BN eyes sympathy votes for widow

Ms Mastura's four sons have been campaigning for her while she is confined to her home during the mourning period.
Ms Mastura's four sons have been campaigning for her while she is confined to her home during the mourning period.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Malaysia's twin by-elections in Perak's royal town of Kuala Kangsar and the semi-rural Sungai Besar constituency in a corner of Selangor state could indicate how the nation will lean in the general election due in two years. These are the first votes in constituencies that roughly reflect the population mix of Malaysia since graft allegations against Prime Minister Najib Razak surfaced last year. Hence, the June 18 polls are seen as the bellwether for his administration as well as a fragmented opposition.

WHICH WAY WILL BY-ELECTIONS GO?

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) is using an unorthodox way to try to win the Perak by-election.

Its female candidate will stay firmly at home and not campaign in the streets.

Datin Mastura Mohd Yazid, 55, is the widow of MP Wan Mohammad Khair-il Wan Ahmad, whose death in a helicopter crash last month led to the Kuala Kangsar by-election.

Ms Mastura's four sons have been doing the public campaigning work for her.

 

Umno leaders and the state mufti said the widow must confine herself to her home during her iddah, a mourning period, for her husband for four months.

She campaigns by video, played on screens at rallies.

This is the first time BN has campaigned with an absentee candidate, though it is not the first time that a candidate is missing from the campaign trail.

A candidate from an opposition party won a seat in Selangor in 2008 although he did not campaign as he was in jail under a security law.

The strategy of using an invisible candidate has its merits as it could win sympathy votes for Umno-led BN in Kuala Kangsar, Perak's official royal town where the main palace of the state royalty is located.

Ms Mastura's campaigners said she will continue the work of her husband, a popular figure whose relationship with BN-controlled state and federal governments has boosted Kuala Kangsar.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is directing the campaign, said Ms Mastura is well-known in the constituency and that "she gave up her career as a lawyer 30 years ago to be with her husband in Kuala Kangsar".

A town of mostly two-storey shophouses located near the fast-flowing Sungai Perak - one of Malaysia's longest rivers - it is home to the famous school for Malay royalty and its elite, Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

The constituency has 32,949 voters, comprising about 68 per cent Malays, 24 per cent Chinese and 7 per cent Indians and other minorities.

To the opposition candidates, Ms Mastura's absence gives them an opening as they make house-to- house visits and drop in at coffee shops. The challengers are independent candidate Izat Bukhary Ismail Bukhary, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) women's wing chief Najihatussalehah Ahmad and physicist Ahmad Termizi Ramli from Parti Amanah Negara, an eight-month- old PAS splinter party.

Amanah is one of the three opposition parties under Pakatan Harapan (PH), which excludes PAS.

Amanah knows that it cannot win its first seat under its own steam.

Amanah president Mohamad Sabu said after a speech in a Malay village: "Yes, on our own, we are not strong. But we are strong with PH."

It remains a tough call to say who would emerge victorious, though BN is seen to have a big advantage of being the incumbent against the split opposition, politicians and analysts say.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'BN eyes sympathy votes for widow'. Print Edition | Subscribe