KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 — DAP leaders are bracing themselves for a tough fight in Selangor in the coming general election, and have suggested that race politics may have gained enough of a traction among the rural Malay crowd to potentially give an edge to the opposition Barisan Nasional (BN).
The sentiment seems apparent during the Selangor DAP convention yesterday where, instead of trumpeting their confidence over staying in power in Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) prized state, leaders told delegates not to rest on their laurels or take their past victory for granted.
Far from the usual anti-BN theme that usually dominates the meets of PR parties, the mood at the Kelana Jaya Sports Complex was more introspective than it was fiery as leaders repeatedly reminded members to get ready for what is expected to be the greatest political battle in Malaysian history.
When approached on the sidelines of the convention, Selangor DAP chairman Teresa Kok and her deputy Tony Pua agreed that PR’s biggest hurdle was to break into the rural Malay vote bank where Umno has parked most of its election machinery.
“Most people would like us to come back to Selangor, but then if Umno keeps playing this religious and race card among Malay ground, twist and turn our statements, use scare tactics ... this might jeopardise our winning chance,” Kok said.
“We have the edge, but I can’t be certain that we will win,” Pua confessed.
In Election 2008, Selangor, the wealthiest state in Malaysia, fell into the hands of PR parties.
The loss of Selangor, along with four other states — Penang, Perak, Kedah and Kelantan — came as a rude shock to BN, the only multi-party coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence.
Since then, the ruling pact has been working feverishly to recapture its coveted two-thirds parliamentary majority, with a keen eye particularly on the prized jewel of Selangor and is said to have made inroads among the Malay and rural voters.
For the fledgling PR, much of its hopes lie in Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, the first-term Selangor mentri besar whose squeaky clean track record it hopes will help convince voters that its rule is a corrupt-free administration.
“The clearest, and (what we have done) most significantly better is the eradication of corruption among high officials. We don’t have corrupt government, we don’t have corrupt MB,” Pua said.
“For the urban ground, the non-Malay ground, they believe in what we say. They have seen Penang, and how we’ve performed,” Kok added.
“The Malays have also seen that we’ve never run them down, we’ve never marginalised Islam, and so on.
“We are not the best government maybe, but we have always tried our very best to perform while in government.”
However, this may not be enough to woo the rural and Malay electorate.
In the last election, the DAP had failed to win the Kuala Kubu Baru state seat where K.A. Ramu was defeated by the MCA’s Wong Koon Mun by a slim margin of 448 votes.
The DAP’s A. Sivanathan had also lost to Yap Ee Wah by a 1,572-vote majority in Sungai Pelek.
Its allies in PR also narrowly lost eight other state assembly seats and three parliamentary seats.
“That would be our weakest point,” Pua said, referring to the rural areas.
He pointed to two main challenges that PR needed to overcome in order to win over the rural vote.
The first is to deliver the message of change brought by the PR government, such as more transparent and accountable policies.
“They’re harder since rural areas tend to look at day-to-day stuff.”
PR would also need to overcome what Pua called the “triple R politics” of race, religion and royalty he blames on BN, which he said was particularly effective in rural areas.
In his address yesterday, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said Selangor was considered the second “safest” state for PR after Kelantan.
Lim believed that BN’s race politics would be less effective in the two states compared to Penang and Kedah.