KUALA TERENGGANU, 11 Jan 2009: With the Kuala Terengganu by-election only six days away, the three candidates are making strong efforts to attract the votes from “fence-sitters” who form more than 20% of the 80,229 electorate.
Kak Gayah, in her 40s, is one of those “fence-sitters” whose votes could well decide the by-election winner on 17 Jan.
She was one of those who turned up in droves to catch a glimpse of Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak as he was leaving after Friday prayers at Kampung Gong Tok Nasek on 9 Jan.
Najib’s presence is of special interest to “fence-sitters” like Kak Gayah whose only chance of seeing the leader in the flesh is during a by-election like that in Kuala Terengganu.
Asked whom her vote would go, the mother of five children coyly replied: “Let us wait and see.”
“Fence-sitters usually give sympathy votes. They usually make the decision at the last minute,” said Prof Dr Ahmad Atory Hussain, lecturer in Malaysian Public and Political Policy at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
Political observers said parties and candidates contesting usually try to attract “fence-sitters by using an approach suited to the local environment.
“The Malays are a feudal community. They will sympathise when people come making repeated pleas. What is important is that they remain humble.”
This is because “fence-sitters” place priority on the candidates’ character rather than the party and are more inclined to experiment with their votes.
“The candidate factor is important. If they do not like him, they will not give a hoot,” he added.
Ahmad Atory’s views are supported by a local observer who said that the “fence-sitters” in Terengganu do not think of the long-term effects but are more inclined to go against the flow.
“If they think that a lot of people will vote for candidate A, then he too will give A his vote. They are also easily taken in by pleas if the candidate appeals to them.
Many had refused to go out voting or spoil their votes if they feel that they will not receive anything from the candidates. It is difficult to say where their votes will go to,” said the observer who declined to be named.
He said there is a lot of truth in it since the Kuala Terengganu seat had changed hands several times since the 1980s.
The parliamentary seat had been held by Barisan Nasional (BN), Semangat 46 and PAS before returning to BN in 2004 and 2008.
In the 2004 general election, the late deputy education minister Datuk Razali Ismail (BN) beat incumbent Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi (PAS) with a 1,933 vote majority.
In the general election on March 8 last year, Razali retained the seat but with a slim 628 vote majority. Razali polled 32,562 votes defeating Mohamed Sabu (31,934) of PAS and independent Maimun Yusof (689).
After five days of campaigning, political observers believe that Kuala Terengganu will once again be won by a slim majority.
“It is too close to call. With the ‘fence-sitters’, anything can happen, it all boils down to the candidates ability and the election machinery,” said Ahmad Atory, who said BN has a slight edge.
“This is because voters particularly the “fence-sitters may consider what the late Datuk Razali had done. They may also be attracted and sympathise with Najib for his untiring campaigning,” he said.
The large crowd that turned up at functions attended by Najib is a good sign for BN but the question is can it be translated into votes come polling on 17 Jan. — Bernama