ASAHAN, Nov 15 — The battle for the state seat here has been billed as a yardstick of former Umno strongman Datuk Seri Idris Haron’s continued influence, but early readings from the constituency suggest this was still intact for now.
Born and bred in Asahan, Idris seemed to enjoy warm greetings and conversations with constituents despite approaching them now as a PKR member, having joined the party after he was expelled from Umno for being one of four state lawmakers who brought down the previous state government.
On the informal breakfast sessions or impromptu meet-and-greet sessions that Malay Mail observed, Idris appeared to remain popular with the potential voters.
While the traditional campaign appeared to be going well, a member of his campaign said the real battle between Idris and main contender, Umno’s Fairul Nizam Roslan, was being fought behind closed doors.
The person said how the contest would play out ultimately depended on how many of the disgruntled Umno members Idris could convince to swing over to his side.
“Idris switching sides remains a hot button issue here, with many people upset over the cause of the election. That is fair,” the campaign source conceded.
“But Idris has done his homework on who and how he plans to drive his narrative of service, copying his own game plan from his Umno days. People know that he has done a lot for the state and that will be his selling point.”
To that end, Idris has been engaging with all the community leaders he can, to at least convince them not to write him off entirely.
This has been showing some result although the momentum will need to be maintained all the way until election day for there to be a chance, the campaigner said.
“The issue is always garnering the votes of fence sitters but Idris is confident that he could also capture some silent voters — long-time Umno supporters here — who just might be enough to land him a win.”
Asahan is among the most hotly contested seats for the November 20 state election and has seen various leaders from both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan coalitions visiting.
For BN, this included Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob as well as former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who visited Selandar that is part of the constituency.
Najib spent nearly half a day for events in the state seat, signalling its importance for Umno and BN.
For PH, coalition chairman and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim appeared alongside Idris to rally support for the latter, who was brought into the party and coalition despite misgivings from other component leaders.
Asahan is a Malay majority seat as the community represents over 64 per cent of voters, ahead of the Chinese with 23 per cent and Indians at 11 per cent.
In the last election, Umno’s Abdul Ghafar Atan only won with a 275-vote margin, a thin majority that continues to haunt BN, according to Asahan local Mohd Rahim, 49.
Rahim explained that BN has been promoting its candidate Fairul, or fondly known as Along, as an amiable and reliable local boy.
However, Rahim claimed Idris was seen as not just a local boy but one with the extensive political and administrative experience needed to help the constituency resolve its issues, such as the lack of Internet access and economic development.
“Idris seems the right person to do it because he is a former chief minister but he needs to convince the people here that change, real change will come. If he can do that, then it would not be surprising if he could win” he said.
However, not all in Asahan said they were happy to see Idris jump to the constituency from his previous Sungai Udang seat.
For one long-time Umno supporter who asked to be named only as Idham, Idris was a blatant opportunist who could only claim to be a native on paper.
“He can’t win in Sungai Udang, so he came here. The issue is, although he was raised here, he rarely comes here or actually has any service record in the district.
“It’s actually not true to say he is always here. His hometown may be here but he was never here,” Idham said.
He predicted that Idris would also not see the warm greetings translate to actual votes on November 20, saying the support was only superficial.
Aside from Idris and Fairul, four other candidates are also contesting to make Asahan a six-cornered fight.
The third main coalition, Perikatan Nasional, has fielded Danesh Basil while three Independents — Mohd Noor Salleh, Azmar Abdul Hamid and Mohd Akhir Ayob — were also on the ballot.