As we wait eagerly for the results of the Permatang Pasir by-election to come in tonight, it strikes me that a by-election gives us the best chance to understand the local geography and the delineation of the political constituency.
For instance, if not for Permatang Pasir, I would not have understood that for a short distance, Jalan Muthu Palaniappan in Bukit Mertajam is actually the southern boundary of this state constituency. I've been travelling along this main road almost daily for more than four years and did not realise it until I saw the flags, banners and buntings of the political parties strewn across the road. So here I was, skirting the edge of Permatang Pasir.
No wonder that there is such a heavy police presence here during the past week. Burly policemen and scrawny policemen on their big motorcycles or standing at road junctions and trying not to look silly with their face masks. I'm sure they are bored most of the time, standing around and doing nothing. There were also some who thought that they could do something useful by directing traffic. Stupid fellas....methinks they actually contributed more to traffic congestion than helping out.
No wonder too that this state constituency had a considerable non-Malay population. Originally, I had believed that Permatang Pasir was almost a rural area but now, seeing how the constituency physically cuts into urbanised Bukit Mertajam, I can understand why the demographic make-up of this place is 72 percent Malays, 25.7 percent Chinese, 1.2 percent Indians and 0.2 percent Others.
How will the results turn out tonight? Personally, I think PAS will still win this constituency but with a smaller majority. In 2004, the Chinese looked like they voted for BN but in 2008, they chose PAS. I think in this by-election, the majority of the Chinese will still side with PAS. So the real big fight will still be between PAS and UMNO to win the Malay votes. However, seeing how UMNO had wounded itself with its choice of tainted candidate, I cannot see PAS losing unless the voters had been lured by UMNO's promises of development in their little kawasans. But then, this is all my silly prediction as I really do not know the political temperature on the ground.
On Sunday, I took a short trip into the Chinese area of Permatang Pasir. Kampung Paya, I think this place is called. Or it could be Tanah Liat. Anyway, I took this short cut from Jalan Muthu Palaniappan to Berapit, by-passing the traffic in Bukit Mertajam town, and the road took me across some vegetable smallholdings and one or two sawmills. The place is incongruously more rural compared to the bustle from Bukit Mertajam, which was a stone's throw away.
One clear sign was the amount of money poured into the political campaign. The UMNO money machine was very well greased: big banners, buntings and billboards. I couldn't miss the message: "see how rich we are and how rich you can be if you vote Barisan."
By comparison, the PAS campaign looked modest with their unity theme, and their banners were much simpler, sincere and less sophisticated.