PADANG SERAI: Intermittent showers did not deter thousands of Perikatan Nasional (PN) supporters on the streets leading to the Kulim Hi-Tech Park Sports Complex yesterday evening, as they eagerly awaited the results of the Padang Serai parliamentary election.
Cheering and loud sounds of trumpets and honking could be heard, as if fans were celebrating World Cup 2022 victories.
At 10.52pm, the crowd erupted in loud cheers followed by the shouts of "takbir" when the Election Commission's returning officer officially announced that PN candidate Datuk Azman Nasrudin had wrested the seat from Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Azman, who is also the Lunas assemblyman, triumphed in the six-cornered battle with a majority of 16,260 votes, ending PH's dominance in the past three general elections since 2008.
The victory extended PN's grip on Kedah.
Both Azman and Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor claimed that PN's victory in Padang Serai was the people's "referendum" in rejecting the PH-Barisan Nasional pact (BN) in the federal government.
Azman also claimed that people had shown their objection against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's move to appoint BN chairman Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi — who was still facing graft trials — as deputy prime minister.
While PN leaders are harping on this narrative, fallen opponents expressed their concern over the use of politics of fear in PN's campaign.
PH candidate Dr Mohamad Sofee Razak said while he respected the Padang Serai voters' decision, it was an unfair contest.
"PN was riding on racial and religious sentiment to stoke fear among Malay voters in the rural areas.
"PN leaders are using racial and religious issues to poison the minds of Undi18 (first-time voters aged 18 and above), that there are imminent threats to the Malays and Islam in this country," he said.
He warned that the "poison" sowed by PN leaders in the minds of young voters would be passed down to future generations.
His concern was shared by Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) candidate Hamzah Abdul Rahman.
"I respect the decision of the voters in Padang Serai. However, I'll be honest. We should be concerned about the future of our country with PN's victory.
"There were indeed elements of racism and hatred throughout their campaign.
"If we want our country to prosper, we cannot simply keep having this sort of political narrative."
He claimed that PN was slowly morphing into what Umno used to be — an "evil" party — as alleged by Pejuang chairman and former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Kedah Umno information chief Datuk Shaiful Hazizy Zainol Abidin echoed their sentiment.
"PN had ridden on the wave of narratives that carried racist, narrow-minded religious sentiments which instilled fear in the community," he said in a statement.
Shaiful also disputed PN leaders' claim that their victory in Padang Serai was a signal of the people's rejection of the PH-BN cooperation.
"The defeat in Padang Serai is not an absolute indication of the public's rejection of PH and BN's political cooperation because this pact has delivered victory for the Tioman state seat.
"Compared to the Tioman polls, the announcement on the PH-BN pact in Padang Serai was done quite late and this might be a factor which caused confusion to voters."
Shaiful said PH's defeat in Padang Serai should be accepted with open arms.
He added that the parties should accept the fact that there was a pattern of transition to PN.
"We have to accept the Padang Serai parliamentary election results as a lesson to analyse our weaknesses, improve and formulate effective strategies to rise again and regain the people's trust, ahead of the Kedah state election next year.
"This is the best time to re-evaluate our strengths and ensure the synergy between the component parties in the unity government is maximised.
"A thorough study needs to be conducted to pinpoint the reason behind the rejection of BN in Kedah," he said.