On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

BN still the preferred choice

BY 4.30pm, with just 30 minutes to the end of balloting in Ijok, the calls from Barisan Nasional campaigners started coming.  

They had telephoned to declare the Barisan Nasional’s victory based on the turnout at stations which were regarded as white (deemed pro-government) and grey (mixed sentiments) areas.  

In short, many known Barisan supporters had turned up to cast their votes, which gave the ruling coalition the confidence.  

The white areas were in Pekan Berjuntai Bestari, Pekan Ijok, Tuan Mee and Pekan Berjuntai while the grey areas were Sungai Darah, Jaya Setia and Simpang Ijok.  

Two hours later, as the ballots were being actually counted at the Batang Berjuntai community centre, word leaked out that the Barisan had won by 1,850 votes, a bigger majority. 

It has been a hard-fought battle with nail-biting moments for the Barisan and Parti Keadilan Rakyat.  

There were plenty of anxious moments as the political temperature peaked with reported scuffles involving supporters of both sides.  

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was reportedly stopped from entering an opposition stronghold by opposition supporters.  

At Bukit Badong, two buses ferrying women and children were blocked by PKR and PAS men using four-wheel-drive vehicles at about 4pm but the Barisan claimed they were just supporters. 

The Barisan men, too, had their accusations, claiming the opposition was using heavy-handed tactics by intimidating voters.  

At noon, leaders from both sides looked worried as the voter turnout was just 14% and telephone calls were frantically made to their officials to get the voters out.  

But in the end, 81.88% or 10.049 registered voters turned up to cast their votes by 5pm when the stations closed. 

Their fears were that rain, which was predicted in the afternoon, would deter the voters from coming out of their homes.  

Najib made telephone calls to MCA leaders, who had congregated at Pekan Ijok, wanting to know their assessment of Chinese turnouts. They assured him that the trend of Chinese voters was that they would only vote after they had finished their work. In the end, they turned up in big numbers.  

But most locals by then had provided small indications of their voting preferences by going to the checking counters of their preferred candidate.  

In the end, it was the bread-and-butter issues which mattered the most to the 12,272 voters in a constituency which wanted tarred roads, lighting, schools, halls, better places of worship and amenities.  

They also wanted an elected representative who would be there for them when they needed him. Their choice, in the end, was Parthiban, 38.  

The majority of Chinese voters decided to stick to the Barisan despite the call by DAP chief Lim Kit Siang to support PKR candidate Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, 61. But there were pockets of unhappy Chinese voters who were responsive to the opposition’s calls on several national issues.  

The Barisan leadership must now find out why these segments of Chinese voters backed the opposition although the coalition has won this time.  

There were concerns that the Indian voters would be unhappy as the late Datuk K. Sivalingam was said to have neglected the constituency while the dissatisfaction among the Ijok MIC division over the choice of candidate would cost the Barisan some votes.  

But MIC leaders worked hard to neutralise the campaign by PKR that claimed the MIC had forgotten the estate people and that Sivalingam had made promises which he did not fulfil.  

Despite Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and other heavyweights leading the campaign, with subtle calls to Malay voters to back a Malay candidate, the majority of Malay voters stayed with Barisan.  

Quick action by Umno leaders helped to ease doubts on whether Parthiban would be able to help the community.  

Najib opened a service centre at a newly-built office block along the Pekan Ijok main road, which would be run by a special assistant appointed by Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo. It remains the only office in the yet-to-be-occupied block.  

The Prime Minister’s visit to the constituency is also said to have helped pacify the dissatisfied Umno grassroots and doubting voters.  

Despite the aggressive campaign – which saw 1,000 policemen having to stop a fracas between Barisan and PKR campaigners, where bottles and poles were used as missiles – it was clear that the Barisan had an edge from the start.  

As the race entered its last lap, it did not help that Khalid, in a slip of the tongue at a gathering, reminded voters to support the Barisan. For many locals, the blooper was a reminder that Khalid had benefited from the Barisan, something which the Barisan harped on subsequently.  

PKR’s defeat is a major setback to Anwar and the party that had fielded a big name in the polls against a minnow. 

It is a victory of sorts for Najib who had to bear the brunt of the attacks against him. 

But more importantly, the voters sent an important message to PKR – the sharing of power among the major ethnic groups is sacred. The use of race in Ijok was highly disturbing, to say the least. 

Now that Parthiban has been declared the victor, he would have to work doubly hard over the next eight months ahead of the general election, speculated to be called early next year.  

He may have had the strong advantage of the coalition muscle this time around but in the general election, where the heavyweights have to fight their own battles, he would have to take on Khalid again in round two minus their strong presence.