Day of reckoning as Semenyih folk go to the polls

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SEMENYIH (March 1): After two weeks of intense campaigning, candidates are sprinting to the finish line hoping that their efforts are enough to secure the Semenyih State seat as the voters go to the polls on Saturday.

The closely-watched four-way by-election involving Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional (BN), Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) and an Independent takes place as PH endeavours to claw its way back up from its less-than-stellar performance in the Cameron Highlands Parliamentary by-election in January.

Observers reckon that PH, which controls the Selangor and Federal Governments, is keen to show that it is firmly in the saddle as far as championing the people's wellbeing and bringing about progress is concerned against the backdrop of a number of concerns raised following the 14th General Election (GE14).

Widely seen as a tussle primarily between PH and BN, the outcome certainly would not have any bearing on PH's commanding position in the 56-seat Selangor State Legislative Assembly. It now has 50 seats compared with the Opposition's five.

However, PH retaining Semenyih, a vibrant semi-urban area of housing estates and commercial centres, is seen as a boost of public confidence in the new Malaysia agenda of the Government.

The Semenyih by-election — the fourth by-election in Selangor since GE14 — is a four-cornered contest among Muhammad Aiman Zainali (PH); Zakaria Hanafi (BN); Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul (PSM) and independent Kuan Chee Heng, popularly known as ‘Uncle Kentang’.   

Political analyst Assoc Prof Dr Ahmad Marthada Mohamed said a PH victory would be a morale boost for the Government, that its various efforts over the past nine months of administration have the people’s blessings.

"Victory will surely come as a good thing for the PH government, especially after the talk on social media about the people’s laments. The Government is really concerned for the people and has implemented various policies and programmes to help them, including the Malays,” he said.

In a bid to bag Semenyih, BN is riding on the momentum of its win in Cameron Highlands in an outing that was backed by its former nemesis, PAS.

With PAS again throwing its weight behind the BN candidate from UMNO in the Semenyih by-election, matters concerning the Malays and Islam are bound to get into the picture.

PH has had to fend off criticism over its administration and some of the yet-to-be fulfilled GE14 pledges as well as accusations that it is not giving sufficient attention to the interests of the Malays and Islam.

On the basis of racial composition, the Malays comprise 68 percent of the voters in Semenyih; Chinese, 17 percent; Indians, 14 percent and others, one percent.

Government and party leaders, especially Home Minister and Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Economic Affairs Minister and PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, were practically in Semenyih almost every day, saying the PH Government is committed to safeguarding the rights and privileges of the Malays and Islam without marginalising the other races.

Ahmad Marthada said the victory of Muhammad Aiman, 30, of PH of Bersatu would enhance the image of the party as the alternative for the Malays, besides UMNO.

Muhyiddin and Mohamed Azmin often explained the constraints that the Government faced in dealing with the various issues such as the cost of living but said this did not stop them from implementing the pledges little by little.

PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also asked for a bit of time for the Government to implement the various programmes for the people.

In his campaign for Muhammad Aiman, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng emphasised the importance of the people electing a better representative and party to have their problems resolved and said the by-election should not be a platform for racial and religious confrontation.

In his pitch for Muhammad Aiman, Prime Minister and Bersatu chairman Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad underscored that the PH rep for the seat would get the full backing of the coalition at the State and Federal levels to fulfil his agenda for the constituency.

The presence of leaders and volunteers from all PH components, including Parti Amanah Negara, in Semenyih had put paid to claims that Bersatu was not being supported by PKR and DAP in the by-election.

On the last day of campaigning today, Muhammad Aiman said he could sense positive vibes in his interactions with the constituents as campaigning progressed and expressed confidence that this would work in his favour tomorrow.

Siti Marijah Sarmiei, 57, said she was touched when Muhammad Aiman, a former student of hers, approached her after he was named as the PH candidate.

"It's good that he remembers his former teachers. And I've no doubt that the people of Semenyih will continue to be close to his heart if he becomes the wakil rakyat (elected representative),” she said.

The Semenyih by-election is the sixth after GE14. By-elections have been held for the Sungai Kandis State seat (on Aug 4 last year); Balakong and Seri Setia State seats (Sept 8 last year); Port Dickson Parliamentary seat (Oct 13 last year) and Cameron Highlands Parliamentary seat (Jan 26).

The Semenyih by-election has been necessitated by the death of the PH Assemblyman, Bakhtiar Mohd Nor, 57, of Bersatu, on Jan 11.

In GE14, Bakhtiar beat Datuk Johan Abd Aziz (BN), Mad Shahmidur Mat Kosim (PAS) and S. Arutchelvan (PSM) by a majority of 8,964 votes. Bakhtiar, who was the Bersatu Hulu Langat Division chief, had secured 23,428 votes.