DESPITE the numbers painting a sad tale for Amanah in the northeastern state of Terengganu, the PAS splinter party remains optimistic that it can lead the opposition Pakatan Harapan to capture the Malay heartland in the next elections.
Amanah’s Terengganu chapter is made up of only some 15% of former PAS members in the state, and a recent survey by the Institut Darul Ehsan (IDE) showed that the party will only be able to win 2% of the vote in a state where PAS and Umno have traded power since Merdeka.
The task will no doubt be daunting, said the party’s state chairman Raja Bahrin Shah, who admits that the two-year-old party is squeezed between two giants – Islamist hardliners PAS and the ruling Umno.
“The numbers are misleading as many voters prefer to be discreet in their support for PH,” said Raja Bahrin, leading him to tag PH as the “undercover” coalition.
“The reason for this fear of open support is the political culture and history in Terengganu that has led many PAS members who are unhappy with the party leadership to refrain from openly supporting Amanah or Bersatu.”
Raja Bahrin said he has encountered many PAS members who are afraid of joining or supporting Amanah openly, fearing that they would be tagged as infidels.
Terengganu is the birthplace of the infamous “Amanat Hadi” in the 1980s, where the PAS president, Abdul Hadi Awang, divided Muslims into those who supported PAS and those who supported Umno. The former were deemed “true Muslims” whereas the latter were labelled as “infidels”.
After several PAS leaders broke rank with the party leadership and set up Amanah, the reaction from PAS supporters towards those who had joined the splinter party was harsh, said Raja Bahrin.
Apart from being labelled as traitors, some were ostracised from community events, leading many to liken the split to the division of the Malays in the 1980s.
“This has caused some supporters, and many leaders and even PAS lawmakers who are supporting Amanah, to fear joining Amanah openly, even until now,” he said.
To increase the visibility of the party and embolden more PAS members to support Amanah, the party has been sending a strong message in its roadshows – it is here to replace PAS, and lead the opposition pact to replace BN.
Raja Bahrin said his team has been tirelessly conducting campaigns to talk about the party and its ideals, making weekly visits to markets and other public places.
“The last nine months have revealed a big change for Amanah. We are now being approached openly.”
Amanah’s challenges in Terengganu are mirrored by Bersatu, which is coming facing an Umno government in control of everything, from the village heads to the awarding of contracts.
Hambali Abdul Latif, secretary of Terengganu’s Bersatu, said while PAS uses the method of labelling and ostracising those who do not join its cause, Umno hits defectors by removing political positions and even cancelling government contracts.
“Many Umno supporters are tied to government contracts and hold positions in their villages. So, they are afraid to join Bersatu openly,” said Hambali.
As a result, many Bersatu supporters have remained in Umno, he said.
However, both Hambali and Raja Bahrin have expressed optimism that a substantial percentage of Umno and PAS supporters will choose Bersatu and Amanah in the next general election, especially those in urban constituencies.
Raja Bahrin said the eventuality of three-cornered fights in the state might also give Amanah an edge it needs to garner votes.
“In the context of Terengganu, a three-cornered fight is not as bad as everyone thinks. We (Amanah) can pull votes from PAS members and Bersatu can win over Umno votes,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Raja Bahrin said the people on the ground were ready for change, and that all PH needed to do was to prove that it is united and to convince the voters to give the coalition a chance at taking over.
He said the sentiment on the ground was different from the last election in 2013, citing the rising cost of living which was a burden to the people of Terengganu as a major factor leading to the rejection of BN.