THEY should have been up in arms against PAS in what was expected to be their final delegates’ meeting before national elections are held.
But missing from the Kuala Terengganu and Kuala Nerus Umno delegates meeting on Friday was the usual fire and brimstone hurled against their traditional foes.
Instead, only veiled references were made towards Pakatan Harapan at large, which is led by former Umno president Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was also in Terengganu over the weekend.
The subtle change in Terengganu Umno signals not only the warming ties between Umno president Najib Razak and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, but gives further weight to suggestions that both Malay-majority parties will work together against PH in the coming elections.
“Any collaboration between Umno and other political parties in the future is best determined by the president. But be it alone or otherwise, Umno remains strong and optimistic, as always,” said Johari, who did not reject the idea of cooperating with PAS.
Johari, who is also the Communications and Multimedia Deputy Minister, told The Malaysian Insight that Umno leaders wanted their grassroots to concentrate on national elections and not on party polls scheduled for December 5-9.
This, however, does little to quash suggestions that Umno and PAS will work together albeit informally during the next elections.
PAS splinter party, Amanah, said that there were rumours that PAS is planning to field candidates in seats they cannot possibly win to create three-cornered battles and hand the advantage to the ruling coalition.
On this score, Johari said the matter will be decided by party president Najib.
During the delegates’ meetings, both division chiefs – Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman (Kuala Nerus) and Mohd Sabri Alwi (Kuala Terengganu) – promised to win all the five seats in their constituency.
The two divisions have the unenviable record of only preserving one seat and losing eight of the 10 state and federal seats to PAS during the last elections. The other state seat, Bandar, fell to PKR’s Azam Ismail.
The only survivor from the 2013 electoral massacre in these two divisions was Terengganu Mentri Besar Ahmad Razif, who kept Seberang Takir under the Kuala Nerus parliamentary constituency.
Seberang Takir, which houses the largest army camp in Terengganu, has never fallen to the opposition.
Johari, nevertheless, said that they were confident of doing better in Terengganu in the next general election.
Umno is targeting all eight federal seats in the state. It currently has four – Hulu Terengganu (Johari), Besut (Idris Jusoh), Setiu (Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh) and Kemaman (Shabery Cheek).
“The opposition will try their luck to gain more state seats, but I believe with our proven track record over the years, voters will be able to see that Umno is their only knight in shining armour,” he added.
Similarly, Kuala Nerus vice-chief Apli Yusoff said the decision on whether to cooperate with PAS is in the hands of the national leaders.
“That is a high-level decision… but we are very close to PAS now. We will abide by the president’s decision,” Apli told The Malaysian Insight.
“But at the grassroots level it is totally different. PAS and Umno have their own hardcore supporters and not all will follow the decisions,” he added.
He also attributed their poor performance in GE13 to internal conflicts.
Since 2008, Terengganu has changed three Mentri Besars, one sparking a conflict between former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the royal palace.
After the 2008 elections, Terengganu Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin had declined to reappoint Abdullah’s pick, Idris Jusoh, for Mentri Besar. Instead, Sultan Mizan appointed Ahmad Said, who had the backing of some Umno assemblymen and all PAS state lawmakers.
The conflict was only resolved on March 26, 2008, a day after Ahmad Said began his duties as Mentri Besar after Abdullah conceded to the palace’s request.
Ahmad Said, however, resigned in 2014 paving the way for Ahmad Razif to replace him as MB. Ahmad Said was reported to have agreed to step down a year after the 2013 General Election.
Similarly, there are rumours that current mentri besar Ahmad Razif will also make way for someone else after GE14.
BN currently holds a slim majority 32-seat Terengganu state assembly with 17 state seats to PAS’ 14 and PKR’s one.