GEORGE TOWN: If there is no major swing among Chinese voters next week, then DAP-helmed Pakatan Rakyat will retain Penang on May 5, albeit narrowly.
Barisan Nasional may have to wait for another four to five years to wrest Penang, provided the coalition still rules Putrajaya.
In the last 2008 general election, Pakatan captured the seat by winning 29 state seats against Umno-BN’s 11.
Pakatan also won 11 federal seats, while BN got two through Umno.
Gerakan, MCA and MIC were all wiped out. These parties are hoping for a change of fortune this time around.
They believe that they can win some seats with right candidates and strategies.
But their chances are still looking bleak, halfway through the campaign.
Its look like the majority Chinese will back Pakatan in this island-state simply because they love incumbent Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, or so it seems.
Chinese seem to revere Lim like a “tokong” (deity). They see him as a Chinese champion.
No matter how much rivals expose his “wrongdoings and shortcomings”, many Chinese here simply don’t care.
They just want to go for “Change … This Is The Time” and they believe Lim is the right agent for that change.
Malays back with BN?
Similarly many hallucinating Indians living in comfort zones and who think they know everything are following the Chinese to trigger the “maattram” or change in Tamil.
These Chinese and Indians believe that by changing guards in Putrajaya they could change the system of governance.
But what about the Malays?
Checks showed the majority of the Malays are coming back to BN after deserting the coalition and Umno in 2008.
The main reason is that the Malays perceive – rightly or wrongly – the incumbent Penang government as a Chinese chauvinist administration.
The surge in Malay support for BN is also due to the “feel good” factor propagated by Najib Tun Razak and his “1Malaysia” brand.
Many Indian voters, who backed Pakatan in 2008, are also moving towards that direction due to these reasons.
According to the Election Commission’s gazetted electoral roll as at Feb 22, 2013, Penang has 847,961 registered voters.
Ethnic Chinese totalling 452,594 or 53.37% of the voters form the majority especially on the island.
The Malays follow at 299,031 or 35.26% while the Indians comprise 92,320 or 10.89% and others make up the balance of 4,016 or 0.48%.
A total of 131 candidates will contest in 13 parliamentary and 40 state seats in Penang.
Among the federal seats, Bukit Gelugor has the highest number of voters while Balik Pulau has the lowest.
In the state seats, Paya Terubong has the most voters while Teluk Bahang has the lowest.
BN, meanwhile, has fielded 53 candidates in both parliamentary and state seats. They comprise Umno (20), Gerakan (17), MCA (14), and MIC (2).
Pakatan is fielding 54 candidates. DAP has 26 with PKR and PAS having 20 and eight respectively.
PKR and PAS candidates are involved in a three-cornered fight with BN in the Sungai Acheh state seat.
BN incumbent Mahmud Zakaria from Umno could benefit from the Pakatan squabbling over the seat.
There is bad blood between PKR and PAS in this seat.
It is learnt that PAS supporters vented their frustrations on PKR candidate Badrul Hisham Shaharin and his wife on nomination day.
PAS is fielding its state Youth chief Yusni Mat Piah here.
Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) has fielded four candidates to contest two parliamentary and three state seats, with Lim Kim Chu going for a double header in Bagan parliamentary and Bagan Jermal state seats. The rest are Independents.
Losing Chinese support?
Guan Eng is seeking re-election in a straight fight with BN’s Tan Ken Keong from MCA in Air Putih, which has the second lowest number of voters.
Chinese form an overwhelming 82.26% majority in Air Putih with 11,391 voters.
On paper, Guan Eng merely needs 7,000 votes to win the seat comfortably for a second term.
Although he is likely to win, he is currently having to contend with a daily dose of 1Malaysia parties being organised by a welfare club in the area.
Organisers told FMT that they expect to draw away from Guan Eng some 10% to 20% of Chinese voters for BN in each area where the parties were being held across the Air Putih constituency.
Guan Eng’s rival BN state chairman and Gerakan secretary-general Teng Chang Yeow is, however, entangled in a three-cornered tussle with Ong Chin Wen of PKR and Independent A Mohan in Bukit Tengah. Mohan was formerly from Gerakan.
Bukit Tengah is a mixed seat with 8,614 Chinese voters (45.44%), 6,912 Malays (36.46%) and 3,380 Indians (17.83%).
Even if Teng wins, it would come only after a bruising battle.
Pakatan de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim (Permatang Pauh) and DAP national chairman Karpal Singh (Bukit Gelugor) are two other heavyweights contesting in Penang.
Karpal is the favourite to retain his Bukit Gelugor seat for a third term.
But same cannot be said of Anwar.
Tough in Permatang Pauh
Anwar faces a rough ride to retain his home turf this time against formidable opponents, Mazlan Ismail, from BN and Independent Dr Abdullah Zawawi Samsudin, formerly from Umno.
The surging Malay support for BN could spell trouble for Anwar. His opponents are not pushovers.
Besides BN’s traditional voters, Mazlan can draw support from PAS supporters due to his past links.
Mazlan was PAS election director in Penang in 1999 and 2004.
Rumours are spreading that PAS supporters may sabotage Anwar to install a prime minister from its own ranks.
The youthful Abdullah Zawawi is a local boy and has many friends among all ethnic groups in Permatang Pauh.
It’s learnt that even Umno youths and several Chinese and Indian NGOs are rooting for him.
Unlike his easy by-election win in August, 2008, Anwar needs to draw all his famous political and oratory skills to win his battle this time.
Another interesting three-way clash is in the Nibong Tebal parliamentary seat.
Here standing against state PKR chairman and out-going Deputy Chief Minister (I) Mansor Othman is Zainal Abdidin Osman, state BN deputy chairman and Penang Umno chief. The Independent candidate is Teng Kok Ping.
Zainal apparently has an edge in this seat.
Mesmerizing ‘Ubah’ slogan
Pakatan has been wooing voters by bragging about its cash gift, welfare programmes and capability in managing the state finance.
Apart from attacking BN on its corrupt practices, Pakatan has managed to mesmerise voters with its “Ubah … Ini Kalilah” (Change … This Is The Time) tagline, drumming on the 56 prolonged years of Umno and BN political dominance.
On the other hand, BN is talking about its transformation policies, free port and Najib’s “feel good” factor.
Often both sides trade barbs and jibes to outwit each other to capture the people’s imagination.
Teng has also proven to be a competitive match to Guan Eng in their personal duel.
In previous election, there was a massive swing of voters, including BN supporters, towards Pakatan.
Previously, BN lost 11 federal seats largely due to internal politicking, sabotage, and an Indian vote swing.
This time BN leaders and supporters are all united as a cohesive unit under Najib’s “1Malaysia” flagship.
The current election climate looks stable and calm.
There is no Hindraf-inspired tsunami either for Pakatan to rely on.
Remember, Hindraf is now on BN’s side after BN endorsed its blueprint to uplift the marginalised segment of the Indian community.
No Hindraf crutch for Pakatan
Hence Pakatan has to fight the battle on its own capabilities on equal voting ground.
Meanwhile on the federal front, the DAP could retain Tanjung, Bukit Gelugor, Bagan and Bukit Mertajam.
But it faces some battle from Gerakan in Jelutong, Bukit Bendera and Batu Kawan.
Similarly PKR faces a rough ride to regain its Bayan Baru, Balik Pulau and Nibong Tebal seats, apart from Permatang Pauh.
Umno should retain its Kepala Batas and Tasek Gelugor seats and could add more.
MCA has a fighting chance to recapture Bayan Baru.
Although Pakatan, in particular the DAP, is poised to retain many Chinese-dominant seats, Pakatan faces tough battles in at least 12 seats which have large non-Chinese voters.
Pakatan faces real fights in Datuk Keramat, Sungai Pinang, Tanjung Bunga, Batu Uban, Batu Maung, Pantai Jerejak, Bagan Dalam, Prai, Jawi, Machang Bubuk, Bukit Tengah, Bukit Tambun and Sungai Bakap.
BN candidate Ong Thean Lye, who is also Gerakan state vice-chairman, is capable of upsetting DAP incumbent Jagdeep Singh Deo in Datuk Keramat.
In Tanjung Bunga, DAP incumbent Tey Yee Cheu is up against a formidable ex-BN Bukit Bendera MP Chia Kwang Chye. Also in the fray is Independent Mar Seong Leng.
In Bagan Dalam, Prai and Jawi, which all have sizeable Indian voters, Hindraf’s entry into full force election campaign next week could tilt the balance towards BN.
Frustrated by PKR’s decision to drop him, incumbent Tan Hock Leong seeks a second term as an Independent in Machang Bubok. Machang Bubok has six contenders.
Tan faces Lee Khai Loon from PKR, Tan Lok Heah of BN, and three Independents – M Vikneswaran, Wan Balkis Wan Abdullah and Ooi Suan Hoe.
He could pull away some frustrated supporters’ votes from PKR.
BN has a fighting chance
Insiders claim BN currently enjoys support from 80% Malays, 50% Indians and 20% Chinese and has a fighting chance to win these seats, especially those contested by non-Malay candidates from Pakatan.
Umno is confident of winning at least 14 state seats, except in PAS-held Permatang Pasir.
If Umno partners – Gerakan, MCA and MIC – can win eight to 10 state seats, BN can pull off the unthinkable against all odds.
But it faces an uphill task.
BN can only re-capture the state government with a swing of another 10% Chinese and 20%-30% Indian votes in the final week run-in.
The jostle over the Islamic agenda between PAS and DAP, with a muted PKR and Anwar watching from the sideline, could also sway some non-Malay Muslim votes to BN.
The DAP and PKR are trying to convince voters that “there is nothing to worry about” but some fence-sitters are sceptical.
They sense it as a political reality that PAS would implement its Islamist policies if Pakatan captures Putrajaya. This is based on reported experiences of non-Muslims in Kelantan, Kedah and Selangor.
Najib’s visit to Penang next week could just be the turning point.
He could pull off an electoral coup with an offer that Chinese businessmen and community leaders could not refuse.
Then the unthinkable could happen.
After all, in politics anything can happen in a week. – Athi Shankar/FMT