WERE you surprised that Pakatan Harapan (PH) lost in last week’s by-election in Cameron Highlands? And that a non-politician in the form of a police retiree won the four-cornered contest?
Now that the dust has settled, every political pundit has made an analysis. Everyone is now wiser and awaits the next by-election which is scheduled for March 2 in Semenyih.
Cameron Highlands gave every participating party a deep look at their achievements, failings and strategies. Pakatan Harapan, which did so well in the 14th general Election, came out bruised and with a dented ego.
More than that, Cameron Highlands gave the national coalition which forms the federal government a much-needed reality check. As for Barisan Nasional (BN), playing the role of the opposition, the win gave it a boost and lifted its spirits somewhat.
So really, then, what is the take-away from Cameron Highlands? How much of these lessons learnt will be used in the Semenyih by-election? Cameron Highlands and Semenyih are a world apart, but their importance in the national political equation cannot be underestimated.
This would be the sixth by-election after the general election. PH won in Sg Kandis, Balakong, Seri Setia and Port Dickson. Will it regain the upper hand in Semenyih? How confident would BN be after securing that Cameron Highlands boost?
As with all elections, fielding the right candidate is crucial. In Cameron Highlands, a new face in the form of police retiree Ramli Mohd Noor emerged victorious, defeating a one-time wakil rakyat from PH, DAP’s, M. Manogaran.
Ramli is a local face, and an Orang Asli to boot! He wasn’t from any political party (though there is a claim that Ramli is a direct member of the BN).
The choice of Ramli was perhaps the single most important factor that led to BN win. The Orang Asli community forms about 20 per cent of the voters in the hills.
Credit must go to Umno acting president, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hassan, who picked a candidate with no political baggage and easily identified with local voters. As we can all see, Ramli justified the choice quite easily.
One may ask why PH stuck to Manogaran, who was trying his luck in Cameron Highlands for the third time. Two defeats weren’t good enough to prove that the DAP man is not the local voters’ voice as wakil rakyat?
Mind-boggling, right? As if that wasn’t enough, Manogaran even broke an election rule by wearing a shirt bearing the party logo! A very senior Harapan assemblyman whispered to me: “Manogaran himself wasn’t confident of winning. He was afraid of meeting voters at certain stages and certain locations during the campaign.”
When PH boss Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself had to enter the fray by joining the campaign at the very end, it was quite clear that the coalition was in trouble. There wasn’t much that Dr Mahathir could do, given the disjointed manner in which the campaign was conducted.
Dr Mahathir’s comments when asked about his party’s chances in Semenyih should make the party sit up. He said the candidate to be chosen should be “fit, intelligent and sympathetic to voters”. Very telling, don’t you think?
The BN shouldn’t feel that the Cameron Highland’s win would help clear the path for its return to federal government five or four years down the road. There’s much more work that needs to be done.
The Umno-Pas cooperation may have been a help, but it’s still a long way to go. Semenyih would be a good platform to bring all these takeaways into focus and see if everyone has learned their lesson. It may be just one seat in Selangor, but a lot is riding on it.
PH being new to governing the nation, should also take heed of the warning given by Tun Daim Zainuddin, the chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons tasked with advising the government.
The one-time finance minister, speaking at a forum a few days ago, had commented about ministers squabbling with each other in public.
Unwittingly or otherwise, these ministers had gifted the BN with an own goal. Didn’t these ministers know that such squabbling would not go down well with voters?
MPs quarrelling means they don’t see eye to eye on issues. While this is only normal, surely these differences would be better addressed behind closed doors. Voters see these squabbling as potential trouble and ask one simple question — are these people fit to govern?
So let us now see how the battle for Semenyih is shaping up. Let us start with the parties’ choice of candidates. The Semenyih contest is just as important, if not more, than Cameron Highlands.
The writer is chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia