The opposition's shock defeat in the Teluk Intan by-election on Saturday could be distilled to this: Gerakan boss Mah Siew Keong of the ruling coalition is best placed to bring development as a future federal minister to the bustling agricultural town.
Datuk Mah, a lawyer who grew up in Teluk Intan in Perak state, had been a familiar and popular face to the locals of the town.
However, say analysts, it was the sudden announcement by Prime Minister Najib Razak last Thursday of Mr Mah's promotion to the Cabinet which sealed the deal for them.
"The PM's promise was definitely the clincher," said Mr Ibrahim Suffian, who heads the Merdeka Centre opinion research firm.
He said the opposition had based much of its strategy on issues of a national but abstract nature - like good governance and transparency - in a semi-urban seat that looked more for infrastructure and economic development, based on resources that the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) could easily afford.
With a Cabinet minister, the town of 120,000 people would have a direct link to the federal government, as the government of Perak state is also BN-led.
"The voters voted on a practical choice, and the BN could offer to do more for them," said Mr Ibrahim.
But the opposition Democratic Action Party's (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng has a different take. "The voters were intimidated by the threats of development politics in withholding development that can be provided by a Cabinet minister," he said in a statement yesterday.
The veteran Mr Mah, with 20 years in politics, beat rookie outsider Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud of the DAP by 238 votes to retake the seat last held by BN in 2008.
He polled 20,157 votes to her 19,919 votes.
BN's win increased its seats in the Parliament to 134, while the opposition now has 88 seats.
Mr Mah, 53, was the Member of Parliament for Teluk Intan after winning the federal seat in the 1999 and 2004 general elections. He lost in the last two general polls in 2008 and last year to DAP candidates by narrow margins.
Analysts say low numbers of outstation voters coming back to vote reduced support for the DAP.
This, they say, tends to happen in by-elections as their results are not significantly advantageous for either side in Parliament. The turnout this time at 66.67 per cent was far lower than last year's 80.4 per cent.
"Perhaps because Dyana is new, a woman, young and the first Malay parliamentary candidate for Teluk Intan from the DAP, she is not fully accepted by all three races," said Mr Lim.
Ms Dyana was widely considered an experiment for the DAP to expand its reach to the young voters, especially among the Malays.
"It was to prep the ground for future elections and improve the party's image among young Malays," Mr Ibrahim said.
He dismissed the recent hudud, or Islamic penal code, issue and Ms Dyana's family links to the conservative Malay group Perkasa as factors for the loss.
"I think the main factor was Mah's strengths as a candidate and what the BN could do to address local issues," he said.
DAP's head of election strategy, Dr Ong Kian Ming, pointed to problems affecting the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat, including disagreement over the hudud issue. "There is no guarantee that these problems will not escalate leading up to the next general election and if so, many voters may choose not to come back to vote," he said in a statement yesterday.
This article was first published on June 2, 2014.
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