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Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election: The challenges for DAP, PH, unity government — Part 2 By Dr Ong Kian Ming

Publish date: Tue, 23 Apr 2024, 09:29 AM

(April 23): In Part 1, I outlined three possible scenarios for voter turnout and support for the DAP/PH/unity government candidate in the upcoming by-election in Kuala Kubu Baharu (KKB), out of which there is only one scenario where the incumbent manages to defend the seat. In this concluding part of this article, I will outline some of the likely and desired parameters of contestation during the campaign.

At the time of writing, no candidate has been announced by DAP or by Perikatan Nasional (PN). It is likely that Gerakan will be given the opportunity to field a candidate given that the Member of Parliament for Hulu Selangor, Harumaini Omar, is from PAS, and the ADUNs for the other two state seats, Hulu Bernam and Batang Kali, are from PAS (Mu’izzuddeen Mahyuddin) and Bersatu (Muhammad Muhaimin Harith Abdullah Sani) respectively. Gerakan fielded a Chinese candidate, Teoh Kien Hong, in the 2023 state elections, and it has been reported that the party has submitted three names as possible candidates, including a Malay candidate. DAP will be announcing its candidate on April 24, 2024.

From a campaigning perspective, it will be far easier for the opposition to attack the track record of the unity government since the 2022 general elections. The play book will not be unfamiliar since we (DAP) would have used this countless times when we were the opposition campaigning in a by-election. We would ask the voters to cast a protest vote against the government knowing that the results won’t affect who is in power at the state and federal levels. This would be an opportunity to “teach those in power a lesson” not to take the voters for granted and to “punish” them for their failure to deliver their promises on issues like institutional reform and bringing down the prices of goods and services. We would point to the impending hikes in diesel and petrol prices as signs that this government doesn’t care about the welfare of the rakyat. In some ways, PN can take the moral high ground by saying that they are not the ones trying to “free” former prime minister Datuk Sari Najib Razak from jail nor are they trying to rile up racial and religious sentiment by asking for boycotts against the likes of KK Mart. Despite the hard work which many of my colleagues in government have put in to try to bring about positive changes in their ministries, the rhetoric of the opposition will resound among the voters, especially those in KKB, who are not likely to have felt the effects of some of the positive policies delivered by the Madani government. Of course, the current administration also must take some blame in not having a coherent narrative (especially on the economy), in not communicating its narrative coherently and consistently, and in not taking pro-active actions to address certain sensitive issues, including “sockgate”.

In addition, the opposition has the advantage of tailoring its attacks to different groups of voters. To the Malay voters, PAS and Bersatu will remind them of some of the statements made by certain DAP leaders in the recent months to instigate them not to support the DAP candidate. To the non-Malay voters, Gerakan will point to failure to live up to the promises by DAP to deliver changes and reforms and to protect the interests of the non-Malays in the current government. The accusation of DAP being MCA 2.0 could be made even more powerful by the narrative that MCA 1.0 and MCA 2.0 are both part of the unity government! This narrative could possibly resonate more with the younger non-Malay voters who are more likely to be anti-establishment.

One should also not discount the effect of MCA and MIC possibly not campaigning for the DAP candidate since some of the older Chinese and Indian voters in a semi-urban district like KKB would still have some historical ties and affinity with both of these BN parties.

How then can DAP/PH/unity government conduct a successful campaign to overcome these challenges?

A successful campaign needs to be conducted at two levels - at the local level and at the state/national level.

There are no “ideal” candidates which DAP can field who can be positioned as someone who knows the local issues faced by KKB voters and who is also capable of withstanding the national media scrutiny during a high-profile by-election. For the record, I do not have any insights into who the top leadership of DAP will likely select as the candidate although I have my own recommendations, which I have expressed to the DAP Selangor leadership.

One of the challenges which the candidate will have to face at the local level is lack of leadership and servicing in KKB because of the need for the late Lee Kee Hiong, the former ADUN, to seek cancer treatment after 2018 which impeded her ability to go to the ground in different areas in KKB. To win the trust of and to connect with the local communities in KKB which have different interests and needs, the candidate will have to enlist community leaders who are trusted and have good reputations who can be part of his or her team after the by-election, assuming a victory. Ideally, the candidate will be able to showcase a team comprising of possible special officers from the Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities whom he or she will lead as part of the KKB service centre. This will be a challenge as many younger and more energetic and dynamic people would want to seek career pathways outside KKB rather than to work in KKB as a politician’s special officer. But there are always diamonds in the rough if we look hard enough especially with the assistance of the local DAP and PH leaders.

At the same time, the candidate must also be able to articulate a “manifesto” to provide solutions to the local issues such as traffic and infrastructure problems and present a “vision” of how to develop KKB as a destination for tourism, light manufacturing, and other economic activities. This manifesto should be relatively simple, and the candidate must be able to articulate it with specific examples and references which the local population can relate to.

At the state and national level, there needs to be a cohesive narrative to accompany the stream of ministers, deputy ministers, and state excos who will be heading to KKB to campaign. The handing out of electoral “goodies” and the organisation of various government programmes will not be unwelcome by the local population but make no mistake, it will not necessarily win the by-election for the DAP candidate. If this was the case, then the BN would not have lost the by-elections in Lunas in 2000 and in Sibu in 2010, or Umno would not have won the Semenyih by-election in 2019, and MCA would not have won the Tanjung Piai by-election in 2019 campaigning as opposition parties. What is needed is a more comprehensive value-proposition not just to the voters of KKB but to the voters of Hulu Selangor to develop the entire district with the intention of winning back the parliamentary seat as well as the other two state seats in the next parliamentary and state elections.

In fact, this kind of larger and more comprehensive “manifesto” would be a more responsible way of campaigning during a by-election even though the benefits would not be immediately felt. It will incentivise political parties to think more strategically and on a longer-term basis based on sustainable policies and plans, rather than focusing on short-term handouts, which have been and will continue to be criticised by election watchdog bodies like Bersih (and rightly so).

With the economic reinvigoration of Hulu Selangor based on industrial clusters in nearby Tanjong Malim (in Perak) and Serendah/Rawang; with higher value-added tourism products leveraging outdoor activities and higher-end home stays, which can provide higher paying services jobs; with the deployment of smart agriculture projects on a smaller scale; and with the inclusion of the Orang Asli communities into suitable economic activities, all of this will result in longer-term development which can be felt by the local population. This can also lead to more people moving to Hulu Selangor to start businesses and to take up higher paying jobs and perhaps also registering as new voters who will be more likely to support progressive and pro-active government policies at the state and national levels.

This kind of campaign requires strategic thinking and action but in reality, this will not be easy to carry out. But even if some of this thinking and action can feature in this campaign, it will be a positive move in making us a more mature and progressive democracy. And more importantly, it will be beneficial to the voters and residents of KKB and Hulu Selangor in the longer run. After all, isn’t this what elections are supposed to be about?

Dr Ong Kian Ming is DAP Selangor treasurer.

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only if DAP kalah teruk in KKB, will Pmx learn that he cannot take non-malay voters for granted
now Pmx think all non-malays sokong him even as he neglect non-malay voters in his persuit for malay voters as in KK mart & vern shoe issue

1 month ago

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