SHAH ALAM - Voting at 19 polling stations in the by-election for the Selangor state seat of Sungai Kandis began on Saturday (Aug 4), Malaysia's official Bernama news agency reported.
The vote, the first to be held since the May 9 general election, is seen as a closely watched battle between the Pakatan Harapan (PH) ruling alliance and opposition party Umno. It could also offer clues on whether the country's Malay voters will firmly remain with PH member Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), which is defending the seat.
The PKR's candidate, Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mughni, is fending off a challenge against Datuk Lokman Adam, an Umno Supreme Council member who was a senior aide to former premier Najib Razak and independent candidate K. Murthy.
Turnout among the 51,230 registered voters stood at about 35 per cent as of 2pm, The Star reported. The Election Commission had targeted a voter turnout of 80 per cent, but rain in the morning may have contributed to the low turnout.
Polling centres will close at 5.30pm.
Mohd Zawawi, a registered voter in the constituency, arrived at a polling centre with his wife at about 9am to cast his ballot.
He said he believed the low turnout was because many people worked on Saturday mornings. "We are expecting a bigger turnout later in the afternoon," he said.
His opponent, Lokman, said fewer Chinese voters coming out to cast their votes and younger voters were choosing to sit out. "I think the Chinese voters who are mostly DAP supporters are frustrated with the Pakatan Harapan government for the current sluggish economic climate,'' said Lokman. The Democratic Action Party (DAP), along with the PKR, are part of the four-member PH coalition.
He added that some of the younger voters could also be unhappy with the PH but were not ready to return to the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition yet and may thus may have opted to sit out this by-election.
Both Najib, who had previously led the BN before its loss at the election, and PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim had turned up to campaign for the rival parties.
In a post on his Facebook page on Saturday, Najib urged voters to give the BN a chance to be a stronger opposition voice in Selangor, The Star reported. Najib said the BN candidate was someone who championed the truth and would not stop defending justice for the sake of the people.
"Give Barisan a chance to be a stronger opposition voice and give your support to Barisan candidate (Datuk) Lokman Noor Adam to defend the people's rights in Sungai Kandis and in Selangor," the former prime minister wrote.
He added that the by-election was also an opportunity for the people to protest and send a warning to the PH government that the people did not accept slander, did not want to be lied to, and that all of the PH campaign promises had to be honoured. The by-election, he said, was a timely reminder that the ruling government only had 14 days left to fulfil its "10 promises in 100 days" manifesto.
The by-election is being held following the death of incumbent Mat Shuhaimi Shafiei of PKR, due to cancer on July 2.
Mat Shuhaimi retained the seat for the third consecutive term in the last general election with a majority of 12,480 votes in a four-cornered fight against the BN, the Parti Islam SeMalaysia and the Parti Rakyat Malaysia.