On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

GE13: Straying from the sidelines

GE13 will see the largest number of Independents ever in the history of Malaysian elections, and the fact is that these are not real Independents but disgruntled members from both sides.

ASK any politician why they are in politics and they will tell you it is because of their undying wish to serve the people. They would also say, with a straight face, that they are fully dedicated to their party and their fellow party members.

If you were to believe them – and there are many people who would swallow everything they say as gospel truth – it is truly their wish to build this nation and to bring a better future for the people and country.

It is not about themselves, it is not about positions, and it is not about rewards, so they will say bravely at the ceramah.

Yet, amazingly, when they are not picked as candidates by their respective parties, they turn into spoilt brats.

Last week, supporters of Gelang Patah MCA chief Jason Teoh protested after he was replaced by Datuk Ghani Othman as the Barisan Nasional candidate against DAP strongman Lim Kit Siang. The operations centre was shut down as Teoh went off sulking.

With due respect, he may have worked hard in the constituency but, as a minnow, voters wouldn’t even give him a second thought if they had to choose between him and Lim.

But in the case of Ghani, at least voters who would otherwise vote for Lim would have to ponder a while about the effects of their decision.

Looking at the larger picture, by pitting Ghani against Lim – a move which the latter certainly did not expect as he thought he would just walk over Teoh – Barisan has tied Lim down in Gelang Patah.

But on Friday, Teoh came to his senses and openly pledged his support for Ghani as well as urged full support for the two Barisan candidates running for the state seats.

Supporters of Wangsa Maju MCA chief Yew Teong Look also staged a protest after they found out that the seat had gone to Umno.

Yew may have been working hard but the reality is that the constituency is a Malay-majority area. The other reality, of course, is that no individual can claim ownership to any seat.

In Penang, former deputy minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shariff Omar likewise is contesting the Tasik Gelugor parliamentary seat as a Pakatan Rakyat-friendly candidate. He has been given the sack by Umno.

The veteran Umno leader doesn’t seem to remember that he has had his opportunities, having served as a deputy chief minister in Penang and federal deputy minister. At one time, he was said to have aspired to become the Governor of Penang.

One wonders what he still hopes to gain at 66 years old when he should stay by the sidelines and lend support to the party.

On the Pakatan Rakyat side, Tapah PKR chief Ridzuan Bani has entered the race as an independent candidate. He said his supporters and party members – not him – were unhappy with the leadership’s chosen candidate, K. Vasantha Kumar.

Malacca DAP veteran and incumbent Kota Melaka MP Sim Tong Him has also been sacked after he decided to contest the Kota Laksamana state seat as an Independent. He is defending the Kota Melaka parliamentary seat as a DAP candidate.

In Selangor, incumbent Teratai DAP assemblyman Jenice Lee was expelled after she decided to defend her seat as an Independent after being dropped from the party list.

But the biggest surprise of the day has to be the decision of Wanita Umno deputy chief Datuk Kamilia Ibrahim’s move to contest as an Independent in the Kuala Kangsar parliamentary seat. This follows Barisan’s decision not to field her in a seat of her choice and instead offered her the state seat of Bukit Chandan.

There was more confusion – PKR and PAS are fighting each other in the Labuan parliamentary seat and the Sungai Acheh state seat in Penang. One wonders how these respective candidates were able to get the letters of endorsement to enable them to represent their parties. This will only benefit the Barisan candidates in these two areas.

When nominations closed yesterday, there were 79 Independents contesting parliamentary seats and 191 contesting state seats. This is surely the largest number of Independents ever in the history of Malaysian elections, and the fact is that these are not real Independents but disgruntled members from both sides.

Although the attention is focused on Barisan and Pakatan, one should not underestimate the presence of these Independents, especially in a close fight.

They could split the votes of the respective parties, especially if they have worked in the constituencies in the past few years.

We may call these Independents spoilers, but they certainly will add to the excitement of this closely fought general election.