Kuala Lumpur, June 2 – For the next few weeks all the big-heads in DAP and Pakatan Rakyat would be burning mid-night oil, cracking their minds to find out the real answers for their unexpected debacle in Teluk Intan by-election.
Shockingly, they lost a seat that was won by a massive 7,000 vote majority just last year in GE 13!
Just days ago, they were celebrating their victory in Bukit Gelugor, the parliamentary seat in Penang left vacant by the sudden death of party stalwart Karpal Singh.
In an unprecedented manner MCA and Barisan Nasional (BN) gave a walk-over to DAP in Bukit Gelugor by not contesting but they came back with full vengeance in Teluk Intan pouring all their resources and energy saved, into Teluk Intan. The gamble paid off!
Diana’s candidature: controversies from day one
In between, at times the DAP had to step-in to defend its choice of candidate.
There is no doubt that Diana Sofya is one of the best Malay candidates that DAP can boast of. A lawyer by profession, she articulated well, supported by her looks and youthful age.
But that was not enough! She would have been a better candidate for a seat in Klang valley but not in a semi-urban town like Teluk Intan, where the Malays still clinch to UMNO as their political savior.
So, the 38% odd Malay voters were not impressed with DAP’s moves to field a young Malay lady who is a product of UMNO culture and educated in MARA. Clearly this was seen as an act of betrayal by the Malay community rather than standing up for One Malaysia.
DAP’s motive is a noble one but it came too soon as the Malaysian mindset is still besieged with racial politics perpetrated by BN for so many years.
In comparison, Mah Siew Keong was a local boy coming from a well-known rich family and thereby he was able to garner the local Chinese votes compared to Diana who was seen as an outsider.
Mah was also the former MP of the constituency and this was another testimony with which he was able to convince the voters of his past services.
As the current President of Gerakan he was also able to inspire his party members who turned out in full force to support him as they knew the party’s future and survival largely depended on his victory in Teluk Intan.
The timely announcement by Prime Minister Najib that Mah would be inducted into the Cabinet if he wins, further boosted his chances as the voters knew very well what would be in store for them if their MP was also a Minister!
Mah’s humble statement that he would only take-up the Cabinet minister position as the MP of Teluk Intan and not as a Senator, exerted additional pressure on the fence sitting voters to choose him over Diana.
In conclusion it was more of Mah’s candidature and image that enabled BN to recapture the seat.
Malay votes failed to go to Diana
DAP should have followed their traditional strategy by fielding a Chinese or Indian candidate in the Chinese majority seat of Teluk Intan. It must be pointed out that DAP’s Kulasegaran and Manogaran on two occasions have won in Teluk Intan.
Teluk Intan also had a sizeable Indian voters – about 20% – and many would have flocked to choose an Indian as the next MP over Mah.
Fielding young Diana was seen by the local voters as an attempt too soon, when the Malaysian semi-urban population is yet to accept the notion of multi-racial concept envisaged by Pakatan Rakyat.
Although DAP has fielded Malays previously as their candidates, they should have thought of the consequences of fielding such a candidate in a by-election and that too in a Chinese majority seat where the BN candidate is a former MP and through-bred local boy.
The Malays were not ready to ditch UMNO and BN in favour of a DAP candidate just because she was a Malay.
On the other hand, the neutral Chinese voters felt that DAP, always seen as a champion of Chinese community, should not finish off the political future of another Chinese based party leader by bringing in a young Malay lady.
So, except for the hard-core opposition minded Chinese votes, DAP was not able to garner the neutral minded Chinese voters who favoured Mah.
This could also be the reason for the poor turnout, as the DAP inclined Chinese voters may have stayed back not to do injustice to their own countryman.
It must be pointed out here that, DAP Secretary General Lim Guan Eng has blamed the poor voter turnout as the chief reason for Diana’s defeat.
Some revelations such as Diana’s mother’s membership in PERKASA (the ultra-malay organization that stokes racial tensions in the country by belittling other races) – Diana’s family’s UMNO links – also did not go down well with the Chinese voters.
Now comes the Indian voters!
Big fall in Indian voters
The Pakatan Rakyat’s political concept and ideology is only attracting the middle-class, educated and urbanized Indians. In a semi-urban territory like Teluk Intan, the Indian community still looks forward to political favours for their upliftment.
The Chinese do not depend on political favours for their survival or political work and the Malays, whichever side of the divide they come from, get their rightful dues due to their Bumiputra status and it is Indians who are caught in between!
The Indian community need funds to improve Tamil schools; they need allocations for their temples; they need some form of financial assistance for their children’s education; and their social problems could only be solved by a financially strong MP and the clear signals of their MP becoming a cabinet minister if he wins sent them in droves to put their seal in favour of BN.
With all the negative aspersions against MIC and its leaders it should not be forgotten that when comes to ground work and organizational set-up to reach out to the Indians in rural and semi-urban areas, it is the MIC that still excels.
For some reasons best known to them, PKR and DAP put together are not able to showcase good Indian leaders with national appeal to attract the Tamil-oriented Indian population. With about 20% vote share, the Indian community in Teluk Intan was also looking forward to political favours and support and the MIC-BN combination worked well to bring them back into the BN fold.
In a statement, MIC President G.Palanivel estimated that about 70% Indian voters would have voted for BN in Teluk Intan, a marked improvement when mpared to the dismal performance in 13 GE.
The Pakatan Rakyat leaders should rethink their strategies if they wish to continue to garner Indian votes, which becomes crucial especially in a by-election despite their small numbers.
Internal party struggles in PKR & Hudud implementation by PAS
The ongoing internal party squabbles in PKR due to party elections was another deterrent factor in Teluk Intan, as a result of which the party was not able to work in unison to convince the Malays to vote for DAP.
PAS also did not have a strong influence in Teluk Intan and as such was not able to influence the Malay voters either.
Furthermore, the state of Perak under which the Teluk Intan seat was located is also controlled by BN and is headed by the seasoned, aggressive campaigner Dr Zamry, who also worked hard to contain the Malay votes from going to Diana.
In contrast, in Kajang by-election, Pakatan had the advantage of controlling the state of Selangor which greatly helped them to retain the state seat.
Hudud damage caused by PAS
PAS also caused all the damage to DAP as only days before they were harping on bringing Hudud laws in Kelantan. Although they dropped the proposal in view of the Teluk Intan by-election the colossal damage was already done and it was difficult to remove it from the minds of non-muslim voters within such a short span of time.
Needless to say PAS initiatives on Hudud is one of the main reasons why DAP lost in Teluk Intan.
MCA, Gerakan and MIC used the opportunity to push the Hudud issue into the minds of the non-Muslim communities and that seems to have worked in their favour.
The Teluk Intan by-election has given a jolt to Pakatan Rakyat and the time has come for Pakatan allies to do some soul-searching if they wish to continue as a viable opposition , let alone forming the next government by winning GE 14.