On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Don’t take voters lightly

THE Opposition really has no one to blame for its defeat in the recent two by-elections in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar except itself. It is really distasteful to call the voters names for their decisions.

The same arrogance prevailed, especially among its diehard supporters, when voters in Sarawak were ridiculed and put down sarcastically in social media for voting in the Barisan Nasional in bigger numbers.

So, when the Barisan won handsomely in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, it was difficult for Pakatan Harapan to accept, with voters accused of having been bought and that they were politically immature. One Pakatan member even asked what was the point in him continuing to bring up contentious issues such as 1MDB, if that was how the voters reacted.

In the first place, it was naive for Pakatan Rakyat to actually believe it could win the two seats as they have always been Barisan strongholds and surely it knows that the odds were against them. It was wishful thinking really.

The best it could hope for, realistically, was to reduce the majority as it had done in the 2013 general election, particularly in Sungai Besar.

The late Tan Sri Noriah Kasnon was the MP for three terms. In 2013, she managed only a 399-vote majority in a straight fight with PAS. She polled 18,695 votes against PAS’ Salleh Husin’s 18,296 votes.

This time, Barisan’s Budiman Mohd Zohdi won with a 9,191 vote majority. The combined votes of PAS and Amanah were still not enough to beat Budiman, who garnered a convincing 16,800 votes. Amanah’s Azhar Abdul Shukur got 7,609 votes while Dr Abdul Rani Osman of PAS had 6,902 votes.

From the analysis, in the 2013 polls, PAS clearly obtained a huge chunk of votes from both the Malay and Chinese votes but this time, these crucial votes have gone to Barisan. There are still pockets of support for the Opposition – after all, Selangor is under Pakatan Harapan.

The DAP supporters wore the orange shirts of Amanah but while the colour may have changed, it also brought back memories of DAP supporters carrying PAS’ green flags and many were in green uniforms too, back in 2013.

YouTube still has a video of an angry, hardcore DAP man at a ceramah loudly advocating the hudud, saying non-Muslims need not fear having their hands chopped off as only Barisan leaders who have committed crimes need to fear.

The crowd at the Subang Jaya ceramah cheered loudly but fast forward to 2016, the mood is not the same. The crowd would probably be embarrassed, or even feel cheated, if the DAP were to make such a stand at a ceramah like this.

But it is hard explaining that, despite their purported divorce, the DAP and PAS are still seated together in the Selangor state government.

And even more confusing is the fact that PKR, DAP and PAS had their knives out for each other in the recent Sarawak state polls.

The call for change is hollow now because the Opposition parties themselves cannot change. A marriage that works needs lots of compromises, tolerance, patience and sacrifices.

In this case, no party is prepared to change its ways, always putting self-interest first.

The open infighting is a tough act to explain to voters, as anyone who knows a little psychology can tell you that human beings are by nature fearful of change. The fear of change or changing times is called metathesiophobia and since time immemorial, man has always liked routine, believing it must be good.

In the case of Pakatan Harapan or formerly known as Pakatan Rakyat, the call for change or “Ubah” has been a traumatic one, as the partnership has crumbled, leaving the electorate to wonder what would have been the consequences if they had voted them to Putrajaya.

And for the Chinese, voting in more PAS MPs has clearly been a serious mistake. In fact, some of the Amanah leaders today have been on record, while in PAS, that they stand for hudud. They may have evaded talking about it now but their stand hasn’t changed.

In the case of PKR, we saw PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli accusing the Selangor state government headed by PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali of corruption – with claims of demands for cash and women – just days before the polls!

That was seriously damaging. PKR president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – who has refused to sign the Citizens Declaration – hardly campaigned in Sungai Besar, if at all.

Her daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, was another absentee. The DAP leaders probably showed more enthusiasm for Amanah than PKR.

So in short, the Opposition is in tatters.

Yes, Barisan has more money, a better-oiled machinery and has better access to the media but that has not stopped Pakatan Rakyat from winning Penang and Selangor, and in PAS’ case, Kelantan.

So the argument cannot be valid anymore and the better-informed voters, especially businessmen, can tell you that the DAP and PKR are no longer poor, despite the facade of collecting donations at ceramah. They may not be as rich as Barisan but they are surely not poor.

In Kuala Kangsar, the results were even more dramatic as Barisan candidate Datin Mastura Mohd Yazid did not even step out of her house to campaign as she was undergoing iddah (waiting period) following her husband’s death. Datuk Wan Mohd Khair-il Anuar Wan Ahmad, who perished in the May 5 helicopter crash near Sebuyau, Sarawak, was the incumbent MP.

In the four-way fight, Mastura won with a massive 6,969-vote majority, garnering 12,653 votes against PAS’ Najihatussalehah Ahmad (5,684), Amanah’s Ahmad Termizi Ramli (4,883) and Independent candidate Izat Bukhary Ismail Bukhary (54).

In 2013, Wan Mohd Khair-il Anuar managed only a 1,082-vote majority.

But there is also a lesson from these recent by-elections for all politicians regardless of their party. They should never take the voters for granted. Politics is like any product and politicians are like salesmen who must convince their customers why they should buy – in this case, vote for them.

If the voters refused to vote for them in 2013, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for them in 2016 or in the next general election.

There is no reason to sulk, get angry, shun or reject your customers. Some Malay politicians, including Sungai Besar division chief Datuk Jamal Yunos, must surely now reassess his views on Chinese voters, especially if it is a fight against PAS or Amanah.

Jamal’s previous excessive antics, which smacks of racism, have not been forgotten but he persevered, like most thick-skinned politicians should, and worked hard for the release of the two Chinese fishermen jailed in Indonesia.

So he has regained his popularity, from zero to hero, with the Chinese community who returned their support for his hard work, as it should be. Gratefulness is important.

Umno is still regarded as a moderate party and its politics of consensus and accommodation are still a selling point, despite facing numerous contentious issues, especially in urban seats. But the alternative – PAS – is hardly palatable for the Chinese and non-Muslim bumiputeras in this country, which make up over 40% of the population. Even Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak reject the Islamist party’s brand of religious politics.

Ironic as it may sound to many urban Chinese voters, they need to support Barisan in a stronger way to push Umno away from PAS.

Umno must be convinced that it can rely on the non-Muslim votes, including the Chinese votes, so it need not have to look for votes elsewhere, especially in rural areas. That faith must be renewed so that Umno can rely on the decisive Chinese votes to defeat PAS with its narrow interpretation of Islam.

The Pakatan Harapan has little hope of forming the next federal government. That is the reality. Expect three-corner or four-corner fights in most constituencies in the next general election, which will just benefit Barisan.