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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pakatan happy in Kedah, cautious in Perak, Sarawak

By Wong Choon Mei | suarakeADILan

With voting past the halfway mark, political watchers are starting to refine their bets on who will carry the day at Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai by-elections taking place simultaneously today.

Overall, there was fairly good crowd control at most of the polling centres, although small skirmishes did break out between die-hard supporters of the two opposing coalitions- Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional.

The most heated encounters probably took place in Perak, at the Changkat Jering constituency of Mohd Osman Jailu, considered a traitor by his former Keadilan colleagues when he switched loyalty to the BN in February.

In Bukit Gantang, the parliamentary constituency of which Changkat Jering is a part of, it is still raining. Of the three by-elections, it is perhaps the most-watched as it is particularly perceived as a referendum on newly-appointed Prime Minister Najib Razak and his mentor, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Because of the low voter turnout due to the midday downpour and also because many of voters there, especially the Chinese, may not have been able to take leave to vote, it is still a close call as to who will win this seat, previously held by PAS leader Roslan Shahrum.

Nevertheless, BN supporters are already declaring victory, with their candidate Ismail Saffian predicting he will win by 1,000 to 3,000 votes against his main rival Nizar Jamaluddin, the immensely popular PAS leader and Pakatan Rakyat Menteri Besar.

“I am confident people will vote for BN and me,” said Ismail, adding that his victory would be an endorsement of Najib’s political leadership.

Pakatan confident in Kedah

In Bukit Selambau, further up north in Kedah, voter turnout according to the Election Commission had reached 40 percent by noon, below their earlier forecast of 50 percent turnout by midday.

But Pakatan Rakyat leaders are more confident of the outcome here. “I think we are safe in Bt Selambau,” said Tian Chua, Keadilan’s information chief.

There are 35,140 registered voters in this fairly modern but small town nearby to Sungai Petani. Pakatan’s flag-bearer is S Manikumar, who earlier predicted a majority of at least 2,000 against main rival S Ganesan of the BN.

Said Manikumar: “I am confident of winning, maybe with even a majority of more than 2,000.”

Said an equally confident Ganesan: “Now it is up to the voters. Tonight I will sleep well. I leave it to the voters and God now.”

Unusual decisions at Batang Ai

Over in Batang Ai, in the Land of the Hornbills, voting is nearly done with many centres ready to close at 3 pm due to the small voter base of just over 8,000. Pakatan is represented by Jawah Gerang and his main rival is Malcolm Mussen of the BN.

While, the least hectic in terms of voting fervour, election rights activists have raised the alarm over questionable decisions from the increasing controversial Election Commission.

The Commission, frequently accused of bias and subservience to Najib and the BN, has refused to allow polling agents to watch and accompany the ballot boxes being transferred from voting centres to the counting headquarters.

With ballot boxes from 14 stations out of 26 being shipped by helicopter and river, election watchdog Mafrel warns of fraud and the possibility of vote boxes being switched or deliberately lost.

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