Battle lines drawn for Malaysian elections

By Carolyn Hong | Source: ANN

Malaysia’s 13th general election was always set to be an epic battle, with the ruling Barisan Nasional seeking to maintain its grip on power that it has held for over five decades against a challenge by an energised opposition Pakatan Rakyat.

Yesterday, the stage was set for further clashes when 269 independents, some of them rejects from the main camps, showed up to file their nomination papers. Mostly unknown, they turned up without fanfare to join the top party leaders who arrived noisily with supporters bearing flags and singing party songs.

More than double the 103 in the 2008 polls, the large number of independents adds a potential spoiler in some constituencies, especially those with slender winning margins. In 2008, 65 seats were won with margins of less than 3 per cent.

It also means multi-cornered races in 276 of 727 state and parliamentary seats. Even Peninsular Malaysia will see one six-way and five five-way fights that were once common only in Sabah and Sarawak.

The entry of these independents drew swift reactions from party leaders who moved to expel members who had not been fielded but chose to stand on their own tickets.

“Party discipline is important,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said. At least 10 members from BN were sacked. His action was echoed by the opposition Democratic Action Party, which also dropped at least three from its ranks.

The much talked about high drama over the opposition Democratic Action Party’s symbol, however, fizzled out.

Returning officers permitted DAP candidates to use the rocket emblem after all. That allayed fears that an investigation by the Registrar of Societies may bring the DAP leadership’s legitimacy into question and force them to stand on a Parti Islam SeMalaysia ticket to stay in the race.

“DAP shall contest under rocket!” DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng exulted, after filing papers in Penang.

The Election Commission said nominations went peacefully at the 222 centres nationwide.

A total of 222 parliamentary and 505 state legislative assembly seats will be up for vote on May 5.

BN kept up its pledge to field a refreshed slate with about 40 per cent of its 726 strong line-up being first-time candidates. Umno, which contested 115 parliamentary and 326 state seats, took over two parliamentary seats from the Malaysian Chinese Association. MCA is contesting 37 parliamentary seats – three fewer than in 2008 – and 90 state seats.

The opposition Pakatan Rakyat, for its part, put up 733 candidates, with PAS making up the biggest contingent with 309 candidates.

Candidates wasted no time heading into battle.

Najib, who is up against Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s Fariz Musa in a straight fight, kicked off the 15-day campaign when he met voters after filing papers in Pekan, his long-time seat in Pahang state.

“Let us not look into the past but ahead to the future. Only BN can bring harmony and stability,” he told them.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in a three-way contest in his old seat of Permatang Pauh in Penang against Umno’s Mazlan Ismail and independent Abdullah Zawawi Samsudin.

In the biggest battleground of Gelang Patah in Johor, DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang filed his papers under the rocket symbol and will face outgoing Johor Menteri Besar Ghani Othman in a straight fight.

Last night, Malaysian Chinese business leaders hosted a dinner for Najib in Klang, while the opposition fanned out for rallies, as hustings got into full swing ahead of the May 5 polls.

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