PONTIAN: A long, hot week has passed here in Tanjung Piai, and the seaside town is abuzz with morning market walkabouts, kopitiam forums and “war truck” ceramah.
Seven days in, party workers are still putting up flags, banners and posters of red and blue — the two main contenders in the by-election here — as both parties undoubtedly try to outgun each other for the vacant parliamentary seat.
Word is that top guns from Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional will head down to Tanjung Piai this weekend, in hopes of garnering support for their candidates.
Just days ago, veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang made his first appearance in Kampung Penerok, albeit to a small crowd of just under 100.
Several kilometres away, Barisan Nasional held a mega ceramah that same night. The mega ceramah saw the attendance of Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong and Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, representing one half of the Umno-Pas nexus or Muafakat Nasional.
BN’s event was a stark difference to that of DAP’s, pulling a large crowds of all creeds.
Although many believe that BN will win this by-election, sentiments point to PH candidate Karmaine Sardini being on a level playing field with BN candidate Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng.
Karmaine, who is Tanjung Piai Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) division chief, has his own followers and a strong grassroots support, reinforced by a hardworking party machinery.
From the get-go, Karmaine also had the backing of PPBM’s leaders, who are confident that he would help retain the seat.
Even so, something seems lacking in his campaign trail.
The media fraternity here has trouble tracking him down, with his ever-changing schedules. When he does appear, he spends less than five minutes, poses for a photo or two, and then hurriedly leaves for another venue.
The presence of veteran party leaders, too, had yet to give Karmaine the much-needed boost.
At his first organised press conference yesterday with PPBM president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, he did not utter a single word. After several days of campaigning, his quiet demeanour begs the question: Can Karmaine take the heat?
To be ahead of the race, the 66-year-old needs to make himself known as the man worthy to fill the shoes of the late Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, who had grand plans for the constituency.
Karmaine must make an official pledge to voters that he would continue Dr Farid’s work, as promised in the 14th General Election, and as urged by PPBM Kepala Batas division chief Azlina Mehtab Mohd Ishaq.
Johoreans are not known to simply follow “sentiments”.
They vote based on what the candidate in their constituency can offer. A case in point was former Umno member Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad, who left the party in 1988, vacating his Johor Baru parliamentary seat.
He recontested in the by-election as an independent and won 64 per cent of the votes in a three-cornered fight.
Johor Baru voters knew the type of parliamentarian he was, the work that he had done, and his ability to fulfil his promises to his constituents.
The people of Tanjung Piai have known Jeck Seng for at least 15 years. The MCA hopeful had previously served as Pekan Nanas assemblyman for one term, and Tanjung Piai member of parliament for two.
Think tank Institut Darul Ehsan in a survey found that any win in this by-election would be marginal. Last year, Dr Farid wrested the seat from Jeck Seng with a slim 524-vote majority.
Indeed, it would be a tough battle to win for PH and Karmaine, who have a lot to prove not just to Tanjung Piai voters, but to all Malaysians. If PH is serious about winning this seat and wants to put an end to rumours of infighting, now is the time to send its bigwigs not just from PPBM, but other component parties as well.
As for Karmaine, the long road ahead of him should not be a lonely journey. To emerge victorious in this six-way battle, he will need to really put himself out there, up the ante and use all available machinery to its best.