KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 — Barisan Nasional (BN) is expected to win the Cameron Highlands by-election by a good margin which may serve as a barometer of its renewed cooperation with former rivals PAS, independent pollster Ilham Centre said today.
Its executive director Azlan Zainal said a victory in Cameron Highlands may prove the effectiveness of the alliance, after failing to bear fruit in the Sungai Kandis, Seri Setia, Port Dickson, and Balakong by-elections last year.
“Although BN is contesting yet PAS has been moving the campaigning machine aggressively. This is evident when its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang went down on ground, which was well-received by local party supporters,” he said in a statement.
Azlan said Hadi's presence was also bolstered by senior leaders of the Islamist party in Cameron Highlands, who played a part in convincing their supporters to ensure BN wins the seat.
The Umno-PAS approach to voters has also successfully convinced the Malay community to reject Pakatan Harapan (PH), by playing up on Malay-Muslim sensitivities, which he partly attributes to the ruling coalition's inability to handle its related issues satisfactorily.
“If before the previous general election many were worried that PH would jeopardise Malay rights and undermine Islam, their fears seem to have been realised given its defensiveness and weakness in handling Malay-Muslim issues. This in turn has been manipulated by BN to prop up voters' rejection of PH in this by-election.
“It appears being in the Opposition has caused BN to formulate other strategies to attract votes, as compared to when it was in power, where project offers and incentives were the primary campaigning points,” he said.
The Najib factor
Another factor is the presence of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak campaigning at the Felda settlements and Orang Asli villages in Jelai, which Azlan said was met with jubilation by its residents.
“Many were overjoyed to see him visit their villages. As a former prime minister and Pahang native, Najib's aura is still felt by the locals, with his ongoing court cases appearing to have no impact there,” he said.
Despite this, Azlan cautioned that BN is taking a risk by roping in Najib for the campaign, given overall voter sentiments gleaned from studies conducted before and after the 14th general election.
“His participation has once again aroused the rejection and hatred of middle-class voters towards BN. This can unintentionally backfire on them, particularly from the silent voters. However such voters are minuscule enough to have no impact,” he said.
Perhaps the most important factor is the Orang Asli vote, of which Azlan said PH had to obtain a bare minimum of 30 per cent if it hopes to win Cameron Highlands.
“They constitute some 22 per cent of the total number of voters, no small amount. Whereas Umno could make promise after promise when it was in power, now they are relegated to competing with PH, who in turn has made no promises but instead held a series of dialogue sessions with Orang Asli village chiefs, so as to draw their votes.
“Based on our observations, there will be a shift in support from BN to PH by the Orang Asli. Yet it remains small-scale and insufficient to make a difference,” he said.
A concluding factor is the polling date, which takes place tomorrow. Azlan said its relative nearness to the Chinese New Year festive period makes it harder for outstation voters to return and cast their ballot.
“The study's respondents mentioned their children based outside of Cameron Highlands find it difficult to return for tomorrow's polling date.
“Based on this, we predict BN's victory based on the majority support of Malay and Orang Asli voters, as well as the low voter turnout from the Chinese and Indian communities,” he said.
Ilham Centre's study was conducted on a face-to-face basis from Tuesday to Thursday this week in which they polled 402 respondents in the constituency, covering all racial, gender, age and locality segmentations.