PAS despite its courtship with UMNO will without doubt take on the latter in the 14th general election. PAS has been imprudently yapping at DAP thinking that the Malays will back the party with this stance. Little do they realise that their perpetual political enemy is Umno and not DAP. The next general election will see PAS contesting against Umno in Terengganu, not DAP.

For the past 60 years, Umno has at all times become PAS’ political arch-rival in the State of Terengganu. Since Merdeka, PAS had only won twice in the state but failed to hold on to power for more than five years in each of their wins.  

The state Government formed by PAS after the general election in 1959 was turned over to the Alliance Party (Perikatan) in November 1961, due to a vote of no confidence in the State Assembly and the fact that two PAS assemblymen switched parties. Then in 1999 PAS again formed the state Government only to lose the state to Umno (Barisan Nasional- BN) in the 2004 general election.

Not going to be plain sailing for PAS

In the 2013 general election, Umno (BN) won 17 of the 32 state seats.  PAS won 14 and PKR 1. Numerically Umno (BN) garnered 5,237,699 (50.87%) votes compared to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) 5,623,984 (47.38%). It was a vote decrease of 4.01% for BN and an increase of 3.08% for PR as compared to the 2008 general election – BN losing 7 seats and PR gaining 7.

PAS at the time was perceived as a modest Islamic party when it became part of the PR coalition – working together harmoniously with PKR and DAP.  The slogan then was “PAS for ALL” and the issue of hudud was never made their manifesto. Even when no candidate contested in the state election, DAP party loyalists campaigned for PAS especially in constituents where there were a sizeable number of Chinese voters.

However, the next general election is not going to be plain sailing for PAS anymore if the party decides to go on its own.  What more, PAS has discarded its “PAS for ALL” slogan and has injudiciously put hudud as one of their ultimate goals.   This has pissed off not only the non-Muslim voters but also the highly cultured and sagacious Malay-Muslims.

Out of 17 seats won by Umno (BN) in 2013, 13 procured more than 50% votes.  Umno may again be safe in these 13 seats if it is going to be one-to-one contests and unfavourable national issues are not factored in. A three-cornered contest – Umno, PAS and Pakatan Harapan (PH) will see votes riven and Umno can still win these seats if PH cannot make waves in this state.  

Supporters of PAS are clueless

With PAS going on its own and the Opposition votes split when PH joins in the fray, 7 PAS (PR) incumbent seats that were won with very slim majority in 2013 will no more be safe for the party. In all probability, PAS will lose these seats – Teluk Pasu (109), Rantau Abang (141), Tepuh (229), Manir (588), Bukit Payung (613) Alur Limbat (645), Bukit Tunggal (652) and Ladang (924).

PAS (PR) too won seats in constituents where there were a significant number of Chinese voters – Sura (9%), Ladang (8%), Bandar (36%), Chukai (14%), Paka (5%) and Alur Limbat (3%).  The likelihood is that PAS will also lose these seats as the party now may not get the support of Chinese voters.  

At this moment, PAS is seen ingratiating Umno, and vice versa. Supporters of these two parties are quite clueless as what their parties’ ultimate goal is going to be. If it’s going to be an understanding to form an Umno-PAS alliance for the next general election, the former has to be benevolent enough to share with PAS the 32 state assembly seats – probably with Umno agreeably contesting 16 and PAS 16.

In the event of Umno winning more seats, the party will without doubt vouch for an Umno  menteri  besar (MB). The same goes with PAS. In the case of both winning 16 seats each, they may need to “toss a coin” to decide on who should be the MB. It will be brouhaha, as PAS has unabashedly made a firm stand that in any political alliance involving the party, it has to lead.  Umno will certainly not condone this stand of PAS.

Also, there are bound to be scrimmages in the appointment of executive council members, resulting in unrelenting bickering, conflicts and dissatisfaction. The pre-election alliance even if it materialises will in all likelihood break up prematurely.

Umno-PAS alliance versus PH

In an Umno-PAS alliance scenario, the contest will then be Umno-PAS versus PH.  PH may have the chance to win in Terengganu provided the new coalition can make its presence felt in the state and field accomplished candidates against the alliance.  

Umno and PAS are of late seen to be wooing Malay-Muslim votes by resorting to petty racial and religious agenda and this will push away Chinese as well as many liberal and educated Malay votes.  Their lost will be PH’s gain.

Some of the national issues involving Umno leadership will also be detrimental to the image of Umno in Terengganu.  The many issues affecting the nation will have a strong bearing on the urban and not the rural electorate.  Unbridled corruption, 1MDB and SRC debacles, high costs of living, rumbling rhetoric on race and religion, crime, illegal immigrants, lack of integrity among leaders, lack of educational and job opportunities, among others will cause Umno(BN) to lose votes.

The adverse impacts of these issues on the nation, however, are hard to be understood by the rural voters. Race and religion are still the issues that Umno and PAS will exploit on in the rural constituents.  

PAS nonetheless is already split where many of its supporters disappointed with the party’s struggle have left to join Amanah. These are supporters who are disillusioned with its incumbent president’s present political stand.  There is also a split in Umno when PPBM (BERSATU) is formed.

Those unhappy with PAS may vote for Amanah (PH), PAS may not get the Chinese votes this time – votes that significantly helped PAS (PR) win at least 8 seats in the urban and semi-urban constituents and other marginal seats in previous general election. Chinese votes this time around may go to PH.

Umno may have a strategy to win over their factious teams in the party. This is by not fielding the incumbent MB for a state seat.  Umno may push for a young, educated and neutral candidate for the post of MB after the next general election.  If this comes about, Umno may continue to get a sizeable support from its loyal followers. Furthermore, Umno has at least 13 relatively safe state seats to bank on in a one-to-one contest with PAS. It only needs another 4 seats to win with a simple majority.

An electoral understanding between PAS and PH

No matter what, in a three-cornered fight votes will be split between PAS, Umno and PH. The biggest loser will be PAS, and the next will be PH – being a new coalition that has yet to have a strong base in Terengganu. In this party-political set-up, Umno can still triumph in the state.

If there is an electoral understanding between PH and PAS just before the general election, perhaps under the sway and inspiration of Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man – PAS’ deputy president, Umno will face a daunting task to face the opposition onslaught.  The strategy would then be a one-to-one contest.

There are seats in Terengganu that have a significant number of Chinese voters and the urban seats where PH should be allowed to contest. Let the Malay majority constituents be challenged between PAS and Umno.  The state will then see a much expected two-cornered fights and Umno can be defeated hands down.

It’s never too late for PAS to realise this if they have any inkling of making a dent on Umno power in the state. But they have to first learn to accommodate political and ideological differences by showing a pragmatic approach to Islam to appease the electorate and work together with PH on a common political framework.

Even if PAS (with their new-found mosquito parties) decides to take on Umno on a one-to-one fight without PH fielding any candidates, the former will not win. They may even lose all seats they have won marginally in the last general election, as many PAS supporters and fence sitters are thwarted with PAS’s stand today under its present leadership.  

When PAS loses big, naturally Umno will dump PAS into the sin bin and the people will see no more of all those goodwill pictures of leaders from both these parties showcasing together in public. Umno then has achieved what it wants in politics, pushing PAS into its political dungeon.

A cat-and-mouse game between PAS and Umno

Umno’s main strategy now is to secure votes from the rural Malays and they are playing the colloquial cat-and-mouse game with a not-too-clever PAS, leading to an impasse or de facto stalemate in establishing an alliance.  Umno is relentlessly trying to impress the rural electorate that they are as “Islamic” as PAS, if not more.  PAS on its part brands itself as more Islamic than Umno to impress the same electoral cohort.

As opposed to PAS, Umno incontestably has the resources and the mainstream media is being made use of to achieve this goal. This is where PAS is at a disadvantage. In actuality, PAS leaders may know more about religion but sad to say that they know less of politics.  

PAS can win Terengganu with the proviso that the party works with PH for a one-to-one contest and winnable candidates form both the political entities are fielded. PAS can also opt to collaborate with Umno or keep on courting Umno to form an alliance to contest against PH. In a three-cornered fight, Opposition votes will be split and PAS will definitely fail to take over the state.

Moaz Nair

– Mail Bag