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MGG: Indera Kayangan: A harbinger of what is to come
By M.G.G. Pillai

20/1/2002 2:06 pm Sun

The National Front (BN) is returned with a larger majority in the Indera Kayangan byelection. The stakes were too high for UMNO and MCA for it not to be otherwise. The Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, nor the MCA president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, would be under greater pressure that they already are otherwise. So, it had to win. It did, with a larger majority. The MCA's Mrs Oui Ah Lan is returned with 900 more votes than in 1999. The BN is quick to claim the Parti Keadilan Negara (Keadilan) is discredited. How it does not explain, since if it had caused an upset, it would have been the BN that would have. All the byelection proved is that BN cannot lose in any byelection and ensure it would not. The Lunas byelection loss in Kedah sticks in its gullet.

So it does not surprise an UMNO assemblywoman from Kedah says she brings three buses of women from Penang and Kedah for a shopping trip in Kangar on election day. And police stop six buses of BN supporters en route to Indera Kayangan. The police were quick to stop it since it was told it was an opposition attempt at phantom voting. But the traffic jam in Kangar yesterday suggests the phantom voters came in in cars. The elections commission is certain it is not true, but at 3 pm only half the electorate had cast their votes, but it was 80 per cent when polling closed.

The opposition does not have a policy on byelections. The DAP believes it must contest what is theirs, and if it does not, it would boycott it. So, in Lunas and Indera Kayangan it stayed away. The reasons are different but it split the Chinese vote. The DAP harped on PAS and its plan for an Islamic state, and this played into the BN's hands. Keadilan as a political party is weak, its first three years known for its internal squabbles than for its policies. It does appear that the Chinese voted for the BN in fear but the Malay vote remains hopelessly divided. The opposition should have a clear policy on byelection: and it should be not to win but to make it expensive for the BN too. If it wins a seat it should be a bonus.

For it is in a byelection the area gets the attention it should have as a matter of course. This time the BN was so sure of its election strategy that no promises need be made. It did not, concentrating its campaign on attacking the opposition. But when the Indian vote -- less than 500 -- was weaned by promising them both a primary and secondary Tamil school. The official policy is to ignore Tamil and, indeed, Chinese schools. But the Indians could have turned the tables in a tight election. So, two schools are offered while elsewhere in the country where these schools would fulfil a need none are built. It is incumbent on the opposition to insist they be built, and all election promises, not just in Indera Kayangan, are kept.

Unfortunately, both government and opposition forget a byelection after it is over. Has the Keadilan state assemblyman for Lunas asked the government of its promises in Lunas? He did at first, but not any more. If a government promises to bring, for want of a better word, development to an area in the course of an election, it should ensure it whatever the result. It is not conditional, nor should it be, on its candidate being returned. Byelections are too important for the BN to lose. So it focusses on them in fear and fright, and the government machinery and the media forced on board to ensure a victory. It is difficult for the opposition to win. Especially when it is as badly organised as they are. The edge was with BN in Indera Kayangan from the start. I was wrong to assume it would be a close call: It could not. Whichever party won would have been by a wide margin. And Keadilan did not have the wherewithan for that.

M.G.G. Pillai