Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Perception will decide the outcome

Perception will decide the outcome
7 Jan, 2009

"We lost not because the opposition was strong, but because we fought among ourselves," Najib told party workers who had arrived in the Terengganu capital in droves to help in the campaign.

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, The New Straits Times

UMNO is tying up the loose ends as its candidate filed his papers to contest the Kuala Terengganu by-election under the ruling Barisan Nasional banner.

While 46-year-old Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh is embroiled in a personality battle with five-term Wakaf Mempelam Pas assemblyman Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut, there lies a big task for the Umno leadership to settle some "internal problems".

Weaknesses, which could affect the election machinery's momentum, have to be repaired fast. Datuk Seri Najib Razak who is leading the BN charge in the by-election did not mince his words in his "must win" message, asking Umno leaders to set aside their differences and make themselves more appealing to voters.

An unknown independent candidate, Azharudin Mamat @ Adam who has also joined the fray in the three-cornered fight has been described by political analyst Professor James Chin of University of Monash Malaysia, as "a joker candidate looking for his five-seconds of fame" and is almost certain to lose his deposit.

Chin's counterpart from Universiti Utara Malaysia Professor Mohamed Mustafa Ishak believes there are disgruntled sections in Umno and they might give their votes to the independent candidate instead of spoiling their ballots or abstaining.
"It's worse for Umno if the votes go to Pas instead."

Umno has acknowledged that not all of the over 25,000 party members in Kuala Terengganu had voted for the late Datuk Razali Ismail last March.

This could have contributed to the 685 votes independent candidate Maimun Yusuf secured in a three-cornered fight. The other candidate was Pas vice-president Mohamad Sabu.

Chin said the battle in Kuala Terengganu was between Umno and Pas, and since their candidates were so different, some voters would vote according to how much they like the candidates.

"One is offering the office of a deputy minister if he wins while the other is offering a kampung-style politician."

A greenhorn in electoral contest as compared to Wahid's unblemished records since 1990, Wan Farid who has been criticised as having little grassroots experience, needs a lot of polishing of his public relations skills in this short period.

He has been trying very hard though since being declared the BN candidate, and was even coached by "experts" on how to approach people -- from putting on smiles like a model in a toothpaste advertisement to giving light pats on the backs and shoulders of voters.

"My next challenge is to retain the seat for BN," said Wan Farid after being declared the BN candidate yesterday.

Thousands of BN party workers had an earful from Najib when they gathered at the Islamic Civilisational Park on the eve of nomination day.

Najib made it very clear that he wanted to see more coordinated campaign activities between the state Umno and the Kuala Terengganu division, which Wan Farid chairs.

The Umno president designate does not want a repeat of the 2008 general election and Permatang Pauh, where internal bickering was the cause of BN's poor performance.

He wants to win in this highly unpredictable contest so that Kuala Terengganu will be remembered as the beginning of BN's recovery.

"We lost not because the opposition was strong, but because we fought among ourselves," Najib told party workers who had arrived in the Terengganu capital in droves to help in the campaign.

While opinion polls conducted for both the ruling and opposition alliance indicated a win could go either way by 1,000 votes, an Umno insider claims that BN was at this point the underdog despite it defending the seat it won by 628 votes less than a year ago.

"Ground reports say that BN is trailing with its popularity among voters at slightly over 40 per cent.

"It is a concern as surveys among traders at Pasar Payang showed that the majority is still not with BN," he said.

Still reeling from the last general election in which it lost power in five out of 13 states and its two-thirds majority in Parliament, BN is hoping to show it has won back support with promises of reform and a new leadership come March.

To the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat, Kuala Terengganu is a chance to show its support is holding up amid claims that the fragile marriage of convenience between Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Pas and DAP is already cracking up.

In reality, it does not matter a whole lot who wins since no government will fall because of this one seat. At the most Pakatan Rakyat would raise its tally to 83 in Parliament and BN still rules the country.

"It's more to do with people's perception that this by- election is really a referendum on Najib and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

"Najib because he is prime minister-in-waiting and Anwar to prove himself after the Sept 16 fiasco from last year," said Chin.

Still, it will not be correct to use Kuala Terengganu as a barometer to gauge support for BN and Pakatan Rakyat if the outcome is solely based on popularity of candidates.

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