Apr 27, 2007

Importance of Malaysia's Ijok by-election for BN and Keadilan

Here's a piece of interview conducted by Radio Singapore International

All eyes will be on the results of a by-election to be held in a small Malaysian town this Saturday.

The fight for the Ijok constituency in Selangor state - will see the ruling Barisan Nasional or BN pit its candidate against the opposition Keadilan.

Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is spearheading the opposition campaign.

The ruling BN sees the Ijok race as the most serious electoral contest since the party's clean sweep in the 2004 general elections.

Why is this so?

Melanie Yip spoke with Dr Mavis Puthucheary, Associate Senior Fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies to find out.

MP: There has already been talk of a general election earlier than expected therefore this is seen as a sign of what is likely to take place in the upcoming general election. Keadilan needs some kind of shot in the arm, a kind of moral boost if it is to participate more prominently in the next general election. So in a way, Keadilan is fighting for its very survival.

Now, former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is lending his support in the Keadilan candidate's political campaign. How much weight will that add?

MP: It is very difficult to say at this point in time because Anwar hasn't got the same level of support he had in the 1999 elections and the time after that. There is some feeling that although he is attracting some kind of interests in the Ijok constituency, whether that will be translated into support for the Keadilan candidate is not very clear. I myself am not convinced that his participation in the election is going to make a fundamental difference.

And how would you describe the credibility of the candidate that Keadilan is fielding in this election?

MP: He was a very prominent UMNO politician and the fact that he is a Tan Sri brings a lot more interests to this particular election. I think he is very credible but he has so far not been able to explain to the electorate why he has shifted his loyalty. And this is part of the reason why I'm going to Ijok because I am hoping to interview him because this is quite crucial to his credibility.

And how has Barisan Nasional been carrying out its campaign in Ijok to counter the competition from the opposition Keadilan?

MP:The BN candidate is playing a much softer line. He is leaving it to the BN party stalwarts to do the fighting for him. He smiles a lot and goes around talking about getting BN's support. But as far as I know, he does not seem to be a strong candidate. The fight seems to be primarily between the Deputy President of UMNO, Najib and Anwar. Perhaps this is also one reason why it is attracting so much attention. The candidates themselves seem to be playing sort of a game where they are holding a brief for two bigger national personalities. Anwar's on behalf of Keadilan and Najib who is going all out in the campaign to win votes for the BN candidate. But the BN candidate himself has not been, you know, playing a very major role.

There is no doubt that it is going to be a tough fight for the Ijok constituency but how would you rate Barisan Nasional's chances in this election?

MP: It seems to be a hotly contested seat in a sense that if the Malay vote is split and there seems to be a support of votes from the Chinese voters for Keadilan, then the real question is whether the Indian voters will be united enough on the side of BN to ensure a BN victory. And I think this seems to be what is happening, that Samy Veloo and the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) have joined forces in a big way to ensure that the Indian vote is united in favor of BN. And there have been some accusations and allegations that the Keadilan campaigners have not been able to enter certain plantations where the Indian voters are residing.

But would a Keadilan defeat in Ijok halt Mr Anwar's political come-back in any way?

MP: I think just recently, Anwar also supported the candidate in the Machok constituency and BN won. So this seems to be almost the last chance that he has. And I think if the Keadilan candidate does not win the election, it will be a major set-back for Anwar.

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