WITH voting just a day away, Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders have expressed confidence that its candidate in the Malacca by-election will score a big win.
The by-election in the Chinese- majority district of Machap has been touted as a gauge of the community's voting sentiment, but the opposition seems to have been struggling to make headway, said observers.
'The opposition parties are at their wits' end struggling to raise local issues, but there is none for them to capitalise on,' Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who is spearheading the BN campaign, said on Sunday.
'I am confident Barisan will achieve its target of retaining the seat with a higher majority.'
The Machap state seat, with 9,623 voters, fell vacant when Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) assemblyman Poh Ah Tiam, 55, died recently of kidney failure.
Datuk Poh won the seat in 2004 with a strong 63.9 per cent majority, beating opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) candidate Liou Chen Kuang.
The voters will decide tomorrow, after a nine-day campaign, whether to pick the MCA's Lai Meng Chong or Mr Liou, who is standing again.
The MCA is the largest Chinese political party and is a member of the ruling BN, a coalition of 14 parties led by Umno.
The by-election comes at a time when the Chinese community is said to be unhappy with the slower economy and amid running controversies over race and religion.
About 45.6 per cent of Machap's 9,623 voters are Chinese, with 38.3 per cent Malays, 15.3 per cent Indians and 0.7 per cent other races.
But small-town elections are often decided by bread-and-butter issues, not national ones.
Machap, although just 30km from Malacca town, is a rural constituency. Most of its residents are farmers or owners of small businesses.
'DAP is not going to win, that is for sure. So the important thing is how many votes it can get,' independent political analyst James Wong told the malaysiakini online news site. 'It will serve to indicate the trend leading up to the general election.'
BN leaders have been going around speaking about continued development for the district and the country.
To raise Chinese voters' interest, the DAP has been showing a video clip of comments made by an Umno MP several months ago that those who do not like living in Malaysia should leave - an indirect reference to the Chinese community.
The DAP has also been distributing pamphlets on speeches made at the last Umno general assembly which it claimed smacked of racialism.
'The response to our political talk and house-to-house campaign has been positive. Although it is difficult to know whether it will translate into votes, the response is better than that of the 2004 general election,' said DAP Youth election strategist Liew Chin Tong.
Responding, Datuk Seri Najib said yesterday that speeches by 'one or two individuals' do not reflect the BN's stand and cannot be used as a yardstick.
In a speech yesterday, Datuk Seri Najib said: 'We cannot be emotional. We must use cool heads to better ensure our future.'
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, BERNAMA