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The fate of independents in general elections

While the upcoming polls is seeing a 4.5-fold jump in the number of independent candidates, it remains to be seen how they will fare in the race for seats.

Azzman Abdul Jamal
3 minute read
Independent candidate Nur Fathiah Syazwana Shaharudi, popularly known as Cleopatra, canvasses for support in Batu ahead of the Nov 19 election.
Independent candidate Nur Fathiah Syazwana Shaharudi, popularly known as Cleopatra, canvasses for support in Batu ahead of the Nov 19 election.

Attention is turning to the lot of independent candidates, as a grand total of 108 – an increase of 4.5-fold from the last general election – battle it out for support alongside candidates from established parties and coalitions. 

While independents are normally seen as the underdogs in the race for votes, the polls this time around will also see the participation of colourful and influential characters, the faces of whom are familiar to many. 

In the constituency of Batu alone, social media influencer Nur Fathiah Syazwana Shaharudi, popularly known as Cleopatra, will be duking it out for a spot in Parliament, as well as outspoken lawyer-activist Siti Zabedah Kassim, known simply as Siti Kassim.

Abdul Rani Kulup Abdullah, who is known for lodging police reports on issues, is contesting in Port Dickson against Negeri Sembilan Menteri Besar Aminuddin Harun from PKR and actor-director Ahmad Idham Mohd Nazri, representing Pejuang. 

Between the independents and the other candidates from political parties, at least 10 seats will witness seven-way fights or more, with Batu in the limelight with a total of 10 competitors. 

Lawyer-activist Siri Kassim, who is also contesting as an independent in Batu, speaks to customers at an eatery during a walkabout in Sentul. 

There, Cleopatra and Siti Kassim are competing with individuals such as P Prabakaran, the incumbent for the Batu seat, and former PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua. 

But as the campaign period passes the halfway point en route to election day, the question is whether their influence and popularity will be enough to help them beat other candidates who have spent years in the world of politics. 

With the majority of voters expected to cast their ballots along party lines, analysts say independents will have their work cut out for them in winning public support. 

Some have also questioned the sudden appearance of such figures in the election race. 

James Chin of the University of Tasmania in Australia said the election provided a singular opportunity for these people to boost their social media profiles by tapping the publicity of an event that occurs only once every five years. 

Unless they receive the backing of main political parties, he said, independents normally stand little chance of winning an election. 

At the last election in 2018, for example, Prabakaran won the Batu seat with the support of PKR after Tian Chua was disqualified from contesting. 

"Independent candidates actually don't have much chance of winning," Chin said. 

"The truly independent ones will lose their deposits."  

Former PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, who is standing as an independent in Batu after failing to be nominated by his party. 

Cleopatra however is optimistic about her odds, saying every candidate has his or her own influence and edge. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said she had long wanted to venture into politics, brushing off the idea of seeking publicity alone. 

"A lot of people probably don't know that I go back and forth from Batu every day because I have an office here," she said. 

"So of course I know, and have some idea, about what can be done to improve the situation in this area." 

While she has received a lot of support and encouragement so far, she said she had also experienced her share of criticism and insults. 

Nevertheless, she said, this was the journey of every person who intended to make a go of a career in politics. 

"My motivation is to serve the voters, and to move towards a better future for the sake of the future generation, in addition to championing the rights of women," she said. 

"It was an easy decision to make, and I have already laid out a lot of groundwork ahead of the election."