cheah Kah Peng and Peter Lim – have denied the accusations and the PKR has proceeded with legal action against. But the 56-year staunch supported of Ezam Mohd Nor, the former PKR Youth chief who was lured away to Umno by Najib last year, has promised to reveal more ‘dirt’ on her former colleagues.
Said Tian: “This is part of campaigning – the good and the bad, the ugly and the sad. But I doubt she will swing many votes. The press are all going after her as it is sensational, otherwise the news reports on the by-election would be too mundane.
“For example, her claim that we offered her the deputy chief minister post is just too ridiculous. We are confident that her support will not grow.”