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MGG: Indera Kayangan: A House Divided Turns On Itself
By M.G.G. Pillai

16/1/2002 2:00 pm Wed

If you read newspapers and listen to the news on radio and television, you get the distinct revelation that the National Front (BN) heads for a landslide victory in Perlis this week, the opposition so hopelessly divided and only too happy to defect to the winning side. On the ground, nothing could be more wrong. The BN is a house divided turning on itself and cannot unite even for the nine-day election campaign for the Indera Kayangan byelection. Its electoral edge when the campaign started last week narrows by the day. UMNO and MCA, whose fates are intertwined here, are damned by their own sides that those who look at these things in the governmentn in Kuala Lumpur rate Indera Kayangan a close call: a BN victory with a majority of several hundreds or an opposition with, yes, five votes. In other words, the BN concedes that from a sure win last week it could now lose.

What brought this about? Two handicaps the BN hopes, against hope, would not be election issues: the Perlis mentri besar, Dato' Seri Shahidan Kassim and the MCA split. The first is more serious. UMNO Perlis is so fed up with him it would rather Indera Kayangan be lost than allow him to bask in a BN victory, as in an earlier byelection where PAS wrested an UMNO state assembly seat. The opposition attacks him relentless in its 'ceramah' that Dato' Seri Sahidan threatens to sue it for RM1,000,000 million for defamation. He all but lost his case when he did, for UMNO Perlis stepped up its attack on him all the more. An outsider brought in to be mentri besar, he stepped on so many toes in UMNO Perlis that the two behave towards each other as mortal enemies. He, like so many mentris besar foisted on the state UMNO against its will, is the problem.

The MCA split is beyond repair. The president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, and his deputy, Dato' Seri Lim Ah Lek, lead the two factions so at odds that each looks to cut the other's wings at best it can. So in Indera Kayangan -- even if both agreed MCA should aim to be returned in Indera Kayangan and should set aside their differences for the duration. Forlonly, it turns out. All that happened is that it went underground. The MCA candidate is Mrs Oui Ah Lan, linked to Dr Ling and works in Dato' Seri Shahidan's office as a Chinese adviser. Dr Ling chose her and without consulting Dato' Seri Lim. In the straight fight, the opposition is from the Parti Keadilan Negara (National Justice Party or Keadilan), but its candidate, Mr Khoo Yang Chong, is ex-MCA and from the Lim faction. So, Indera Kayangan is an MCA turf battle. Worse, UMNO Perlis does not support her for her links to Dato' Seri Shahidan.

It is so important to the BN it be returned that UMNO alone brought in two workers from out of state for each voter -- 14,000 for an electorate slight more than half it. The MCA and MIC has also, in proportion. One BN official who returned from Indera Kayangan yesterday said three BN workers look after each voter. But those who benefit are the shady businesses of Padang Besar and Haadyai to which most adjourn after a perfunctory appearance at the BN election headquarters. Money spent to ferry them in must be in the tens of millions and in the hope that more the money the better the chances. Add to this that Dato' Seri Shahidan is the point man for the deputy prime minister in overall charge of the campaign, and the BN is in a sticky wicket.

So, Mr Khoo who did not expect to win last week now could -- and on a low budget. The defections in Keadilan had one unintended consequence: PAS, with its well-honed election machinery, stepped in and took charge. The BN undermined Keadilan by getting its members to defect, and weakened an already weak machinery. In a campaign in which it spends money like water, it is scurrilous to suggest that money played its part to win them over. If, as the BN claims, principle not money caused them to defect, it would be the first in Malaysian electoral history. But it could not dent the relentless attacks against it.

The BN still seeks an issue to destroy the opposition scent of blood. And so it is defensive. It does not, midway into the campaign -- polling is on Saturday, 19 January 2002 --, yet have one that could change the tide. Its old saw that it can put the money where the mouth is and bring in the desired development is disbelieved. It comes out clearly in every by-election it does not deliver. Which is the BN, not the opposition, shivers at the prospect of another byelection. And four more are on the cards.

M.G.G. Pillai