IT was past noon and leaders from MCA and Parti Keadilan Rakyat were already experiencing tense moments, worrying what effect a low voter turnout would have on their respective party’s winning chances.
They became more restless upon learning that the turnout only stood at 60.85% at 3pm.
When it climbed to 67.04% an hour later, many silently conceded it impossible to reach anywhere near the 88% turnout achieved in last year’s general election.
True enough, when polling stations closed at 5pm, the Election Commission announced that the voter turnout was 72%, even much lower than the 79.9% recorded in the 2008 general election.
The EC, too, did not see this coming since it had earlier projected a turnout of 80%.
Something is definitely not right as the voter turnout in Kajang was also much lower than in the last two by-elections in Kuala Besut and Sg Limau, which were both in the range of 80-90%.
The lowest voter turnout in by-elections held after the 2008 general election was during the Penanti state by-election, in which BN did not contest, at 46.1%.
Politicians from both sides had cause for worry as they had put in a lot of hours to campaign for their candidates and all of this would have meant little should voters decide not to come out and cast their ballots.
They were also aware that a low turnout would mean fewer votes cast, which also would mean that the votes of those who had stayed away for reasons known to them, could have tipped the balance either way.
The weather was bright and sunny and vote-wooing and campaigning had not stopped throughout the day.
In fact, supporters outside polling stations, like those lining part of Jalan Semenyih outside Kajang High School, even outnumbered the voters, who trickled into the school compound.
Was voter fatigue the reason why eligible electors decided to stay away?
Perhaps voters are not happy that the by-election was engineered by PKR as a tactical move to strengthen the party’s position in Selangor and to use the Kajang polls as a springboard to Putrajaya?
Or was it simply because to them, whoever won would not change the PKR-led state government?
Hopes go unfulfilled
Whatever the real reasons are, PKR president Datin Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s hopes of increasing her winning majority from what was achieved by former assemblyman Lee Chin Cheh went unfulfilled.
This was although the percentage of total votes recorded was higher, giving Pakatan Rakyat leaders bragging rights that the Opposition coalition had been successful in turning the Kajang polls into a referendum on injustice, judicial fraud and extremism.
PKR’s initial analysis of the results showed support for Pakatan Rakyat had increased from 56.8% to 59.5%, which the party attributed to a swing in support from Malay youths.
EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof had dismissed voter fatigue as the cause of the low turnout due to the long period between the seat falling vacant on Jan 27 and polling day.
And while Ibrahim Suffian, from independent pollster Merdeka Centre, believed Umno supporters did not go all out to vote in numbers, another analyst, Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, said protests against the Kajang Move could be a reason.
”Maybe some voters did not feel it was important to vote since the outcome does not in any way change the state government.
“Those who reside outside Kajang also did not return to vote,” said the academician from Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang.
A Selangor-based Chinese community leader, who attended public rallies organised by both BN and Pakatan Rakyat, did not rule out the possibility that the fence-sitters had opted not to vote.
He believed some were fed up with the unusual aggressive campaigning by both sides.
Voters could be bored with too much politicking during the 12-day campaign period.
This could hold true since only 70% of Malaysian voters are traditionally categorised as “committed voters” who would cast their votes by any means possible because they were either members or supporters of political parties taking part in the election.
The remaining 30% are fence-sitters who vote based on issues and personal experiences. Under normal circumstances, they are less eager to participate in the electoral process.
There is also the element of political alienation where voters feel they are powerless and meaningless, not fully understanding the value or importance of their vote in an election.
All these had attributed to Wan Azizah having to contend with a reduced majority — 5,379 votes in the straight fight with MCA vice-president Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun.
Wan Azizah garnered 16,741 votes to Chew’s 11.362.
In last year’s general election, PKR’s Lee Chin Cheh won the Kajang seat with a comfortable 6,824-vote majority in a 6-cornered fight against BN’s Lee Ban Seng and four independents.
Lee won 57% of all votes. He resigned without giving a good reason, triggering the by-election in the constituency of 39,278 registered voters, with Malays making up 48%, followed by the Chinese at 41% and Indians at 10%.