For Penang BN, a race to knock Rocket off its course
GEORGE TOWN, May 4 — With a conscious eye on every tick-tock of the clock, Penang Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders are racing against time to cover their low-key but extensive ground operation strengthening the key Malay support pillars that straddle the two halves of the northern state split by a channel.
Their target is to make sure that each one of their silver-haired core supporters turns up at the polling centre to cast precious ballots in what has really become the most heated election where every vote can make a difference.
According to Saiful Anuar Sazali, who is Umno’s Pulau Mertajam information chief, it is crucial because the older generation aged 50 and above are the 13-party coalition’s stoutest supporters who believe in its 56-year track record; many still trust the BN to look after them compared to the younger generation of Malays, especially those in their 30s.
To Saiful Anuar, the hurdle is not so much the Chinese-centric DAP administration as it is the unhappiness within Umno over some of the candidates being fielded.
“Some of them could be due to the BN candidates that they do not agree to or do not like,” the grassroots leader said.
The three-party PR pact, anchored in Penang by the Rocket-styled DAP, appears very likely to win a second term to govern one of Malaysia’s top economic states, judging from the massive turnouts at the last few ceramah sessions, especially those on the island where most of the state’s 42 per cent Chinese majority still live.
But Malays make up a significant 40 per cent of the state’s 1.5 million population and remain very much the kingmakers in Election 2013, especially in its underdeveloped mainland where much potential for growth remains to be tapped.
Umno president and BN chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak swung by both Penang’s mainland and island earlier this week and that has helped galvanise the local troops into action, Saiful Anuar and another BN leader said.
“Down on the ground, the support for BN has been increasing because of the programmes introduced by the federal government such as BR1M and the economic transformation programme.
“They are now more confident that BN has changed and will be able to provide for the people,” said Azizi Safar, who is Penang BN executive secretary.
He said the rural Malays are concerned about their welfare and they want the government to take care of them in terms of providing aid, namely the RM500 Bantuan 1 Malaysia cash allowance, which to those in the lower economic strata is a major and immediate boon.
“BN is banking a lot on Najib’s ‘Janji ditepati’ as it is their testament of 55 years of fulfilling their promises to the people,” he said.
“Najib’s launch of various welfare programmes such as the BR1M, the RM250 1 Malaysia book voucher, the RM100 student aid, all do show that the BN federal government is able to take care of the welfare of the people,” he added.
Both Saiful Anuar and Azizi also said that the BN have been working the ground since 2009, when Najib took office as prime minister, replacing his Penang-born predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, to identify their supporters and register those eligible as voters.
They have also learned to discern where their strongholds are, where their opponents are, and which are the unknowns, mapping them as “white”, “black” and “grey” respectively.
With a nod to the realities of voter sentiment in the PR state, the two Umno leaders said they were concentrating their energies on the “white areas” to secure the vote for BN.
As for the “grey areas”, Azizi said they do try to reach out to the fence-sitters but not as much as they needed to concentrate on their pool of staunch supporters.
“This is why we are making sure, preparing transportation, even motorcycles to take voters out to vote,” Saiful Anuar said.
“Even those who are sick and elderly, we will find ways to bring them to their voting centres,” he added.
But the number of greys or fence sitters among the Malays could be larger than anticipated.
Abu Hasif, 30, who is registered to vote in Nibing Tebal on Penang’s mainland told The Malaysian Insider that among his friends in the 30-40 age group, their career and family came first and that it will be hard to gauge who they will vote, if they were to even cast their ballot at all.
“Among my friends I can see a trend where they are more inclined to vote for PR for state seats and BN for parliament seats.
“This is because they felt that many others, the non-Malays, will not be voting BN for parliamentary seats so BN will still not get back its two-thirds majority this time.
“That is why they are choosing to vote one for PR and one for BN,” he said.
Some state BN officials believe that between 18 and 21 state seats are winnable.
Concerns over the economy have topped the list of issues voters wanted to hear discussed or debated during the election followed by matters pertaining to administration and leadership, social issues and public safety, race-related issues and corruption, according to respected pollster Merdeka Center for Opinion Research’s latest survey carried out between 9am on April 28 and 9.30pm on May 2, involving 1,600 registered voters.
Some 13.3 million Malaysians, including 5,200 abroad, are eligible to cast ballots for the 222 federal and 505 state seats, excluding Sarawak’s 71 state seats which were decided in 2011.