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MGG: Indera Kayangan: The Empire Strikes Back
By M.G.G. Pillai

17/1/2002 2:49 pm Thu

With two days left, the National Front (BN) and its MCA candidate for the Indera Kayangan byelection runs into unexpected flak. Too much was taken for granted: the candidate, Mrs Oui Ah Lan, the choice of the MCA president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, is the Perlis mentri besar, Dato' Seri Shahidan Kassim's special assistant for Chinese affairs. UMNO Perlis and the MCA B team want to deny an MCA victory: one to spite Dato' Seri Shahidan, the other so an anti-Ling man would be appointed to the state executive council and spite the unpopular Dr Ling. If not, Mrs Oui would be appointed. In other words, the national divisions in MCA and UMNO is the backdrop to the elections.

The Keadilan candidate, Mr Khoo Yang Chong, is aligned to Dr Ling's nemesis, Dato' Lim Ah Lek, is popular with, and active in, Chinese community groups, and the byelection also focusses on the near fratricidal nation-wide Chinese debate on politics and culture. A week into the campaign, the two candidates run neck-and-neck with even National Front assessors hedging their bets on who would be returned. Press reports of an easy victory and opposition confusion is to raise BN morale, not what is on the ground. In any case, the press, radio and television, government or BN-controlled, happily self-destruct at the hustings. It is no different in Indera Kayangan. Which is why it may fool those who do not vote, but not who do.

But the BN fights back. With a split Chinese community, the BN must get the Malay community on its side. But that is divided between UMNO and PAS, and with a common hatred for Dato' Seri Shahidan. The battle is not lost: UMNO's star campaigner is its vice president and former Selangor mentri besar, Tan Sri Muhammad Taib. Alone amongst those from out of state, he and his men mollify the Malay to vote for BN. Even the opposition credits him for this change, unimagined on nomination day last week. Half the nearly 4,000 Malay voters now expect to vote BN, when it was only 30 per cent earlier. In 1999, a united MCA could hold its ground when the Malay vot dissipated. He is there day and night and, like at the Lunas byelection, stays out of the limelight but works relentlessly to turn the Malay voter around. It is said, and not in jest, that if there were five men like him, the MIC, not Keadilan, would have retained Lunas. But there is no party worker like him in the MCA ranks. Who would win is what happens in the next two days.

Neither BN nor MCA have a policy for Indera Kayangan or Perlis other than to be returned. So the opposition. The DAP stays out on the principle of its enemy's friend is its enemy, would not campaign because PAS backs the opposition candidate and it objects to PAS's prescription for an Islamic state. It is miffed its candidate is not the opposition's. The Keadilan is wracked with defections but PAS quickly stepped in to manage its campaign so the opposition has tighter control and more focussed campaigning than BN. But being returned to Indera Kayangan on Saturday does not resolve anything for the opposition than giving BN a black eye. Since general elections could be as early as next year, a victory on Saturday is pyrrhic. But for BN, a win is a must. And makes it nervous. So BN dismisses the opposition as no-hopers without saying what it stands for. That it does shows not confidence but fright.

If the opposition had thought its campaign through, it could have forced BN to expend more resources than it could afford before it was returned. And if it then won, it would be with a bloody BN nose. For that it needs what it does not have: a killer instict, Why did not Keadilan go for the kill when the BN candidate misfield his nomination papers? The BN would if the tables were turned. If allowed, it would have changed the political landscape overnight. One BN man, unsentimental in such matters, said BN's problems now include the hawk-like opposition electoral agents from PAS. He said they know the election law and rules inside out and challenge any that flouts it. It would at Indera Kayangan too.

M.G.G. Pillai