SEREMBAN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - More than 20,000 voters in Rantau are chosing a new assemblyman on Saturday (April 13) in a key by-election.
The contest is a four-cornered fight between Barisan Nasional's incumbent, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, Pakatan Harapan's Dr S. Streram and independents Mohd Nor Yassin and R. Malarvizhi.
The 14 polling centres opened at 8am and close at 5.30pm.
The Rantau poll is the seventh by-election post-GE14, and the third to be held in 2019 after Cameron Highlands and Semenyih.
Ms Malarvizhi, a housewife, was the earliest to arrive at SJKC Chung Hua where she will cast her ballot.
This is the first time Malarvizhi is voting in Malaysia since her return in 2016 as she has been away in Canada for 25 years. She is the only one in her family registered as a voter in Rantau as she was "somehow" moved out of the Port Dickson constituency under the last redelineation exercise by the Election Commission.
Mr Mohamad, who has been the Rantau assemblyman since 2004, arrived soon after polls opened to cast his vote with his wife, Raja Datin Seri Salbiah Tunku Nujumuddin.
Dr Streram will vote at SJKT Rantau while former lecturer Mohd Nor cannot vote as he is not registered in the constituency.
The EC has also provided buggies to ferry older voters to their polling streams. In total, nine units have been deployed for use in this by-election.
In GE14, Mr Mohamad was declared the winner of the seat after Dr Streram was prohibited from entering the nomination centre to submit his nomination papers.
He was stopped for not having a pass issued by the EC.
Election Court judge Azimah Omar allowed Dr Streram's petition for a by-election on the grounds that Mohamad's election victory was not valid.
Mr Mohamad, the three-term Rantau state assemblyman, cannot afford to lose this battle as it could end his political career, including his leadership of Umno. A loss in a stronghold seat could also throw Umno into a tailspin.
Mr Mohamad took over as the party's acting president in December, after the unpopular president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was forced to go on leave.
On the flip side, Pakatan Harapan, after losing two consecutive by-elections, cannot allow the opposition BN coalition to score a third victory in a row, even as it struggles to gain more Malay support.
The four-party PH lost the Cameron Highlands federal ward in Pahang in January, and also the Semenyih state seat in Selangor in March.
This was partly due to Umno and its current ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia having largely sewn up most of the Malay support.
Malay voters form 53 per cent of the 20,804 voters in Rantau - about an hour's drive south from the capital Kuala Lumpur. Chinese make up 17 per cent of voters, Indians 27 per cent, with the remaining 3 per cent from other ethnic groups.