Today’s Sungai Limau by-election will be a baptism of fire for Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir.
A win, or even a dent to PAS’s majority by Barisan Nasional (BN) in this Islamist party stronghold, will burnish the Kedah Menteri Besar’s political credentials as a BN and Umno leader.
This is especially so since the 49-year-old needs to overcome his recent defeat at the Umno polls where he narrowly lost his bid for the vice-presidency by 10 votes.
“If BN wins, it will definitely break the psychology barrier and Mukhriz will definitely be praised for it.
“Personally I think it is important for Mukhriz to ensure he can improve on BN’s performance not only to boost his image as the MB, but to show something to his supporters, especially after his Umno defeat,” UiTM Associate Professor Shaharuddin Badaruddin told The Malaysian Insider.
Voting began at 8am and the final results will be known by 9pm today.
Mukhriz had been working overtime to woo the 27,222 voters in Sungai Limau since the seat became vacant on September 26 following the death of former Kedah menteri besar Tan Sri Azizan Razak.
The Sungai Limau seat, located in the Jerai parliamentary constituency, is a PAS stronghold. The Islamist party has held it for five terms since 1995.
The son of former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad surprised and won the admiration of people, including his own team of advisers, by spending the night sleeping on the floor of a house belonging to a fisherman in Kampung Seberang Tandop. The village is well known for being a hardcore PAS area.
The soft-spoken Mukhriz had also pledged to be Sungai Limau's adopted assemblyman if BN wins this rural seat where the majority of its residents are paddy farmers and fishermen.
This was in line with PAS’s slogan of "kekal" (retain), where the electorate of Sungai Limau were still diligently served by Azizan even after he was appointed as menteri besar after the 2008 general election.
Even Mukhriz's father, Dr Mahathir, went to the ground on the eve of polling yesterday to lend a hand to the ruling coalition’s campaign, visiting residents in Bukit Besar, which is another PAS stronghold.
In pitching for Mukhriz, the influential politician said he would make sure his son would do a good job in the constituency and Kedah or he would return and “teach him a lesson”.
Mukhriz is also working hand in hand with Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin to woo the 11,000 young voters, putting rumours to rest that the duo have an uneasy relationship.
“A dent to PAS’s majority by BN is still a boon to Mukhriz as this means BN has a bigger chance to clinch Sungai Limau come the next general election, “ said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia law and policy studies lecturer Dr Kartini Aboo Talib.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said Mukhriz's credentials would definitely be affected if BN lose with a higher majority this time compared to Elections 2013 where Azizan retained his seat with a 2,774-majority in a four-cornered fight.
"It will not be a good start for him. If this happens, then something must have changed drastically between May and now for BN to lose more ground. Such repercussion is larger than Mukhriz alone," he said.
Despite Mukhriz’s down to earth personality and the might of the BN machinery at his disposal, PAS has expressed confidence that it can still hang on to the seat.
PAS vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar, who has been leading the opposition’s charge, had targeted a minimum majority of 500 votes.
A win for the Islamist party will soothe the hearts of its leaders who are still feeling sore over the loss of Kedah to BN in the May national polls.
“If PAS loses, it will be a blow for the party. PAS leaders and members will be demoralised. This will psychologically boost BN,” Universiti Utara Malaysia International Studies faculty dean Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani was quoted as saying by Bernama.
The by-election sees a straight fight between BN’s Dr Ahmad Sohaimi Lazim, a former university lecturer, and Mohd Azam Abdul Samat, Jerai PAS Youth chief. – November 4, 2013.