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MGG: Byelection kicks off with the usual defections
By M.G.G. Pillai

13/1/2002 3:51 pm Sun

The Indera Kayangan byelection in Perlis kicked off with the usual defections. Barely had the campaign begun when its Keadilan elections director and 68 others defected to UMNO for the usual reasons: they had seen the light; Keadilan did not select a Malay candidate; UMNO is the party of the future; the party they walked into from UMNO is now without hope. Maj (rtd) Mohd Shariff Abdul Razak, who is also deputy liasion chief for the state, decided, on the spur of the moment, to defect, so disgusted he was that his demands were not met; but not disgusted enough to be the Keadilan director of elections. He did not, as he admits, convey his reservations to party leaders. Why did they quit? The Perlis mentri besar, Dato' Seri Shahidan Kassim, says all Keadilan members "that matter" in Perlis would leave "on their own accord, after being disillusioned with the opposition parties". There has not been an election in the past two decades without "disgruntled" opposition members would cross over to the National Front "after having seen the light"; one went on to be a cabinet minister and, on retirement, deputy chairman of a major bank.

But defections to the National Front (BN), of which UMNO is the most important component, do not come cheap; some as high as millions of ringgit. No suggestion is made that money changed hands in this defection, but unusual if it was not. When corruption is a way of life, it is stupid of anyone to forgo his political scruples for less than lots of filthy lucre. Be that as it may, the National Front (BN) leaders had no doubt Keadilan is about to self-destruct. The MCA president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, is certain of it. The information ministry parliamentary secretary, Sen. Dato' Zainuddin Maidin, is sure it would disappear with the byelection. And the party must be attacked for making the regrettable and unfortunate death of Dato' Seri Shahidan's son into a campaign issue. The UMNO youth leader, Dato' Hishamuddin Hussein, leads that charge. At last count, there are more election workers from out of state than there are voters in Indera Kayangan.

The newspapers are full of news of splits within the opposition, but little on the issues in this byelection. It is important for BN to win at any cost. It has no other agenda or policy. The opposition saw it as another Lunas, which it is not. Keadilan snatched that Kedah state assembly seat from MIC because it banked on the divided Malay and Chinese vote. The same divide are in Indera Kayangan too. To take advantage of that Keadialn needed a Malay candidate. That would give it at least most of the Malay votes as did in Lunas. The split Chinese vote, despite the DAP's petulance, would give it the votes for a wafer-thin victory. In the MCA leadership split, those backing the MCA deputy president are strong in Perlis. When Keadilan decided on a Chinese candidate, it fell into a trap. In a choice between two Chinese candidates, the average Chinese voter in rural constituencies would opt for the government candidate. So, Keadilan faces two debts: the Chinese would not back it as it hopes, and the Malay, faced with the splits within, may decided to sit on the sidelines.

Despite the odds, the BN is nervous. It cannot lose, pulls no stops for a victory. The reference to Dato' Shahidan's bereavement shocked it into a nightmare. It is he who is the target in this byelection, what with his RM150 Dunhill cigars and his personal extravagance, and his links with the jailed former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, from whom he received more favours, in cash and kind, than any other. He deserted him when his troubles began, and the party formed to bring him out of jail is not about to let the voters forget. The BN contains it with defections and other action to weave the floating voter to its candidate. It probably would. The Keadilan strategy should have been to make a BN win expensive. Instead, it veers to ignominous defeat.

M.G.G. Pillai