|Umno’s campaign almost in tatters|
Umno candidate Rohaizat Othman could not have imagined that his ‘licence revoked’ case would dominate the Permatang Pasir by-election campaign as it is happening today.
Neither Umno nor Barisan Nasional top brass would have envisaged it, either.
38-year-old Rohaizat’s loss of his legal practicing licence after being found guilty by the Bar Council to have misappropriated client’s money is no small matter.
It taints personal credibility and shatters public confidence on a candidate vying for election to a public office.
Buoyed by the strong party results shown in the Manek Urai by-election, Umno entered into Permatang Pasir by-election with full confidence to end its series of by-election defeats in the Peninsular since the last general election.
Permatang Pasir will be the third by-election, and eight overall, within a year in the Permatang Pauh parliament seat held by PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim.
Prior to this by-election, Pakatan Rakyat has won six by-elections while BN won the Batang Ai state seat in Sarawak.
Pakatan, especially PAS, was quick in going on the offensive from the start on Rohaizat’s credibility and putting Umno in the defensive.
Thus, instead of driving ahead from where it left in Manek Urai, Umno finds itself on a wrong footing, subsequently undermining its hopes for a change of fortune in by-election reverses.
Umno grassroots leaders and party workers are confused and demoralised in a way by this issue.
Local leaders’ anguish
Some local leaders have personally expressed anger and anguish at Rohaizat for having hid the truth behind his case.
“I think the party leadership did not know or realise the severity of the case because Rohaizat misled them by misrepresenting the facts,” said a local Umno assemblyperson.
However, that cannot be an excuse to shirk from responsibility in fielding a candidate with an unblemished legal record.
The candidate is from Umno, the federal ruling party of 52 years standing. In the past five decades, didn’t Umno see and recognise potential threats to national security? Using ‘threat to national security’ as an excuse, didn’t Umno act so swiftly on intelligence reports to detain leaders of so many organisations without trial under the draconian Internal Security Act?
How could Umno miss on Rohaizat’s threat to its own credibility?
It simply does not make sense that Umno failed to build a thorough vetting system to screen its own potential election candidates after all these years.
Publicly though, Umno leaders in Permatang Pasir are putting up brave faces.
They are portraying an impression that the Rohaizat case had not affected the voters despite Pakatan Rakyat efforts to turn it into a major campaign issue.
Penang Umno liaison leader Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (right) indeed claimed that the voters “were neither bothered nor cared” about the issue.
Ahmad Zahid could be right in a way.
Permatang Pasir is a largely rural area, dominated by paddy fields and Malays. The Chinese in the area are small time farmers or businessmen.
The constituency has 20,290 voters and one postal vote, with 72.36 percent or 14,681 of the electorate being Malays, 25.85 percent or 5,244 being Chinese voters, 1.63 percent or 330 Indian voters and 0.16 percent others. It has 300 new voters.
Umno members are nearly 7,000 in Permatang Pasir, but, as acknowledged by a Permatang Pauh division leader, not all of them root for their own party candidate.
Permatang Pauh is known to be among the most faction-ridden division in Penang.
Rival Umno camps in Permatang Pauh may even sabotage Rohaizat, the division secretary and close aide of its leader Abdul Jalil Abdul Majid.
Rohaizat’s personal issue could have an impact on the younger generation, who makes up about 40 per cent of the voters, and educated constituents due to their access to information provided by the online media.
However, for small farmers and businessmen, who constantly expect and depend on government aid, this would not be such a big issue.
PAS pressures Rohaizat
Although PAS leaders stepped up the pressure on Rohaizat to withdraw gracefully from the contest, grassroots party workers are pessimistic over whether the issue would win the hearts and minds of the rural voters.
“It may not affect rural folks because they do not understand the magnitude of the issue.
“They might just take it as a personal matter rather than an issue involving a candidate’s credibility and moral standing,” said a young PAS worker.
The issue actually blew up when Umno leaders slammed and blamed Rohaizat’s former partner Yusri Isahak for ‘wrongly’ implicating the candidate into the misappropriation of funds totalling RM220,000 belonging to a small rubber planters’ cooperative society.
Yusri reacted furiously yesterday accusing Rohaizat as ‘guilty as charged’ by the Bar Council.
Now, Umno needs to do damage control.
The best solution could be, as suggested by Umno vice-president Ahmad Zahid, is to stop talking about it.
But Pakatan campaigners are not letting the issue rest.
Last night, Yusri (left) turned up at the Pakatan rally in Kubang Semang and poured scorn on Rohaizat’s credibility.
However, Umno had not lost all hopes to, at least, reduce PAS’ winning margin compared with the last one.
Rohaizat faces PAS state commissioner Mohd Salleh Man in a straight fight in Permatang Pasir, which fell vacant when three-term PAS assemblyperson Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman died of an illness on July 31.
Permatang Pasir a PAS seat
Permatang Pasir has been a PAS seat in Penang since 1999.
In 2008, Hamdan won it by a majority of 5,433 votes last year, beating Umno’s Ahmad Sahar Shuib.
In the 2008 general election, PAS won in all nine polling stations in the constituency comprising Sama Gagah, Permatang Ara, Permatang Pauh, Bukit Indera Muda, Kampung Pelet, Kubang Semang, Tanah Liat, Cross Street and Permatang Tengah.
Of the constituency’s 39 streams, PAS lost in only two streams – Permatang Ara, by 7 votes, and Bukit Indera Muda, by 15 votes.
Umno believes it could win more than 50 per cent of Malay votes and steal a chunk of Chinese votes, albeit through promises of government agro-aid and loans to farmers and small businessmen.
A PKR local leader however, said promises of development and aid may not be enough to secure an Umno-victory in this PAS stronghold.
“Many have already made up their minds on whom to vote,” he said, adding however, that the BN tactic could in a way hurt PAS on the majority margin.
Pakatan is confident that Mohd Salleh would be able to win at least 70 per cent of the Chinese and Indian votes and 50 per cent of Malay votes.
Umno leaders put Rohaizat’s chances currently at 40/60, while rational Pakatan leaders predict a PAS victory with a lesser majority compared to back in March 2008.
Voters’ turnout on polling day is expected on both sides to be between 75 and 80%.
Assuming this and the fact that Permatang Pasir is PAS’ sole seat in Penang, the party should be able to retain it with at least a 3,000-majority margin.
Anything less would be a bonus to Umno.