KUALA TERENGGANU, Jan 10 (Bernama) — How will the Chinese vote on Jan 17 inthe Kuala Terengganu by-election?
This is the question most perplexing for political observers and analysts and political parties involved in the by-election as well as the think tanks from both sides of the political divide, especially when the majority Malay votes are likely to be evenly split between the major candidates.
Malay voters make up 70,834 of the 80,229 electorate in the parliamentary constituency. There are 8,735 Chinese voters, accounting for almost 11 per cent of the electorate, and most of them are in Kuala Terengganu city or the Bandar state constituency, one of the four state constituencies in the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary constituency.
Bandar’s elected representative is Toh Chin Yaw of the MCA, a component of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
Although the BN retained both the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary and Bandar state seats in the general election last year, there was a drop in the majority votes, reflecting the varying mood and sentiment of the voters.
The majority votes garnered by the BN dropped from 1,933 in the 2004 general election to 628 in the 2008 general election in Kuala Terengganu while in Bandar, Toh’s majority votes fell from 1,612 in 2004 to 1,142 in 2008.
Toh has proven that being the sole Chinese representative in the state has provided the BN the advantage to garner nearly 80 per cent of the Chinese votes in Bandar.
The previous Kuala Terengganu MP, Datuk Razali Ismail, whose death on Nov 28 last year had necessitated this by-election, was also popular among the Chinese voters. This had helped him to win the seat.
Razali, who was the deputy education minister, was relentless in his assistance, particularly in matters related to education.
“The Chinese here voted for Cikgu Razali contrary to the general sentiment among the Chinese population in the country during the general election as their way of expressing their gratitude for his helping them,” said a local community leader.
The sentiment could be different, however, during a by-election. In any by-election, there is a popular belief or so-called trend among Chinese voters to favour the opposition for a parliamentary seat and support the BN at state level.
Realising this, party strategists from both sides of the political divide have drawn up plans to win the support of the 8,735 Chinese voters in the constituency.
The by-election is a three-cornered contest among former deputy home minister Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh of the BN, Wakaf Mempelam state assemblyman Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut of PAS and independent candidate Azharudin Mamat alias Adam.
Wakaf Mempelam is another of the four state constituencies within the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary constituency. The two other state seats are Batu Burok and Ladang.
PAS has already claimed that the Chinese voters have responded well to their candidate Mohd Abdul Wahid, saying that more people are turning up at their “ceramah” (talks).
“During the general election (last year), only a few people turned up, but this time we see more people turning up at our ceramah and other events,” said Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Information Chief Tian Chua. PKR, PAS and the DAP are component parties of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance.
This (claimed bigger turnout of people) has led PR to believe that “there is a change of heart among the local Chinese voters” as Tian Chua categorically stated that “some of the Chinese voters have made up their mind; we already know whom they are going to vote for.
“Their reception to our campaign is good. We are quite confident and we are gaining momentum. Basically, MCA and Gerakan have no issue to support Umno,” he said.
The BN, meanwhile, remains undeterred and has planned its strategy to remind the Chinese voters of what PAS had done when it ruled the state from 1999 to 2004.
The MCA believes there are not many local issues to sway the voters, but it is wary of the national issues being played up by the opposition parties to stir up the sentiment of the Chinese voters.
“There are no local issues among the Chinese here. We are worried about the national issues being played up by the opposition. We have to do a lot of explanation,” said Terengganu MCA Youth chief Toh Seng Cheng.
The MCA has also launched its so-called “pre-emptive strike” on the opposition by distributing leaflets entitled “Welcome to the PAS Extremist Theocratic State”.
On top of that, MCA President Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat has openly challenged DAP leaders, who had disagreed with PAS over the implementation of “hudud” (Islamic penal) laws, to boycott the by-election.
For MCA, the Jan 17 by-election is not just about Terengganu as it is significant in the context of national politics and policies.