THE two contenders in the Ijok by-election – Barisan Nasional’s K. Parthiban and Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim of Parti Keadilan Nasional – are fast becoming mere supporting actors in the political drama being played.
Their roles, in the eyes of many Malaysians, seem to have been reduced significantly. Instead, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have emerged as the main players.
The co-actors appear to be MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu and PKR president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
The players have wasted no time getting into the ring to trade blows and the fight has been fast and furious since nomination day when bottles and flagpoles flew in a fracas.
Nothing has been spared and the indication is that there will be plenty of personal attacks over the next one week.
Keadilan has tried hard to link Najib with the case of the Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu, with relentless insinuations that those charged with the murder were closely linked to him.
The hearing of the case has been scheduled for June 4 and any discussion on the case would be deemed to be sub judice. But that has not stopped the opposition from raising questions at its ceramah.
Anwar has reportedly posed questions relating to links and connections of the powerful in the case.
Even on nomination day, the opposition had chanted boisterously Altantuya’s name outside the centre. We can be sure her name would be heard continuously throughout the campaign.
Aware of the attacks, Najib has said that he would not shy away from the issue, promising to answer them within the confines of the law.
The Deputy Prime Minister has said he has nothing to hide and that it was all right to talk about the matter.
Najib has little choice but attempt to talk about the issue openly because refusing to do so would be perceived as an inability to address the accusations. It is clear that the opposition merely wants to raise doubts in the minds of the voters.
The fact is that there is little the opposition can talk on the matter despite wanting to harp on the Altantuya case. All it hopes for is to hit an emotional chord at the mere mention of her name. Apart from that, there is little substance.
Not to be outdone, Barisan campaigners have reportedly made innuendoes of sodomy openly.
Anwar is obviously not amused and has filed a RM10mil suit against MCA Youth secretary-general Dr Wee Ka Siong for making a remark that the former has found offensive.
The suit, filed by Anwar last week, alleged that Dr Wee, the MP for Air Hitam, had uttered remarks that had tarnished Anwar’s name.
It is widely accepted that politics is dirty but the level of mudslinging at this early stage of campaigning is a little unusual.
For some observers, there is little to gain politically from this by-election for both sides, at least from the power structure, but no one wants its pride bruised.
With a 51% Malay electorate, Umno wants to prove that it can retain these votes while Keadilan wants to win them badly.
For Samy, he has to show that the MIC can wield influence on the 28% Indian votes, one of the highest in the country for the community.
Then there are the crucial 21% Chinese votes, which the MCA must deliver in this closely fought battle.
The talk is that there are more campaigners from both sides than the 12,272 voters in Ijok, with more than 10 campaigners assigned to take care of a voter.
Like Machap, Ijok was an unheard of town among most Malaysians until last week. It has suddenly received national attention.
From a sleepy hollow, a carnival atmosphere has taken place with voters having to choose to attend a Mawi concert, see an impersonator of the late Mardur Gopalamenon Ramachandran (MGR) or listen to a no-holds barred ceramah by Najib or Anwar.
The Chinese restaurants in Ijok, which serve arguably the best “beggars’ chicken” in Selangor, have been doing a roaring business since last week.
The road repairs and other amenities that have suddenly poured into the constituency have been a bonus for the people.
For the time being, the voters in Ijok are keeping the nation in suspense and we wait eagerly to find out the ending of this political drama that has unfolded.