#Analysis* Independent MPs to exert less influence in coming general election

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KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 28):  Independent MPs who are looking to play a kingmaker role in the next general election may be left out in the cold instead, say politicians from both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalitions.

Although independent candidates have been a fixture in past elections, a new spotlight is being cast on them amid speculation that their support may be crucial to form the next government should the outcome of the election prove to be too close.

However, Umno’s Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and PKR’s Tian Chua concur that independents are likely to play minor roles as the next general election will see straight fights between BN and PR in most seats.

“Obviously, there will be candidates offering themselves as independents but most of the time they are just spoilers,” says Abdul Rahman, who is the Kota Belud MP.

“There will be some bargaining going on before and after the elections but I believe BN will win with a comfortable majority. We won’t need anyone else to form the government,” Abdul Rahman tells fz.com.

PKR’s Chua on the other hand believes that the kingmakers could come from within BN if the general election results in a hung parliament.

“If the results are close, the likely kingmakers are elements within BN – perhaps individuals or small parties - who could pull out to support the other side.

“They may try to bargain, instead of remaining as backbenchers. I’m not saying this will happen but I certainly don’t rule it out,” says Chua, who is the Batu MP.

Indeed, the close race between BN and Pakatan could leave aspiring independent candidates with limited space in the political battlefield. The possibility of BN representatives swinging the balance of federal power toward the opposition was first raised when Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim talked up the prospects of a “takeover” on Sept 16, 2008.

However, Anwar was ultimately unable to secure enough BN MPs to bring the federal opposition to power.

In contrast, in 2009, three independent Perak state assemblymen were instrumental in bringing BN into power in the state, although the coalition had not secured the most seats at the general election.

This was after the trio left their parties in Pakatan to stand as “BN-friendly independents”.

Complicating candidate lists

Umno’s Abdul Rahman points out that independents have to first get elected before they can play a role in determining which coalition has the most number of parliamentary seats.

In fact, Abdul Rahman says that he does not foresee independents getting many seats at the next general election.

“I also believe that independents will have to make a decision on which coalition they will align with, even if they don’t join a party formally,” Abdul Rahman says.

There are 10 parliamentary seats that are held by independents who have left their respective parties since the last general election in 2008.

These are Padang Serai, Pasir Mas, Bagan Serai, Wangsa Maju, Nibong Tebal, Bayan Baru, Sepanggar, Tawau, Beaufort and Tuaran.

Earlier signs of a brewing “third force” comprising independents have since fizzled out.

Konsensus Bebas -  the official platform for the five MPs who quit PKR in June 2010 – has been inactive while Parti Kita has been stuck in a leadership tussle between its old guard and newcomer Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.

The Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM) named two candidates but they later dissociated themselves from the group, citing disagreement with its chairman, blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin.

Attention is now focused on what Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Angkatan Amanah Merdeka will do at the general election.

Some independents have already associated themselves with the coalition of their choice, proving that these politicians need an

established platform to stand a better chance of getting the popular vote.

Independents MPs like Datuk Ibrahim Ali (Pasir Mas) and Datuk Zulkifli Noordin (Kulim-Bandar Baru) are associated with Umno while Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim (Bayan Baru) has formally joined Umno after leaving PKR.

The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) – which abruptly quit the BN in 2008, and has two parliamentary seats  – is being actively courted by PKR.

As Abdul Rahman reveals, there is intense lobbying within political parties when candidates are chosen for the election, and the party’s high command has to strike a delicate balance among competing interest groups before the party names its choice.

In the midst of this fierce wrangling, it is unlikely that any party would hand over the prized candidacy to an independent.

This puts most independents in a spot given that their best chance at winning lies in either campaigning on a party ticket or standing in a direct fight.

Historically, independent candidates tend to fare poorly in three-cornered fights between established political opponents. The rare exception is if an independent candidate is prominent or well-known locally.

Tan Tee Beng, the independent MP for Nibong Tebal, is looking to contest a state seat in Penang under the BN banner, a calculated decision on his part.

In a three-cornered fight, Tan reckons that he probably will not win but could inadvertently make the BN candidate lose some votes.

“We must look at the bigger picture. If BN and I both want to make DAP lose then it is a matter of coming to a compromise,” says Tan, who has yet to publicly disclose which seat he is eyeing.

Tan is aware that his local popularity in Penang will not help him win as most voters tend to vote for their preferred party rather than solely based on candidates.

The first-term MP concedes that leaving PKR in 2010 to become an independent has earned him a certain amount of negative sentiment but it is something that he has learnt to deal with.

"People call me katak (defector) and attack me saying that I am a troublemaker. But hey, do you want a yes man or do you want someone to speak out?” he asks.

“People want someone who can speak up. People are getting fed up with PR’s empty promises but they are also fed up with BN for not changing after March 8,” Tan says.

Tan, however, rubbishes the idea that independents could be kingmakers in the way that they were after Australia’s elections in 2010.

“In the next round, I think BN will do much better, not because it is strong, but because PR is weaker.

“So if you think you want to be independent and want to be the kingmaker, you don’t dream lah!” Tan exclaims.

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