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Chinese become key in Kuala Trengganu by election - malaysiakini

Malaysiakini's report:

The minority Chinese voters may very well decide the outcome of the upcoming Kuala Terengganu

by-election if the Malay votes are divided equally between Umno and PAS.

With 88 percent of voters in the area being Malays, Chinese voters make up only 11 percent of the total voters, controlling around 8,800 votes.

When contacted by Malaysiakini, Terengganu Chinese Assembly Hall President Foo Chih Wan conceded that Malay votes would be more important than Chinese ones.

"However, if the Malay votes are divided equally between both sides, then Chinese voters will become the key minority," he said.

kuala terengganu parliament seat by election 2008 051208The by-election is expected to see an intense fight between ruling coalition Barisan Nasional and the opposition, as the margin of victory in the previous two general elections has never been more than 2,000 votes.

The seat fell vacant when incumbent Razali Ismail died of a heart attack last Friday. He had defeated PAS exco Syed Azman Syed Ahmad by 1,933 votes in the 2004 general election.

Razali won with a slim 628 majority in the 2008 polls by defeating PAS bigwig Mohammad Sabu and 89-year-old Maimun Yusuf on March 8.

It is imperative to keep in mind that Kuala Terengganu is not a safe seat for either BN or the opposition, as it has changed hands many times. BN won in 1986, 1990, 2004 and 2008, but Semangat 46 won in 1995 and PAS won in 1999.

Different predictions

With the contest being held just a week before the Lunar New Year celebrations, many Chinese voters staying outside the constituency may decide not to return to cast their ballots, as they would have to return again during the fesitivities.

However, local leaders have different opinions on how the Chinese will vote in the by-election.

kuala terengganu parliament state seat breakdown 031208Foo opined that the Chinese would prefer to stick with BN as the coalition has performed well in the last two terms, adding that Chinese schools have benefited greatly.

"All the Chinese schools in Terengganu have been equipped with good hardware and software," he said.

He added that the general practice by the Chinese to vote for the opposition at the national level and BN at the state level in the past has changed as voters now are more concerned about the services provided by local elected representative.

MCA Terengganu chief Toh Chin Yew said national issues, especially those which have sparked controversy in the Chinese community, will affect the vote.

However, he was optimistic that Chinese voters will stick with the coalition despite "some dissatisfaction".

Toh is the only Chinese exco in the state and his Bandar seat is one of four state seats under Kuala Terengganu. Bandar is also the only state seat which BN successfully defended in March 8.

He predicted that BN and PAS could each count on garnering one-third of the votes, leaving the rest up for grabs.

"This 30 percent of votes created a big impact on March 8 and the desire for change led voters to choose PAS. It reduced BN's majority to around 600."

Toh also believes that BN's bad times are over, saying "if Umno chooses a heavyweight candidate, then our hopes will be high".

Kampung Cina DAP branch chief Ng Chai Hing is optimistic about grabbing Chinese votes for the opposition as the community is dissatisfied by the way BN has handled various issues.

On the Islamic state issue, Ng admitted that it would have an impact.

"Whenever there is talk about an Islamic state, the Chinese get angry," he warned.

However, Ng said PAS leaders in the state have been talking less of an Islamic state but are instead emphasising the concept of a welfare state.

'Rumi insider' factor

Another factor that cannot be ignored is that local Malays are still refusing to accept an outside candidate, prompting local PAS leaders to urge the party to field a 'rumi insider' - or a local with professional knowledge - to attract both Malay and Chinese voters.

The March 8 general election results show that PKR and PAS obtained 33,729 votes in the four state seats within Kuala Terengganu, or 1,795 votes more than the parliamentary seat contested by PAS candidate Mohamad Sabu.

This translates to BN obtaining 50 percent of the parliamentary vote and 48.3 percent of the vote for state seats.

Although the Barisan Rakyat alliance of PAS and PKR only won 49 percent of the federal vote, it did better in the state seats, winning 51.7 percent.

Commenting on this, Ng said it proved that voters are against fielding a ‘parachute' candidate.

"How did PAS manage to win three state seats, but fail to wrest the parliamentary seat?" asked Ng.

If this factor becomes a consideration, then Mohamad Sabu - the PAS vice-president - might be out of the running in the by-election.

Foo also claimed that former Kuala Terengganu PAS parliamentarian Syed Azman - a ‘parachute' candidate who won in the 1999 general election - did not appear in Kuala Terengganu after he won.

Umno's internal turmoil may cause the party problems. The selection of candidates had sparked controversy before March 8. After the election, the selection of the menteri besar became a contentious issue.

However, Toh disagreed, saying internal problems within Umno Terrengganu had been reduced significantly.

He also said the Kuala Terengganu division is strongly united, as evident when its recent elections were concluded without an intense contest -