IT has been 27 years since Barisan Nasional lost Kelantan but the ruling federal coalition believes that three-cornered fights in the next elections could win it the Malay heartland as it did nearly 40 years ago.
BN’s dominant partner Umno is confident of retaking the state it lost in 1990 after news that PAS wants to cut ties with its last ally, PKR and the emergence of PAS splinter party Parti Amanah Negara.
“We can make it this time. PAS’s weaknesses are showing. The party is split. That’s why there is Amanah today.
“The people in Kelantan are also looking at things differently with Nik Aziz gone. His death itself has weaken PAS. The situation in Kelantan is not the same any more,” BN’s Paloh assemblyman Nozula Mat Diah said, referring to the late spiritual leader and menteri besar Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
Many in Kelantan were no longer confident of PAS, which had promised development in the state but failed to deliver, Nozula told The Malaysian Insight in state capital, Kota Baru.
“Take the flood victims, for example. That problem is not solved. If you look at the state’s development, administration and management, you can see things are not in order.”
Nozula said PAS had failed to look into the welfare of the people to the extent of needing federal funds of RM740 million since 2005 for the state administration.
“It is as if the state government is unable to generate new revenue. It is time for them to take their leave,” he said.
His and other Kelantan Umno leaders’ optimism is not without reason as the state PAS has been fractured since the death of the popular Nik Aziz in 2015. Coupled with a leadership fallout within PAS, the party has lost members and leaders to splinter party Amanah.
And with Amanah in the fray and showing no signs of working out any compromises with PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, three-cornered fights in Kelantan are inevitable.
BN is eyeing 30 state seats and all the parliamentary seats, except for Kota Baru, Pengkalan Chepa and Kubang Kerian. Additionally, BN thinks it can grab Bachok, Pasir Putih and Kuala Krai. They now hold Jeli, Tanah Merah, Machang, Ketereh and Gua Musang.
Rantau Panjang Umno division chief Abdullah Mat Yasin agreed with Nozula about BN’s chances in taking back Kelantan by winning 30 state seats.
He said Umno had predicted that Nik Aziz’s death would cause PAS to split because more PAS members respected the deceased leader than the current president Hadi.
“Because of this split (with Amanah), many Kelantanese feel they have no other party to rely on, but BN,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Pengkalan Pasir assemblyman Hanafi Mamat said Kelantanese have also warmed up to BN because they could see that the coalition was more capable of looking after their welfare.
“People are fed-up and tired with PAS. They have ruled for more than two decades and yet there is still no serious effort to develop the state’s economy and solve logging and environmental issues.”
He also believes that three-cornered fights would help BN win big in Kelantan.
In the 1978 state elections, BN with the aid of Berjasa stopped PAS from extending its rule in Kelantan for a fifth term by creating three-cornered fights in the state.
As part of the strategy then, Umno fought one-on-one against PAS in 12 of its “safe” seats and won 11 while Berjasa took on PAS in its own strongholds and managed to win 11 out of the 12 seats they contested in.
In the remaining 12 “grey” seats, Umno and Berjasa created three-cornered fights against PAS to win all the seats.
The final score was BN 23, Berjasa (11) and PAS (two). BN and Berjasa combined to form the state government with their total of 34 seats in the 36-man legislative assembly.
On the Nik Aziz factor, Hanafi did not think the leader’s passing would play such a big part in swinging votes back to Umno, as much as PAS’s own internal woes that had led to the departure of many of its leaders.
“We have always been optimistic. With or without Nik Aziz in Kelantan, BN is capable of taking the state back. What we see now is a weak state government. The people are no longer putting their hopes in the state government to improve their lives.”
Wary of a ‘worldly Umno’
However, Umno Kelantan’s confidence in recapturing Kelantan was not shared by two locals. While they readily admit that Kelantan is far behind the BN states in terms of development, but they were still willing to pick PAS over Umno.
“In Islam, we must follow the leader. And I will support the party that is more religious and can bring us closer to Islam,” said Mohamad Alawi Md Nor.
“As a Kelantanese I will still support PAS as Umno’s objectives are different. Umno is also Islam but its objectives are more worldly,” the 47-year-old told The Malaysian Insight.
On Kelantan’s backwardness, Alawi said that it was a given as PAS lacked the funds to develop the state.
“It’s true that the state lacks money. But isn’t Umno (as the federal government) responsible for giving money to PAS? As the opposition, where can PAS get sufficient money to develop the state?”
The Bachok native said that emergence of Parti Bersatu Pribumi Malaysia and Amanah was inconsequential as Kelantanese only recognised two parties – Umno and PAS.
“We want the federal government to help us. But we will accept PAS as the state government no matter how they pressure us,” said Alawi.
For 23-year-old Nik Shafiq Al Amir, PAS is still the party to beat in Kota Baru.
“BN wants to take Kelantan? Will we be more developed then?” asked Nik Shafiq when met in Kota Baru recently.
“I’m not sure about development but our support for PAS (ever since Nik Aziz’s days) is still very strong despite the federal government raising issues, such as deforestation and how flood victims didn’t get sufficient aid from the state.”
He said although there’s talk about how Amanah has fractured PAS, it was a small matter.
“If there’s any effect, it’s only a little. I have lived here all my life and I don’t think Umno can retake Kelantan just yet.”