There is a sense of d é j à vu in the pending Hulu Selangor by-election. Recall the 2007 by-election in the Selangor state seat of Ijok when the Barisan Nasional (BN) entered the ring to do battle with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Once again we see the same two antagonists prepare for combat, albeit this time in a federal constituency, but the factors involved remain almost identical.
Firstly, the voters’ demographics in Hulu Selangor tell us that there are approximately 54% Malays, 19% Indian and 27% Chinese, while in 2007, Ijok had more or less the same voters’ ethnic make-up with only the Chinese and Indians switching percentages, namely 52% Malays, 28% Indians and 20% Chinese.
Secondly, Anwar Ibrahim is currently under siege, where he faces a bizarre repeat of a sodomy charge as well as loss of political credibility with the recent defections of a number of PKR MPs, two of whom he claimed as personal friends. To add to his woes, the demise of the late PKR MP in the Hulu Selangor federal constituency has been a major blow to the party where now a win in the by-election assumes imperative implications.
The situation for the Hulu Selangor by-election is virtually identical to the scenario during the 2007 Ijok by-election. Prior to Ijok, Anwar’s campaigning in the Sarawak state elections failed to make any impact. Both Anwar Ibrahim and PKR were then striving for political survival, credibility and renewed morale, where a win in the Ijok by-election assumed almost vital significance.
Thirdly, it is likely that despite the Malay majority in the Hulu Selangor constituency, PM Najib Tun Razak may confirm G Palanivel from MIC as the BN candidate for the by-election, unless, of course, that remarkable MIC party president does an eleventh-hour change to his party’s nomination. Now, while this is improbable it’s not quite impossible as we know S Samy Vellu well, of his manoeuvring which has kept him as MIC's No 1 for years.
Samy himself is not unaware that a Palanivel nominated, elected and appointed as a cabinet minister will become an even bigger threat to his position as MIC president, and will in all likelihood expedite his obliteration from the political landscape. In fact one shouldn’t be in the least surprised if he forwards to Najib his own name, toupee and all [maniacal laughter]. Thus, between now and April 14, it's virtually more than a political life time for Palanivel.
But at least this time in Hulu Selangor we will be spared his boast of conducting 10 years due of public works in a month (or was it three?) as he did in the Ijok by-election, all complete with 600 Janome sewing machines.
And once again, as in Ijok, PKR will pick a Malay as its candidate. I am not sure whether this has to do with its policy of picking a local boy or an absence of suitable Indian candidates, or its must-win-at-all-cost strategy a la the 2007 Ijok by-election.
On the other side of the coin, if Selangor Umno succeeds in pushing Mohamad Taib’s candidature, or Najib wanting to play safe in Hulu Selangor by also nominating a Malay candidate, then we have to conclude that Najib has either no confidence in his own ‘1Malaysia’ or succumbed to party pressure.
Strangely on the issue of an Indian candidate, this time I don’t hear appeals from the Indian sector of PKR or NGOs or other Indian leading personalities for PKR to nominate an Indian candidate.
In 2007, PKR Youth vice-chief S Manikavasagam has expressed his unhappiness with Khalid Ibrahim’s candidacy, pointing out precisely what I have just written, that despite Ijok being a constituency with 50% Malay voters, BN fielded an Indian candidate, but alas, not PKR.
Nallakarupan, then a vice-president in PKR, was reported to be very disappointed when Anwar Ibrahim selected a political ‘parachutist’ over him. There was also a claim that PAS was then against PKR selecting a non-Malay candidate for Ijok and a rumoured pre-condition for PAS to support PKR in the election campaigning was for the PKR candidate to be a Malay.
I wonder whether this time the silence from non-BN Indians about PKR not selecting an Indian candidate has to do with the lesser percentage of Indian voters in Hulu Selangor?
The sole exception has been Manoharan from the DAP. Mind you, I believe Manoharan’s rather radical proposal for PKR and DAP to swap Hulu Selangor (allocated to PKR) for Batu Kawan (allocated to DAP and currently held by Dr Ramasamy) and for DAP to nominate Uthayakumar as candidate for Hulu Selangor has more to do with mollifying the anti-DAP leader of the Human Rights Party and getting him onside with Pakakan.
Fourthly, we may once again view the coming Hulu Selangor challenge as another proxy war between Anwar Ibrahim and his political b ê te noire Najib for the de facto leadership of the heartland.
To conclude, the pros and cons for both BN and PKR candidates are just too numerous and varied to enumerate, where we need an expert like Ong Kian Ming to do justice to a forecast on the likely by-election result.
But perhaps a layperson’s simplified version by adopting the assumption that 70% of Hulu Selangor Chinese and 25% Indians still support Pakatan and thus PKR, leads us to the conclusion that PKR must win at least 50% of the Malay votes to scrape through or we’ll witness another piece of d é j à vu, that of G Palanivel repeating Partiban’s victory in the 2007 Ijok by-election.
Given the demographic breakdown of Hulu Selangor, perhaps the more important question is whether the by-election outcome may be a bellwether for the outcome of the next general election? PKR and no doubt PAS will be watching very keenly the voters’ choice.