Rabu, 13 April 2011

As race tightens, Pakatan talks up chances

The crowd at batu Kawah, Kuching on Sunday for a Pakatan Rakyat rally.
KUCHING, April 13 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is confident of Sarawak’s urban vote on polling day this Saturday, but Barisan Nasional (BN) appears to have a lock on its rural interior — to ensure a two-thirds state assembly majority.
However, positive reports continue to stream in for Pakatan Rakyat (PR) from across all 71 state constituencies, offering the pact hope that it can bloody BN’s nose.
Although its leaders prefer to stay cautious, the consistent turnouts at its rallies and encouraging responses from constituents have led them to admit that their confidence levels have outpaced their own expectations.
All three PR parties — PKR, DAP and PAS — have declared that they would increase their seats but stopped short of saying that Sarawak would fall into its hands after this Saturday.

The crowd at BN's rally on Sunday with the prime minister speaking. — Picture by Choo Choy May
But parties’ intelligence have informed them that response had been more than startlingly positive during all campaign events, from their daily walkabouts, dialogue sessions and nightly ceramah.DAP’s Wong Ho Leng told The Malaysian Insider that the situation was even more promising than the Sibu parliamentary by-election when he scored an upset.
“Its even better this time. In Sibu, things only became positive towards the end. But here, the support was there from Day One. I just wonder if we can maintain this tempo,” he said.
PAS' spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat at Batu Kawah.
Wong listed five BN incumbent seats as the most promising for DAP — Repok, Pujut, Piasau, Bawang Assan and Batu Kawah.PKR’s Saifuddin Nasution confidently said that the party was sure that it would increase its popular vote significantly.
“We always compare with the previous state polls and from this, it is too obvious and too hard to deny the good response, especially from the interior areas,” he said.
He added that PKR was particularly confident it would score well in three seats where BN had won previously with wafer-thin majorities — Saribas, Ba’Kelalan and Senadin.
PAS’ Datuk Mustafa Ali said that voter response was so encouraging that the party’s local leaders had now become “overconfident” of its chances.
“BN is underestimating the current revolt. I can see that some of our local leaders and machinery have even become overconfident about our chances. I urged them not to be,” he said.
This is the first statewide election the newborn alliance is contesting under the PR umbrella and is the pact’s rehearsal for the coming federal election, which has to be called by 2013.
While the contest is said to be a referendum on BN’s waning popularity in East Malaysia, it will also serve as an acid test for PR to prove its popularity had grown since its shock victories in the tsunami of Election 2008.
But opposition party sources are concerned over rumours that BN’s final push in its campaign would come in the form of a major handout to PR’s lost opposition ally, Sarawak National Party (SNAP), which is contesting against PKR in 26 seats.
This, said the sources, was tailored to split the opposition vote and guarantee a BN victory.
Wong admitted to hearing the rumours but refused to speculate on it.
When met at the PKR headquarters in Satok here, Saifuddin echoed the same fears.
PKR flags at Serikin Market near Bau, close to the Indonesian border. — Picture by Choo Choy May
“We cannot deny that we have been receiving startling support thus far, but the issue now is whether we can sustain until Saturday.“(Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) is here and he is like Santa Claus, giving out goodies.
“This will be to our great disadvantage,” he said.
But despite these worries, the PR leaders appeared confident that the opposition had made significant inroads in the past six days, even in areas long considered as BN strongholds.
They were cautious not to declare that they would topple BN in Sarawak but admitted that it was hard to ignore their growing support.
Unlike in the last two state polls in 2001 and 2006, said the leaders, the usually conservative Sarawak voters have now followed their peninsular comrades by thronging opposition rallies in droves, a sight that is alien in their usually peaceful townships.
When federal PR stars like DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang and PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik Mat grace the events, even more leave their homes to join the mad scramble that clog the streets for hours.
For the PR, one major factor has helped boost its campaign - the growing public hatred against Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Saifuddin said the sentiment was shared by most of the local communities here, save for the Malay/Melanaus, which make up the third largest segment of the 979,796-strong electorate.
“This group is the toughest nut to crack. The Malay support is just moderate. They have this thought that they should not remove the CM because he is a Malay,” he said.
He recalled that during a dialogue session with villagers at the Senadin constituency, this had been the voters’ primary concern.
DAP's Kuching candidates on nomination day April 6, 2011. — Picture by Choo Choy May
The group, he said, had wanted answers from the opposition on why it should remove its Malay Chief Minister as they feared that in doing so, the community would then receive less attention.“I cannot understand why they would say that because they live in poorly conditions even under Taib’s rule... they live like squatters and they have no clean water.
“But they said — what we ask, we get... except that it takes time... maybe 10 to 15 years. To them, this is okay,” he said in disbelief.
With three days left on the campaign clock, all eyes now will be on BN and its last ditch attempt to quell PR’s growing support.
According to observers the pact’s campaign has been lacklustre despite the deployment of senior federal government leaders and the entire state cabinet to help in the polls.
At events headlined by Najib himself, turnout had paled in comparison with those of PR’s.
Sensing the wave of change sweeping across the hornbill state and noting reports of the opposition’s use of the anti-Taib sentiment to woo support, Najib has even moved to assure voters that the state leader would soon leave.
He has also scheduled a meeting with church leaders, hoping to quell the Christian community’s dissent over the ongoing Alkitab bibles row.
Sarawak will decide on their next government this April 16.
A total of 979,796 are eligible to cast their ballots, with the Chinese community forming the largest segment of the electorate, followed by Ibans, Malay/Melanaus, Bidayuhs and Orang Ulus.

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