Chini holds elections in 1st pandemic-era polls

The by-election could serve as a measure to gauge public perception and determine the success of GE15

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by BERNAMA

THE Perikatan Nasional (PN) government will face its first electoral test since taking over the federal administration in March amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

Still, the government’s decision that forced the country into a partial lockdown three months ago, which resulted in the success of curbing the disease, will likely see the new coalition win them votes at polls tomorrow.

The Chini by-election was spurred by incumbent Datuk Seri Abu Bakar Harun’s sudden death on May 7. He died of a heart attack at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital. It will also mark the 11th by-election since the 2018 general election (GE14), of which both PN and Pakatan

Harapan (PH) have won five times each. While eight of the last 10 by-elections were routine victories for the winning parties, the Tanjung Piai federal seat and Semenyih state seat saw power changing hands in favour of Barisan Nasional (BN), which Umno dominates.

The Chini by-election is expected to be another plain sailing exercise for the ruling coalition. The Malay-majority electorate has long been an Umno stronghold, and is one of four state seats under the Pekan federal constituency which former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak has won and served for 11 terms in total.

The BN alliance won a convincing 4,622-majority in the last election with four-time assemblyman Abu Bakar, who once served as state council member, retained the seat by beating PAS’ Mohd Fadhil Noor Abdul Karim and PKR’s Mohamad Razali Ithnain.

Tomorrow’s polls will be a three-cornered contest between BN candidate Mohd Sharim Md Zain and two independent hopefuls, businessman Tengku Datuk Zainul Hisham Tengku Hussin and activist Mohd Shukri Mohd Ramli, who is also a blogger.

Tengku Zainul Hisham was former deputy division chief at Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. He was sacked last month for his candidacy as an independent. While, Mohd Shukri, who is contesting in an election for the fourth time, was once a PKR member before he left the party in 2010.

PKR, which won the Chini state seat in 1999, did not field a candidate citing health and safety reasons.

The three contenders will be vying for support from some 20,990 registered voters in the constituency, where over 80% are Felda settlers. Mohd Sharim, a descendant of a pioneer settler, is seen as having an advantage with issues on abandoned housing projects and clean water supply being key concerns.

Other pressing matters include the need to upgrade public clinics and grant ownership of land for the Orang Asli community. The Election Commission (EC) is targeting a 70% voter turnout.

In line with guidelines approved by the Ministry of Health, the EC will deploy a total of 832 personnel to oversee the by-election, where 14 polling centres comprising 66 voting streams will be used for the voting process. The entire procedure costs an estimated RM4.3 million.

Given that the margin for a BN defeat is narrow, political observers believe the by-election could serve as a measure to gauge public perception and determine the success of GE15. Many hold the view that BN are still favourites and there should be no problem to increase its majority this time.