A CRITICAL Malaysian by-election this weekend will be a nail-biter, according to a poll released Tuesday that found voters are almost evenly split between the government and the opposition.
The vote on Saturday in northeastern Terengganu state is being seen as a referendum on the coalition government’s performance and reform promises since a disastrous performance in general elections last year.
But the Merdeka Centre research firm said it was not able to predict a winner in the multi-ethnic electorate, with the Muslim Malays who dominate the population evenly divided between the coalition and the opposition.
Among ethnic Chinese voters who make up 11 per cent of the electorate, voting intention is roughly split with only a slight tendency towards the opposition, it said.
‘None of the numbers approach any figure that would allow you to come up with an estimate on the result,’ said pollster Ibrahim Suffian.
He said that although the vote was seen as a test on national issues including corruption, ethnic politics and development, local factors would also be very important including the controversial choice of candidates.
‘It is a real mix of issues. Because the electorate is so split the things that will make a difference are how the candidates present themselves, and how the two sides explain away major issues such as corruption and governance.’
The government is hoping to show it has clawed back support with promises of reform and leadership changes after losing five states and a third of parliamentary seats in the March 2008 general elections.
For the opposition alliance, it is a chance to show its support is holding up and that it is working effectively, despite government claims that the partnership of three very different parties is already cracking up.
The opposition is fielding a candidate from the Islamic party PAS, which has highlighted policy differences with its alliance partners from the multiracial Keadilan and the Democratic Action Party which represents ethnic Chinese.
A PAS call to reintroduce ‘hudud’ Islamic law, including the amputation of hands for thieves, created controversy but the Merdeka Centre survey said that only 18 per cent of Chinese voters saw the issue as ‘very important’. — AFP
Kuala Terengganu by-election seen as referendum on Barisan Nasional’s performance and reform promises