16 April, 2009

The sixth by election - Penanti

Embattled Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin, who quit as the Penang deputy chief minister 1 last week after allegations of graft, today resigned his Penanti state seat.

His resignation will lead to a by-election within 60 days in Penanti, which is under Anwar's Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency.

It is learnt that Penang PKR chief and Bayan Baru MP Datuk Zahrain Mohamed Hashim is the frontrunner to contest the by-election. The other candidate is deputy state PKR chief Dr Mansor Othman, who was recently named as one of two senators from Penang.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who has yet to name a replacement for Fairus, was not available for comment.

The Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) picked up Fairus on March 26 at the Causeway and questioned him for three hours before releasing him. Lim and his other deputy, Professor Dr P. Ramasamy, gave their statements to the MACC on April 6.

The MACC said it has completed its investigations and has handed over the findings to its prosecution division but Fairus has yet to be charged with any offence.

By and large, the initial reaction to the announcement of the sixth by-election in less than a year was one of bemusement. While the excitement was high for the first five, especially given the high stakes involved, the reaction this time was one more of cynical amusement with one political party worker saying that the situation has become like a circus.

"By and large, there is fatigue among voters," says Ibrahim Suffian, chief of opinion research firm Merdeka Centre. However, he says that this by-election is notable as it could be the first where a state assembly representative has resigned on account of integrity issues.

While PKR is expected to have the advantage of incumbency and the seat lies within the parliamentary constituency represented by Anwar, who is also the opposition leader, Ibrahim does not foresee an easy win for PKR as it is a Malay-majority seat which PKR lost in 2004. "PKR doesn't do well with Malay voters, and this is a Malay district which they have lost before in 2004."

This by-election then is expected to be a test of Pakatan Rakyat's popularity with the Malays.

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