COMMENT BY WONG CHUN WAI
The first indication of what to expect from this by-election came on Wednesday night when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak fired the first salvo.
He promised more peluru (bullets) against Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and its advisor Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when the campaign gets hotter.
His warning was blunt – stop raising the Altantuya Shaaribuu murder case or face the consequences.
The Deputy Prime Minister said he had never touched on Anwar’s personal matters, adding: “If I want to talk, I can. However, I do not want to embarrass him because we know he has a wife and children.”
It was certainly a loaded statement. In short, people, or rather, politicians who live in glasshouses should not throw stones.
Anwar has reportedly been using the case of the murdered Mongolian, in which defence analyst Abdul Razak Baginda has been charged, in his ceramah rounds nationwide.
With Anwar expected to lead the charge in the Ijok campaign, the likelihood is that Anwar would end up becoming one of the issues.
The curtain-raiser was at the recent Machap by-election where Anwar was used as a subject by the campaigners.
One result is a RM10mil suit against MCA Youth secretary-general Dr Wee Ka Siong, who reportedly made remarks in Hakka that Anwar found offensive.
The suit, filed by Anwar on Monday, alleged that Dr Wee, the MP for Air Hitam, had uttered remarks that had tarnished Anwar’s name.
But PKR's candidate, Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, would also not be spared. MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu has served notice that he would expose the former chief executive of Guthrie Group Bhd and group chief executive of Permodalan Nasional Bhd.
Said the Works Minister: “I will tell all about how much a golden boy Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim is.”
Over the next week, Malaysians can expect plenty of revelations of the political players and possibly plenty of legal suits, too.
But as the side issues get better media attention, it should not be lost on Malaysians including the voters of Ijok of the importance of power sharing among the major races in Malaysia.
We take it for granted often without giving much thought to it. The third biggest component party in the ruling coalition, the MIC, does not have a single constituency that is predominantly Indian.
The Sungai Siput parliamentary constituency, of which Samy is the MP, has 46,779 Malays (31.5%), Chinese 41.5%, Indians 22.5% and orang asli 4.5%.
Yet, the party has nine MPs and 19 state assemblymen, and in almost every state ruled by the Barisan there is one MIC state executive councillor.
It can be argued whether these MIC legislators have truly served the interest of the community but the point is that the Alliance and now the Barisan has ensured representation of major ethnic groups.
It is that readiness of the coalition to share power in a multi-racial society that is surely a matter for all of us to appreciate.
In Ijok, which is predominantly Malay with over 50%, the MIC has been given the constituency despite having only a 28% Indian electorate.
The Umno leadership, under Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, could have easily pandered to the demands of some Umno grassroots leader to field a Malay candidate but to his credit, he has refused to do so, believing in the time-tested concept of power sharing and the loyalty of MCA and MIC.
The Barisan has now gone into the by-election fully aware that it will be a difficult fight and many may not want to acknowledge it but the possibility of losing Ijok is there.
But the principle is this – the Barisan is prepared to field an MIC candidate at the risk of losing it.
PKR has rejected allegations that it is appealing to the Malay majority constituents by fielding a Malay candidate at the expense of the Indian minority.
Its leaders claim that the party practices multi-racialism and it advocates equal opportunity and treatment of all Malaysians, regardless of race. Its vice-president R. Sivarasa has reportedly said that its political positioning on various issues is more important.
But “winnability” appears to be the main criterion for the PKR here and nothing else. In the case of Ijok, it is obvious that PKR leaders know, deep inside their hearts, that a Malay candidate stands a better chance.
It would be sad if race is the criterion for the selection of a candidate, based on the racial breakdown of a constituency, because the Chinese and Indian population is shrinking.
In decades to come, there could even be more Indonesians than the two communities.
Where would the representatives of these two communities be contesting if they have no majority presence if we set such a precedent?
It is already bad enough that PAS only fields Muslim candidates but its objective is at least clear to us – that it wants to set up a theocratic Islamic state.
Despite talk of wanting to allow non-Muslims to be associate members, PAS will never compromise on its dogmatic stand.
In DAP’s case, the party has a record of fielding many Malay and Indian candidates in predominantly Chinese areas.
Race should not be an issue in the Ijok by-election and Malaysians hope that the policies of contesting parties should be the deciding factor.
Malaysia is watching.