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Ijok by-election – a litmus test of Anwar Ibrahim’s popularity and political fortune?

Updated On: Apr 24, 2007

The Ijok by-elections in Selangor became the prime testing ground for popularity between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), with both parties fronted by the symbolic figureheads of Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim respectively.

The straight contest between BN and PKR came about after three independent candidates who were speculated to be taking part failed to submit their nomination papers. The seat was left vacant following the death of a state assemblyman.

BN has put up 38-year-old K. Parthiban, a former education officer. Parthiban hails from the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), one of the 14 component parties of the BN. His PKR opponent is 61-year-old Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, a former corporate chieftain.

Tensions ran high on nomination day (April 19) with the two groups hurling dozens of plastic water bottles, flagpoles and stones at each other, signaling perhaps a fierce battle ahead. 

Selangor police chief Ismail Omar said no arrests were made and blamed the incident on 'boisterous supporters'. He also urged all supporters to 'display your maturity as Malaysian citizens. The process of elections is for us to choose our candidates peacefully.'

Representative of the current issues of contention were shouts of 'Altantuya! Altantuya!' referring to the case of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu's murder involving a prominent political analyst with close links to Datuk Seri Najib, as well as 'Sodomy! Sodomy!' referring to a previous court case in which PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim was accused of sodomy.

Following Anwar Ibrahim’s open accusation of Najib’s possible involvement in Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu’s murder, Najib responded to a group of some 500 villagers in Ijok: 'What has Altantuya got to do with Ijok constituency? It's got nothing to do with me at all. I am not involved at all with Altantuya. Allah is my witness,' he said. 'I myself have never met Altantuya, except seeing her picture in newspapers,' he pointed out. 'This is another person's problem.'

Najib’s comments were his strongest yet on the issue since he broke his silence on the Altantuya murder case last week.

Agreeing that the Ijok poll will be a test of BN’s popularity as the country gears up for a general election, Najib added that “this by-election is a big test for Umno headquarters and Selangor Umno, although the candidate K Parthiban is from the MIC…It does not only involve the interest of the MIC, but the interest and image of Umno as well."

On the flipside, if Anwar Ibrahim were to lose the Ijok poll, analysts say that it could dent his political credibility.  In the last 2004 Ijok by-election, BN's candidate won 57 per cent of votes cast, while PKR clinched 39 per cent.

But while Anwar had publicly announced his intention to run for office late last year, starting with the position of president at the People's Justice Party (a position currently held by his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail), the Registrar of Society may not allow him to run. And if he decides to challenge the registrar's decision in court and later loses, he risks being forced to step down and PKR could be deregistered.

In response to Anwar’s ambitions, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad remarked in an interview that "he could win a few seats but making a comeback and taking over the government, that's a pipedream."

Analysts also appear to agree with Mahathir’s assessment, as the country currently does not have a presidential system where an individual can take the top job without overall parliamentary support from his party. Thus far, Anwar's PKR is no match to the formidable ruling 14-party National Front coalition. (23 April 2007)

Sources:

Mahathir scoffs at Anwar's plan for Malaysian political comeback (AFP, 19 April 2007)

Violent start to Selangor by-election (The Straits Times, 20 April 2007)

Anwar hits the campaign trail (TODAY, 21 April 2007)

I have never met Mongolian model: Najib (The Straits Times, 22 April 2007)

Ijok by-election a battlefield for Najib and Anwar (The Straits Times, 23 April 2007)