BARISAN UNITED: The Bakri parliamentary seat fell into opposition hands in 2008. Will Barisan Nasional retake what was previously its stronghold in the coming election? Rizalman Hammim finds out
AS the bastion of Barisan Nasional, and especially Umno, Johor has always prided itself as the state where the ruling coalition is undefeatable.
As such, the loss of the Bakri parliamentary seat in the 2008 general election shocked many, especially as the seat had always been a BN stronghold since it was created in 1986.
In the last election, DAP's Er Teck Hwa defeated BN's Tay Puay Chuan by a majority of 722 votes. One of the reasons cited for the loss was the internal bickering within the Bakri and Muar MCA divisions over the party's decision to name Tay as the candidate for the seat.
Tay, a former senator, is the MCA Muar division chief and his nomination was not well received by the MCA Bakri division, which was then headed by former health minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng.
The division even handed a resolution objecting to the "parachute" candidate to then MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, although division secretary Yap Mia Lee later said they would abide by the leadership's decision.
Yap himself was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Bakri seat before Tay's nomination. Two of the three state seats in Bakri also fell to the opposition in the last general election. DAP's Gwee Tong Hiang won the Bentayan seat while Dr Sheikh Ibrahim Sheikh Salleh of Pas won in Sungai Abong.
BN's Datuk Abdullah Md Ali was able to retain his seat in Bukit Naning. Umno Bakri division chief Datuk Saipolbahari Suib admitted that there were a lot of problems in Bakri BN at that time.
"When I first assumed the position as Bakri Umno chief, the component parties here were divided, mainly because of the candidate that was fielded.
"Now, however, the situation has improved tremendously. There is more cooperation among the component parties and the unity shown is very good. Everybody is working hard to ensure that we win back the Bakri seat in the coming election."
He said the division members were committed in giving their full support to the BN candidate nominated to contest the seat.
"Whoever the candidate that is chosen by the prime minister, he will have full support of all BN members in Bakri."
DAP's Er said he would leave it up to the party leadership to decide whether he could defend the seat.
"I would definitely like to defend the seat. I have worked hard to help the voters and it is up to them to decide if I have done enough."
Er said he had done his best to serve his constituents and convey their problems to the government.
"At the moment, I believe 50 per cent of the voters in Bakri are in favour of Pakatan Rakyat and DAP."
Another factor that is likely to influence the outcome of the Bakri seat is the presence of Chua, who was a former MCA vice-president and is now Parti Keadilan Rakyat's (PKR) state chief.
Chua was a five-term member of parliament for Bakri before he was dropped in the last election. He joined the PKR about a year later. But how big an influence does Chua have over his former constituency?
Er said the presence of Chua was a boost as he would help garner support for the opposition. But BN's Saipolbahari dismissed Chua as a factor in the fight for Bakri.
"He was able to win in Bakri because he was a BN candidate, not because people support him personally. I am sure he won't have any influence on who the voters decide to choose," he said.
Saipolbahari also welcomed any move by Chua to make a comeback by contesting in Bakri.
"We know who he is. In the past, we helped him win the seat and now, we know how to topple him."