Contrary to popular perception, the voting pattern for Hulu Selangor for the March 2008 general elections indicates that voters did not vote according to racial lines. The more substantial elements in this parliamentary seat appeared to be the geographical location of the constituents as well as the choice of the BN candidate.
Hulu Selangor has about 63,500 voters. Within this semi-rural constituency are three state seats of which Batang Kali, with about 28,000 voters, is the largest. The other two - Kuala Kubu Bahru and Hulu Bernam - have more or less the same number of voters of between 17,000 and 19,000.
In contrast to the general voting pattern in the 2008 general elections, PKR's Zainal Abidin Ahmad did not perform all that well in Kuala Kubu Bahru, the state seat with the highest proportion of non-Malay voters.
Kuala Kubu Bahru has nearly 70% non-Malay voters (Chinese, 47%, Indian, 21%) and only 29% Malay voters. An analysis of the voting streams there shows that in 2008, Zainal lost in this area to MIC's G Palanivel by 111 votes.
On the other hand, in Batang Kali where 56% of the voters were Malay, Zainal was able to win the contest with a huge majority of 1,789 votes. And yet in Hulu Bernam - another Malay-majority state seat - where 67% of voters were Malay, Zainal lost to Palanivel by 1,480 votes. Zainal's resounding victory in Batang Kali helped compensate for his lost in Kuala Kubu Bahru and Hulu Bernam, and he claimed the Hulu Selangor parliamentary seat by a razor-thin majority of 198 votes.
The voting pattern in the three state seats failed to match the perception that the Chinese and Indians were more likely to back Pakatan Rakyat, while Malay voters were divided between the two rival coalitions. Data from the 2008 polls indicates that the racial element may not be the supreme factor in Hulu Selangor since it has been shown that the Malays in Batang Kali were more inclined to back Pakatan while those in Hulu Bernam were more supportive of BN.
Perhaps, geography may provide a better explanation for this rather odd voting pattern.The Hulu Selangor constituency covers a vast territory, including Chinese new villages, Malay kampung and a number of small towns. Each of the three state seats have a 'different' neighbour, which may determine the respective voting inclination of the voters. Batang Kali, in the south, is closest to Kuala Lumpur and many of its residents work in the nearby Selayang industrial area. They are likely to be more exposed to opposition politics. In 2008 general elections, PKR's William Leong cruised to a victory for the Selayang parliament seat with a 3,567-vote majority.
Meanwhile, Hulu Bernam, in the northwest, borders Perak's Tanjong Malim - a BN stronghold where in the 2008 general elections, then MCA secretary-general Ong Ka Chuan emerged victorious with a comfortable majority of 5,422 votes. Kuala Kubu Bahru, located in the northeast, is near the Raub parliamentary seat in Pahang, which is held by MCA vice-president Ng Yen Yen. The area is relatively isolated compared to Batang Kali. With less contact with the urban centres of Kuala Lumpur, the area escaped the 2008 political tsunami.
The Palanivel factor
In addition, there appeared to be a split in the votes in both Batang Kali and Hulu Bernam with voters inclining to back Pakatan for parliament and at the same time BN for the state seats. In Batang Kali, Umno's Mohd Isa Abu Kasim won the state seat by 2,179 votes yet BN lost in the final tally for parliament by 111 votes, a sharp 2,290 vote difference. Similarly in Hulu Bernam, BN secured a majority of 1,480 for the parliament seat while its majority for the state seat was 3,549 votes resulting in a huge 2,069 -vote gap.
It is believed MIC's four-term member of parliament G Palanivel (right) was not favoured by pro-BN voters who while voted for the BN candidates for the state seats, chose not to vote for Palanivel as their MP. The same rationale can explain why there were 1,466 spoilt votes in Hulu Selangor - seven times higher than the 198-vote majority. Indeed, Palanivel could have won were there fewer spoilt votes.
This does not augur well for Palanivel if he is named as the BN candidate for the coming Hulu Selangor by-election on April 25. Apparently, two years ago, quite a number of BN voters were willing to spoil their votes instead of voting for the MIC leader. Which explains why Prime Minister Najib Razak was ambivalent about fielding Palanivel for the April 25 by-election.- Kuek Ser Kuang Keng