KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 – Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Bagan Pinang state assemblyman Azman Mohd Noor in Negeri Sembilan passed away today of a heart attack at the Seremban Specialist Centre, triggering the ninth by-election since Election 2008.
Anecdotal evidence and ground reports suggest that Negeri Sembilan is vulnerable for BN and could fall to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) at the next general elections.
This view will be tested in the by-election when just over 14,000 voters choose their next state representative in what has always been a BN stronghold.
In last March’s general elections, BN retained power in Negeri Sembilan, but lost its two-thirds majority in the state assembly.
There are now 21 BN assemblymen to PR’s 15 representatives in the state. The Bagan Pinang by-election will only be the second vote in Peninsular Malaysia since Election 2008 to be held in a seat in which Umno is the incumbent. Umno was an incumbent in Kuala Terengganu as well, but PAS turn it around to win that seat in a by-election.
All but one of the previous eight votes, the most recent of which was in Permatang Pasir, were taken by the PR coalition. BN secured its solitary win in Batang Ai in Sarawak, where it was the incumbent, and conceded the Penanti seat without contest.
The Bagan Pinang area in Negeri Sembilan is considered a BN stronghold and the contest for the seat may be closer than the previous by-elections. In the last general elections, Azman won the seat by a majority of 2,333 votes, taking 6,430 votes to PAS’s 4,097 votes.
Bagan Pinang, located in the Teluk Kemang parliamentary seat in Port Dickson is a Malay-Muslim majority seat in which voters from the community make up 66 per cent of the electorate.
Just over 10 per cent of voters are Chinese while Indians make up an unusually high percentage at 19.9 per cent.
Malay-Muslim and Indian issues are expected to dominate the campaign, with Umno’s increasingly strident right-wing stand and Indian issues like the Kampung Buah Pala eviction in Penang and the Shah Alam Hindu temple row expected to dominate.
Negeri Sembilan remains a shaky state for BN and Umno will want to ensure victory to boost morale after its straight defeats and also to ensure its hold on the state. But Negeri Sembilan Umno is not in the best state of health.
Several divisions are at odds with Mentri Besar Datuk Mohamad Hasan, the corporate figure who was plucked from political obscurity and planted on the political mainstage in 2004 by former PM Tun Abdullah Badawi.
Last September, Mohamad had been forced to quell dissent within the ranks which threatened to topple his government amid speculation of defections to PR. Ultimately the defections did not happen, but only after he threatened to dissolve the state assembly to pave the way for fresh elections.
For PR, the Bagan Pinang vote will be a chance for the fledgling coalition beset by major problems of its own to make gains on BN.
It will also be an opportunity for Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to put his reform message to the test, especially to the Malay-Muslim electorate. (The Malaysian Insider)