Well, apart from the obvious answer, allow me to suggest a few possible reasons:
- After what happened in Perak, Umno and the BN are not in the mood for elections anywhere. If they were to contest, they could be in for a drubbing after what they have done in Perak.
- Even if Najib’s Perak adventure had not occurred, it is unlikely that Umno could win in Penanti given the erosion in support for the BN since the last general election (even though Malay support for the party may have increased).
- The number four is bad luck for the Chinese! If Umno contests and loses Penanti, that would be its fourth straight by-election defeat since the last general election – a thoroughly demoralising prospect for its leaders and supporters.
- Umno wouldn’t want another local “referendum” on Najib’s leadership. If BN contests and loses, it would be Najib’s third by-election loss in two months since becoming PM and the BN’s fifth defeat since 8 March 2008.
- Penanti falls in Anwar’s stronghold of Permatang Pauh and PKR has some spirited, highly motivated campaigners in the area.
- Pakatan has taught voters to take what’s offered but vote for Pakatan, so the BN’s big money projects and promises won’t be of much help to Umno’s cause.
- Umno is not confident that the MCA and MIC can draw in the Chinese and Indian voters, who together make up a quarter of the electorate in Penanti. The tide has turned against both these minority parties. These days, it is largely Umno vs Pakatan.
- Umno doesn’t want to be seen to be succumbing to Mahathir’s wish for it to contest in Penanti.
- More workers are feeling the pain of the recession and that could spell trouble for the BN.
That leaves the coast clear for Pakatan’s Mansor Othman to romp home.
But wait, Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) has indicated it could field a candidate. It is also possible that the BN could back an independent candidate to test the waters without the coalition ‘losing face’ if he or she loses. Other independents could jump into the fray.
Either way, the BN’s decision has created history: I can’t remember a time when the BN has declined to contest a by-election. And that says a lot for the ruling coalition’s confidence – or rather lack of it – in facing the rakyat today.