Counting on the Malay vote

The Selangor crisis has shown that whoever wants to be in control in Selangor has to command Malay sentiment and support.

THE sea of people at the solat hajat last weekend surprised even the PAS leaders.

The crowd at the indoor stadium in Shah Alam where the mass prayers were held grew even bigger when the ceramah session began.

Pakatan politics in Selangor has often come across as being dominated by DAP and PKR but on that wet and drizzly night, PAS showed their clout in commanding an audience. And it was a very Selangor crowd because the cars around the stadium sported number plates with mostly Ws and Bs.

Centre of attention: Khalid, who has been under the media spotlight, is under pressure to steer Selangor out of the crisis with the palace.

The gathering was to pray for divine intervention but there was no mistaking the political signals –PAS is not to be taken lightly in Selangor. The mass prayers, according to PAS central committee member Dr Zulkefly Ahmad, were initially meant to pray for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“He needed a spiritual shot in the arm,” said Dr Dzulkefly who is also Kuala Selangor assemblyman.

The sodomy trial is not going well and his mood sank even lower following the trouble-riddled polls in his party. But what really got to him were the attacks from all those friends-turned-foes, which doesn’t say much about his choice of friends.

Then the Selangor crisis exploded and they found themselves also praying for the survival of the state government.

“We are under siege, it’s only natural to seek help from upstairs,” said Selangor PKR secretary Hamidi Hassan.

Mohd Zin: ‘We have a fighting chance of winning back Selangor’

But the crowd was there also to get answers for two things. One was the Christmas eve dinner that the two top PAS leaders had with the King and Umno’s top two leaders. The other is the Selangor crisis which has spilled over onto issues of loyalty to the palace.

None of the speakers that night really shed light on these issues, though.

Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was his usual rambling self, his sentences hanging in mid-air.

Anwar, on the other hand, was not his usual self. There were no jokes or singing; he knew such behaviour would not sit well on the PAS crowd.

People were puzzled that he could describe the crisis as “perkara kecil” or “a small matter.” Was he trying to downplay the controversy or was he saying that Khalid has allowed something minor to escalate into a big thing?

Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Datuk Seri Hadi Awang steered clear of the topic regarding their dinner date with the King and delivered what were essentially religious lectures.

The pressure on Khalid’s administration began last year. Part of it was internally generated, for example, the Ronnie Liu scandal and sand-mining controversy.

On top of that, the Barisan and especially Umno have put their act together and started to reassert themselves. Former Mentri Besar Dr Mohd Khir Toyo has been taken to court over the purchase of his Balinese-style villa and those connected to the Port Klang Free Trade Zone fiasco are facing corruption charges.

Pakatan’s defeat in Hulu Selangor was the first wake-up call. The voting pattern showed that the Malay vote had shifted in Barisan’s favour.

In fact, the Umno mantra in Selangor of late has been that “the Malay vote has come back to us.”

Events in the wake of the Selangor crisis have been another important wake-up call.

Dr Dzulkefly: ‘Malays want assurances’

The palace is a key symbol of the Malay position and Pakatan has not come out well in the issue. Khalid’s handling of the crisis gave the impression that Pakatan is out to challenge the palace.

PAS and PKR have been painted as being less than Malay while the DAP is portrayed as having an axe to grind with the royals after their fall in Perak.

There has been a string of protests against Seri Muda assemblyman Shuhaimi Shafiei for his alleged insults on the Sultan. And while Malay groups have been demonstrating in defence of the Sultan, Pakatan has been marching to defend Khalid.

“Among some Malays, there is this anxiety bordering on fear that PAS is beholden to DAP and PKR,” admitted Dr Dzulkefly.

These are the concerns among what he calls the Malay middleground which comprises about 8% to 15% of voters in Selangor.

“They are looking for assurance that PAS can protect their Malay position and they want guarantees on the kind of economic position they have experienced under Umno. They also want assurances on the position of Islam. They are asking if Pakatan will be able to guarantee these political, economic and religious priorities,” said Dr Dzulkefly.

Just as Umno cannot afford to forego these concerns, PAS as the Malay party in the alliance is now looking at how to address it.

Selangor has a total of 56 state seats, of which 35 are with Pakatan, 20 with Barisan and one is independent.

Pakatan won very well in 17 of these seats, securing more than 60% of the votes. These were mainly seats with a high percentage of Chinese and Indians. Another 18 Pakatan seats are considered marginal, won with 51% to 59% of total votes.

The bulk of Barisan’s 20 seats were won by Umno and with less than 60% of the votes. Umno’s rationale is that the Malay vote has returned and they are likely to improve on the seats they now hold. It is eyeing Pakatan’s marginal seats especially the Malay-majority ones.

1Malaysia state

Selangor is what Selangor Umno secretary Datuk Mohd Zin Mohamad calls the “template state” for the country – 49% Malay, 38% Chinese and 13% Indian and others. Or what some call a “1Malaysia state”.

At the same time, its 1.6 million voters are among the most discerning and informed in the country and more than 30% of them have gone to college or university.

According to Barisan’s internal reading, 22 state seats are deemed “black,” meaning impossible to wrest back and five are rated as “challenging.”

Of the remaining 29 seats, 10 are rated as “potential,” 12 as “okay” and seven as “safe.”

Shuhaimi: Political career in jeopardy over remarks about Sultan.

That would mean a sort of 50:50 situation since either side only needs a minimum of 29 seats to form a simple majority government.

But privately, Umno politicians think that up to 35 seats are with Barisan, providing there is no further slide.

“We’ve been working, rebuilding our image, doing our research. I don’t want to be over-confident, what I can say is we have a fighting chance, we are within striking distance,” said Mohd Zin who is also Sepang MP.

The Chinese vote in Selangor remains Barisan’s stumbling block and DAP’s bedrock. Chinese sentiment towards Barisan has softened but has not shifted.

The Chinese middle class in Selangor are a very powerful and independent group, not very different from the Malay middleground except that they are swayed by a different set of issues.

Barisan politicians often say they would be happy if the 30% or so support they have from the Chinese does not slide any further.

The battle as such will be for the Malay vote, namely the Malay middleground that Dr Dzulkefly talked about and the younger Malay voters.

“The Malay middle ground will be the real players of the new politics. We have to watch out too for the younger Malay voters who will be voting for the first time.

“They are into Facebook and Twitter, basically social media citizens and harder to define and read. But they could very well be the defining factor in the next election,” said Dr Dzulkefly.

The election is still a dot on the horizon but the battle for Selangor has begun.

http://thestar.com.my/columnists/story.asp?file=/2011/1/16/columnists/joceline/7795040&sec=joceline

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