May 31, 2009
Almost 30 percent turnout by noon
by Malaysiakini Team in Penanti, Penang
The Penanti state seat by-election got off to a slow start today at 8am with less than expected voters’ turnout. However the turnout picked up steam as the day progressed. As at 12 noon, the Election Commission secretary Ngah Senik revealed that about 29.86 percent of voters have voted. This figure translated to 4,593 out of 15,384 voters.
The EC had predicted a 70 percent turnout. Polling closes at 5pm. EC chief Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof told reporters this morning after making his rounds that the turnout was “encouraging”.
After the first two hours of voting, the turnout had stood at 14.6 percent – which means 2,252 voters had voted by then. And by 11am, about 23.5 percent of voters – 3,590 people – have come out to vote.
PKR chief Anwar Ibrahim acknowledged that the voters’ turnout had been lower by at least five percent in first three hours of voting compared with the same corresponding period in last August’s Permatang Pauh parliamentary by-election and 2008 general election.
According to unofficial EC sources, the previous corresponding period in both the two elections recorded between 35 percent and 38 percent voters’ turnout respectively in first three hours of voting.
PKR’s election director Saifuddin Nasution meanwhile said that he would be “very happy” with an overall 65 to 70 percent voters’ turnout. He expressed optimism that PKR candidate Mansor Othman (right) could secure 7,000 votes from the party’s hardcore supporters, which could then give him a majority win of more than 5,000 votes. “I would be happy then,” he told Malaysiakini, acknowledging that balloting process had been slow so far.
PKR’s Batu Maung state assemblyperson Abdul Malik Kassim, however, was confident that record number of voters would come out to vote by 5pm. He also said that PKR’s candidate Mansor will win with a record majority.
PKR out to get more voters
The party’s strategy director Tian Chua said efforts were being undertaken to mobilise the voters to come out to vote in the afternoon. “We will go to voters’ house to bring them out to polling centres,” he said. He added that the low turnout rate might be due to the voters thinking that PKR will easily win this by-election.
Earlier in the day, policemen, journalists, cameraman and election workers were outnumbering voters at polling stations in Berapit, Kubang Ulu, Tanah Liat, Guar Perahu and Mengkuang areas. The atmosphere near the polling centres have also been reported to be very calm. Not many party flags were visible. The police are, however, maintaining a watch at these centres.
The only political party to contest in this by-election, PKR, has set up polling booths at the polling centres despite a ban on such booths by the Election Commission.
And even at their centres, the PKR workers are only checking the voters list for potential voters. There are no last-minute campaigning being undertaken by them.
The three independent candidates however did not have any presence at the polling centres to woo voters.
The contest sees PKR’s Mansor fighting against independents Aminah Abdullah, Nai Khan Ari and Kamarul Ramizu Idris for the seat.
Nai Khan cast his vote at the Dewan Orang Ramai dan Tadika Tun Sardon at about 8.49am. He was accompanied by a handful of supporters. His attempt to hold a press conference outside the polling centre after casting his vote was stopped by the police. Nai Khan is the only candidate who will be voting today. The others are voters in other areas. Some PKR officials are saying that Nai Khan would fare better than the other two independent candidates.
“He (Nai Khan) may get more than 300 votes due to his Barisan Nasional and Thai roots,” predicted a local PKR leader from Permatang Pauh.
UMNO rejects boycott claims
Dr. Mansor meanwhile was making his rounds since voting started. He had gathered at the party’s operations centre with other leaders and undertook a visit to all polling centres. Likewise, other Pakatan leader, including Penang Chief Minister Guan Eng and DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang too had been visiting polling centres.
Traditional contestants (UMNO) have opted to sit out of this by-election but their shadow looms large despite their action. PKR leaders have claimed – and lodged a police report yesterday – that UMNO was urging its members to boycott the by-election. This was, however, denied by the UMNO state deputy chief Zainal Abidin Osman.
“We have never forced our members not to cast their votes in the by-election. It is up to them to use their discretion to make the right decision,” he said. He also rejected claims that the party would be taking its members in Penanti for a holiday in Thailand today.
Official results are expected to be announced by 8.30pm although unofficially it could be known as early as 6.30pm. The commission is also testing out a pilot project in this by-election by enforcing the prohibition on campaigning on polling day, including preventing those contesting from canvassing for votes or erecting polling booths.
The Meteorological Department had said that it expected rain and thunder storms in the morning and ‘shower rain’ in the afternoon. And the state police chief Ayub Yaakub meanwhile warned supporters against organising a victory parade when the result was announced.