BN still retains the likelihood of winning the Merlimau seat but PAS has a strong chance of narrowing the majority.
In less than 24 hours, Merlimau will herald in its new assemblyman. While this by-election has lacked the fire and brimstone of those before it, both sides have given the constituents enough to mull over before they go to the polls tomorrow.
The trademark of a small town is the simplicity of its people. In Merlimau, they believe in trust and gratitude and the both candidates have chosen one trait each as the hallmark of their campaign.
PAS’ Yuhaizad Abdullah, 38, repeats his plea for a vote of trust from his family, friends and voters. Trust in his sincerity and earnestness in serving his people. But while his humility and geniality warm hearts, it may not be enough for the ballot box.
Voters are hesitant because Yuhaizad doesn’t have the ear of the state government and may not have the clout to push for changes. A hint of this possibility already hangs over his vague responses to the media and his potential consituents.
After rattling off a long list of grievances that he had compiled thoughout the campaign period, he was asked how he would tackle them if he was elected. Yuhaizad answered, “Insya Allah, I will try my best.”
Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Roslan Abdullah, 44, meanwhile, is flashing the gratitude card. Merlimau is a self-sufficient town and much of its recent development is credited to the late BN assemblyman Mohamad Hidhir Abu Hassan.
The Malays, Chinese and Indians have all been recipients of his contributions in one way or another, and Roslan is suggesting that they show their appreciation by maintaining status quo.
Roslan appears more aloof than Yuhaizad but he speaks with a quiet confidence and his answers are more substantial. More importantly, he has already resolved a few minor problems in the constituency – testament to the fact that a BN government will assist a BN assemblyman in double- quick time.
But the common admirable quality of both men is their steadfast refusal to launch personal missiles at each other or his party. And when their paths do cross, they greet each other with the genuine graciousness of a small town upbringing.
Distinct campaign flavours
Both contingents have also embarked on decidedly different campaign styles, with Pakatan Rakyat choosing the door-to-door route and BN focusing on community activities.
The three Pakatan coalition parties have been spotted in walkabouts in residential areas and the town after which they share a meal with the people. Their group is small and unintimidating enough for the locals to come up and shake the hands of Yuhaizad and Pakatan leaders.
The crowd size at the ceramahs is also encouraging with a smattering of Chinese at those held by PAS and a sprinkling of Malays at those by DAP. The Indians, however, are sorely missing from both.
BN’s top leaders, on the other hand, have launched and led community events at various parts of Merlimau. Their entourage is sizeable but the locals still flock there in the hope of catching sight of faces they have only seen in the news.
MIC in particular has attracted a huge turnout of Indians to its events which have mostly been dinners and concerts. The Chinese turnout, however, isn’t as impressive.
A larger majority for PAS?
At the start of the by-election, both BN and Pakatan exuded the customary confidence of an impending victory. Pakatan acknowleged the uphill battle it faced in the BN stronghold but asserted that a win wasn’t impossible.
In mid-campaign, however, this tune was subtly tweaked. While maintaining that a victory is still within reach, Pakatan added that the real winner would be the party that wrested a bigger majority and not just the state seat.
Both sides are acutely aware of the significance of a larger majority and are gunning for that slice of the pie. In 2008, Hidhir defeated PAS’ Jasme Tompang with a 2,154 majority.
For now, the 64.14% of Malay votes appear almost evenly split while most of the 14.67% of Indian votes are likely to fall in BN’s bag. Some 10% of the 36 postal votes are also likely to go to BN.
So once again the final throw of the dice remains in the hands of the Chinese (20.84%). Earlier this week, MCA expressed confidence of snagging a majority of Chinese votes but DAP was equally certain that it had won over more Chinese hearts.
The Chinese have always kept their cards very close to their chest. They have been listening quietly and remain non-committal with their feedback. They know the massive weight their vote carries.
PAS won 60% of the Chinese votes in 2008. If PAS secures at least 70% of the Chinese votes this time, it will deny BN the much desired majority. As of now, there is a likelihood of this scenario taking place. The Chinese have clearly stated that they are unafraid of an Islamic state, a scare tactic that BN has been using to discourage votes for PAS.
They are no doubt grateful for Hidhir’s services but they are also aware that Roslan is not his duplicate. And they are also aware of economic issues beyond their town.
The other group that both sides are targeting are the youth. Most of the ceramah attendees are those between the ages of 40 and 59 which make up 43.27% of the constituents. The youth comprise 37.68% of the constituents and a good number are working outside Merlimau.
PAS is hoping that this group will vote with more political awareness while BN is betting on them continuing the family tradition of voting for the ruling government.
“It’s very difficult to read the youth,” admitted a PAS member. “They will agree to vote for you just to appease you but then change that vote on polling day.”
At this juncture, all obvious signs point to a victory for BN. But if PAS’ definition of a “real winner” is accepted in the battle for Merlimau, then the opposition could very well emerge jubilant tomorrow. - FMT