PERMATANG PASIR, Aug 23 — Umno’s dream of capitalising on its resurgence in Manek Urai’s narrow loss could end up a nightmare in Permatang Pasir, where its campaign is sinking in the quicksand of its choice in scandal-hit candidate Rohaizat Othman.
It is understood that local Umno members “intend to voice their anger over the choice of candidate made by the Penang Umno leadership” by voting for PAS after a more favoured and popular choice, Permatang Pauh Umno youth chief Zaidi Mohd Said was bypassed by the party’s top leadership.
Umno and the ruling federal Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition have already watched in horror their campaign efforts go down the drain following revelations that Rohaizat had been disbarred for professional misconduct, apart from a few more cases and allegations of a second wife.
Campaigning has also been lacklustre, with very few turning up for the political ceramahs featuring top Umno leaders. Only a few allies from BN component parties have pounded the streets to canvass votes in next week’s by-election, where Rohaizat faces Penang PAS state commissioner Mohd Salleh Man.
“Many here were shocked when they found out that Rohaizat was picked instead of Zaidi and this has created discontent among the local Umno supporters,” said an Umno man here who spoke to The Malaysian Insider on condition of anonymity.
Zaidi, or known affectionately to locals as “Cikgu”, a name given after his profession, is a popular figure among the locals from both sides of the political divide. He is also said to be a well-liked figure among the Chinese community which make up 25 per cent of the predominantly Malay Permatang Pasir.
Malay and Chinese residents here have backed the claims describing Zaidi as well-liked for his “unpretentious” and “grassroot” character.
At a ceramah delivered by deputy prime minister and Umno No. 2 Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on Wednesday night, Zaidi, who was present received a loud applause when he was introduced while Rohaizat was embarrassed by the lacklustre response he received from the audience.
Ironically, Muhyiddin, despite witnessing the obvious, have rubbished off claims that there are elements of sabotage within its party claiming that his observation indicated the local supporters have been earnest in their effort to ensure a BN victory.
“They are not talking about it. Instead, they are working hard at the grassroots to convince the voters to vote for the BN and I don’t see any sign within the BN that there are groups working to the contrary,” he was reported as saying.
Perhaps betting on the fact that their man is a local, Muhyiddin, apparently a traditionalist, seemed certain that Rohaizat’s background would be of advantage to the ruling coalition.
Locals however, thought otherwise. Many here say they have never even heard of Rohaizat before and that the Permatang Pauh Umno division secretary “only started appearing during the by-election.”
All this could well be a blunder to Muhyiddin and BN, local politicians say, given that the ruling coalition have been fortunate that residents here have shrugged off the scandal weighing on their candidate.
Umno sources say Zaidi’s reputation among the Chinese community could have been the vote-puller pivotal for BN’s aim to regain the much needed non-Malay votes that went to PAS in last year’s March 8 polls.
Former Permatang Pasir assemblyman, the late Datuk Mohd Hamdan Abdul Rahman, won the state seat with a majority of 5,433 votes, a victory local Umno leaders claimed made possible due to the non-Malay votes.
The negative perception of the non-Malay electorate here towards Rohaizat, coupled with the alleged sabotage elements and lacklustre campaign enterprise may well see the ruling coalition suffer yet another disastrous defeat, ushering BN chairman and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s hard-earned popularity rating to a premature end.
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