DESPITE being a hardcore Umno supporter, Salmah Mahmud, 56, from Terengganu stayed home in the 1999 general election. She boycotted the polls that year, angry at Umno over Anwar Ibrahim’s infamous black eye incident.

Should the 14th general election be held any time now, Salmah and her husband will again be boycotting the polls. This time, they are angry with the ruling party and the Terengganu government for failing to control the rising prices of goods.

To Salmah, it is the federal government’s fault for causing price hikes and the higher cost of living – by implementing the goods and services tax (GST) and the weekly fuel prices that fluctuate.

“I am not going to bother voting this time. Let them lose again. Then they will realise what we (the people) are feeling,” she said when met during the Hari Raya Aidiladha qurban ceremony in Marang, the parliamentary seat of PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang.

Because Umno supporters and members like Salmah boycotted the polls in 1999, PAS won Terengganu with a landslide victory, winning 28 seats out of 32. Hadi was made menteri besar.

It was only for one term, as Barisan Nasional regained the state in 2004 but this time, the same sentiments are percolating again.

“We were angry with the Anwar Ibrahim case then. At the same time, many felt Wan Mokhtar had overstayed as MB.  

“We wanted a change because we got bored having the same MB again and again,” she said, referring to Hadi’s predecessor, Wan Mokhtar Ahmad.

Salmah’s sentiments are shared by the Umno machinery in her kampung and others in the state.

Around this time, the Umno machinery, which is strong in the Malay heartland, should be busy organising party programmes in the run-up to GE14.

In the past, Umno would organise bus tours for rural folk to take voters on sightseeing trips to places like Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur.

But currently, with the election to be called any time before August next year, Umno’s activities on the ground do not reflect the party’s readiness to face the polls.

Umno supporters are even hearing talk that Terengganu and Kelantan as well will be handed over to PAS if the two rival parties collaborate with each other in GE14. BN currently holds the 32-seat state assembly with a slim majority of 17 to PAS’ 14 and PKR’s one.

Salmah’s husband, Mokhtarudin Ahmad, who is also an Umno man, said they were all beginning to wonder if there was any truth to these rumours which he said were all over the state.

“Don’t tell me we have to give PAS the state just because Umno wants to work with the Islamist party?”   asked the 60-year-old.

A recent statement by Umno Supreme Council member Annuar Musa that the party will leave the business of negotiating with PAS to party president Najib Razak is bolstering this rumour.

Kuala Nerus Umno vice-chief Apli Yusof agreed that any plan for cooperation with PAS is the prerogative of the national party leadership. But, he said, it will be hard for Umno and PAS hardcore supporters to stomach it because both sides have been fighting each other for too long.

For certain, though, the relationship between the two parties in Terengganu has become friendlier in recent times, he said.

PAS’ Kuala Nerus MP Dr Khairudin Aman Razali was seen in the Menteri Besar Razif Abdul Rahman’s car recently. Razif’s state seat Seberang Takir is in Kuala Nerus.

The picture of the two travelling together went viral on social media, sparking a hot debate between PAS and Umno supporters.

Terengganu Amanah chief Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah is tasked with leading the opposition in wresting the state from Barisan Nasional and PAS at GE14. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, September 4, 2017.
Terengganu Amanah chief Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah is tasked with leading the opposition in wresting the state from Barisan Nasional and PAS at GE14. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Seth Akmal, September 4, 2017.

Amanah the PAS spoiler

Although it controls the state, Terengganu Umno has been weakened by internal conflict which led to its poor performance in the 2013 general election and its slim majority in the state assembly.

The discord has been played out in the shuffling of menteris besar, one sparking a conflict between former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the palace.

After the 2008 elections, Terengganu Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin declined to reappoint Abdullah’s pick, Idris Jusoh, for menteri besar, and instead appointed Ahmad Said, who had the backing of some Umno assemblymen and all PAS state lawmakers.

Ahmad, however, resigned in 2014, paving the way for Razif, the Seberang Takir assemblyman, to replace him as MB. Ahmad’s resignation was reportedly part of an agreement that he steps down a year after the 2013 polls.

Similarly, there are rumours that Razif will also make way for someone else after GE14.

With Terengganu Umno members like Salmah upset at the party, a pact with PAS might not yield the desired result of capturing the state.

The PAS’ official line is that the Islamist party will form a second opposition coalition Gagasan Sejahtera and engage in three-cornered fights against both BN and its former allies in Pakatan Harapan (PH) at GE14.

But PAS in Terengganu will have to face its splinter party, Amanah, which is now part of PH. The state Amanah chief Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah was recently appointed Terengganu PH chairman.

Amanah and its allies, PKR, DAP and Bersatu make up the opposition pact aiming to take over the federal government and several states.

“Some 35% to 40% of PAS’ supporters are now siding with Amanah, even though they have not quit the party,” said a Kuala Nerus-based volunteer for think-tank Invoke in Kelantan and Terengganu.

“If it is true that PAS and Umno will join hands, the percentage of support for Amanah will increase,” he said recently after a Kelantan Amanah election bureau meeting in Gong Badak, Kuala Nerus.

Invoke is now focusing on 45 marginal parliamentary seats around the country, including PAS-controlled Kelantan and Terengganu.

“Amanah supporters remain in PAS because in Terengganu, PAS supporters are fanatics. If they know who among them have joined Amanah, the person will be boycotted, labelled all sorts of nasty names,” he said, explaining why it is difficult to find Amanah supporters in the east coast state.

But Salmah said many from PAS have quietly shifted their support to Amanah, like her own son-in-law who used to be a PAS supporter.

“People with Amanah are silent supporters. It is after we talk to them that we will know that they have left PAS  ,” she said.

Amanah strategy director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said it will not be easy for Amanah and PH to take Terengganu from Umno and PAS as both parties had deep roots in the state.

“It is a tough job but not impossible. Amanah can give PAS a shock,” he said.