UMNO campaigners in the Tg Piai by-election are slowly but surely coming to terms with having to work for Barisan Nasional’s MCA candidate Wee Jeck Seng, said the party’s division chief.
Jeffridin Atan, who had eyed the seat at one time, said there was some initial unhappiness among Umno members when they found out that the candidate will be from another party.
“But after a lot of explaining, the uneasiness has lessened,” Jeffridin told The Malaysian Insight.
“I needed a couple days to convince them that it was a good move to field an MCA candidate in this by-election.”
Before the nominations were announced, Tg Piai Umno had hoped that BN would pick a candidate from among its ranks. BN, however, decided to let MCA defend the seat with two-time former MP Wee instead.
Jeffridin said support could be seen from the improved turnout at BN ceramah and volunteers at voting stations.
The support of Umno voters is crucial to ensure BN snatches the seat from Pakatan Harapan.
Voting for the by-election, which was called after the death of Bersatu’s Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, is on November 16.
In the last general election, Farid upset Wee by 524 votes. He polled 21,255 votes to the MCA man’s 20,731 in a three-cornered fight. Nordin Othman of PAS polled 2,962 votes.
The constituency has 53,528 voters, with 57% Malays, 42% Chinese and Indians making up the rest.
The seat was created in 2004 and was held by MCA until the GE14. Among its incumbents are former MCA president Ong Ka Ting.
Jeffridin said BN is counting on PAS support although one of the Gagasan Sejahtera component parties, Berjasa, is also contesting in the six-cornered contest.
“PAS’ stand is quite clear as secretary-general Takiyudin Hassan said the party is not backing Berjasa.
“And we are confident of PAS’ support after the party said it is backing the MCA candidate,” he said.
Prior to GE14, PAS banded with Berjasa to form a third coalition called Gagasan Sejahtera.
A Johor Baru Umno volunteer, who identified himself as Osman, said he knows how important it is for Wee to win so that BN can maintain its momentum against PH, which he felt was in decline after its high from GE14 last year.
“We meet as many voters as we can even though the candidate is from MCA. At the end of the day, Umno is still the head of BN. A victory for MCA is a win for BN,” said Osman, when met at the Kukup Laut area.
He said that Wee is an easy candidate to sell as many voters are used to him as he was a two-term MP here.
Not sidelining non-Muslims
Wee’s candidacy is more important in recapturing Tg Piai as it can show that BN, despite working with PAS, is not sidelining non-Muslims, the grassroots were told.
Since the start of the by-election campaigning on November 2, Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan and party adviser Najib Razak have gone to the ground stressing the importance of Wee’s win here to members.
Penerok Umno volunteer Johari Shuib, 58, said the grassroots understood a win for Wee was important to BN as a whole.
“We are not just voting for Wee but we are voting for BN. Wee is just a bridge to the rest of Malaysia,” said Johari.
Wee’s ability to give quarterly aid to 500 poor families in the area has been effective and will go a long way for the MCA leader.
“He doesn’t just give rice, cooking oil and other necessities but he also brings doctors in to help them with their ailments.”
Another Umno volunteer, who declined to be identified, said that many in the area were indebted to Wee.
“There was one time when eight fishing boats were stolen. Wee asked for a month’s time to find a solution but before the month was up, eight new boats were brought in.
“The local folk really appreciated that.”