PENANG, Aug 24 — In an effort to ensure a full voter turnout, the Penang government has declared Aug 26, polling day for the crucial Permatang Pauh by-election that could return Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to parliament, a special public holiday.
Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng made the announcement in a press statement today as he pulled out all stops for Anwar, his ally in the nascent Pakatan Rakyat electoral pact that won five states and denied Barisan Nasional its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority in the March 8 general elections.
“The Penang state government has been mulling over the decision ever since the Elections Commission fixed a working day on Tuesday August 26 as polling day in defiance of public opinion that this will reduce the voter turnout,” said Lim, who is also Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general.
The announcement came a day after the Education Ministry declared a special school holiday in Permatang Pauh to allow schools to be used as polling stations. There are 58,459 voters in the constituency in mainland Penang.
“By fixing polling day on a working day and giving such preferential treatment of a special school holiday, the Education Ministry is trying to gain an advantage for a certain party and their candidate,” Lim charged as campaigning in the critical by-election enters its last 48 hours.
“To ensure a level-playing field and fairness to all candidates, the Penang state government has decided to declare August 26, 2008 as a state public holiday,” he noted.
Lim said the special holiday is taken as an additional holiday in the state and need not be replaced by taking away another holiday.
The chief minister urged all voters to turn out to cast their votes on Tuesday.
“The state government requests all factories to assist their workers in Permatang Pauh to carry out their duties to determine not only their choice of wakil rakyat but also decide the destiny of the country.”
Anwar is favoured to easily win the constituency, which he had held between 1982 and 1999 when he was convicted of corruption, as he only faces political lightweight Datuk Arif Shah Omar Shah from Barisan Nasional (BN) and Angkatan Keadilan Insan Malaysia (Akim) president Hanafi Mamat.
His wife Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail retained the seat for three terms before quitting last July for Anwar to return to parliament and try to fulfill his prediction of toppling the BN government by Sept 16.