SUNGAI BULOH - If charm and charisma form the yardstick by which one wins an election, then the Nov 19 general polls would be a walkover for incumbent Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
At every stop of his campaign trail, people made a beeline for Mr Khairy, 46, the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for the parliamentary ward of Sungai Buloh in Selangor. They reached out to shake his hand or jostled to take selfies with him, while he sportingly obliged.
“He is young, smart and articulate. He steered the country towards Covid-19 endemicity very well. He has my vote,” said plant nursery owner Tennie Chea, 45.
With about 37 per cent of the total 158,090 voters in the ward aged between 18 and 29 years old, it is no surprise that Mr Khairy runs a slick campaign on social media too, with the hashtags #KataJanjiSungaiBuloh (Promise for Sungai Buloh), #KitaJagaSungaiBuloh (We take care of Sungai Buloh) and #KJ4SB.
On Thursday, he halted his campaigning activities to head to the flood-hit area of Kampung Melayu Subang. Pictures and videos on his social media accounts showed him in yellow rubber boots wading through knee-high waters to talk to the affected residents on how to resolve the problem.
“This is the kind of leader we need in Parliament, someone who takes action quickly,” Mr Ahmad Nizar Yop wrote on Mr Khairy’s Facebook.
Mr Khairy is a newcomer to the opposition stronghold of Sungai Buloh after being made to give up his safe seat of Rembau – which he has helmed for three terms – to Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan.
Party insiders say he was assigned the tough seat because of his rivalry with Umno president Zahid Hamidi.
However, to some voters in Sungai Buloh, well known for its horticulture centres, Mr Khairy is a shoo-in for the seat, especially since he has stated his ambition to be the country’s future prime minister and Umno president.
“He executed his duties well when he was in government,” said restaurant owner Che Dollah Mohd Abdul Kadir, 74, referring to Mr Khairy’s experience in helming ministries since 2013, including youth and sports, and science, technology and innovation. He was also coordinating minister for the national Covid-19 immunisation programme.
“He ensured that the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out was done smoothly and quickly. We need him, our future PM, to be in Sungai Buloh,” said Mr Che Dollah.
Still, it will not be a walk in the park for Mr Khairy, who is the son-in-law of former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Detractors of his party, Umno, view it as racist and corrupt, with some of its senior leaders saddled with graft cases.
He is facing six contenders, which include Gerakan Tanah Air’s Mohd Akmal Mohd Yusoff, Perikatan Nasional’s Mohd Razali Md Hamin and Parti Rakyat Malaysia’s Jufriz Faizal, as well as independent candidates Syed Abdul Razak Syed Long Alsagoff and Norhaslinda Basri.
But his key challenger is Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s (PKR) Ramanan Ramakrishnan.
Mr Ramanan replaced his party’s incumbent MP R. Sivarasa, who has helmed the seat for three terms but is not contesting due to health issues. New to the ward too, Mr Ramanan has been going around meeting voters and also waded through flood waters on Thursday at the Taman Setia Warisan neighbourhood.
Moreover, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition which PKR heads, still commands strong support in Selangor.
“I have voted for PH since 2008 and I will continue to do so for Ramanan. We want change in the government and I believe only PH can do it,” said lorry driver Ganesan Nadarajah, 43.
Mr Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, an associate director at Vriens & Partners, a government regulatory affairs and political risk consultancy firm, said both Mr Khairy and Mr Ramanan are in for a tough fight.
“A win for Khairy would mean a potential challenge within Umno for its leadership post-Zahid. A win for Ramanan would mean another crucial seat for PH, but what Ramanan can deliver as an MP remains to be seen,” he said.