IN the 1999 general election, at the height of the Reformasi movement, Barisan Nasional suffered one its most humiliating losses in the parliamentary seat of Jeli in Kelantan.
Mustapa Mohamad, who was to be one of the bright new stars in Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet, was soundly beaten by Mohd Apandi Mohamad of PAS.
Mustapa clawed back to win Jeli in 2004, and the man who made that possible was a doctor from Kota Baru who did not even hold a position in Umno.
But Dr Aminuddin Yaacob was no ordinary Umno activist. The 53-year old created a groundswell through several pro-Umno and BN civil society groups in Jeli that would eventually put Mustapa back into Parliament and Putrajaya.
Mustapa, or Tok Pa as he was known back home in Kelantan, is now a senior minister in the Najib administration. He is also spearheading BN and Umno’s campaign to capture Kelantan from PAS in the 14th general election.
Dr Aminuddin, meanwhile, heads Bersatu’s Jeli division and leads Pakatan Harapan’s campaign in the constituency.
He wants to use the same methods and tools that he employed to raise Mustapa to take Mustapha down.
“Tok Pa fears no one in Kelantan, but he knows that I was responsible for his comeback,” Dr Aminuddin told The Malaysian Insight at his home in Jeli – a quiet district on the hilly borders between Malaysia and Thailand.
“The blood of Umno runs in my veins and I helped put Tok Pa on top. I didn’t do it for money but for the love of Umno. But now the people of Jeli are suffering because of how Najib is running the country.
“Every day the patients at my clinic complain about how tough life is for them. So I decided to leave Umno,” said Dr Aminuddin.
Dr Aminuddin got his first taste in politics when he headed the Umno club of Pakistan which was mostly filled with overseas Malaysian students.
He returned and opened a private practice in Kota Baru and was not active in politics until after the 1999 general election, when Kelantan Umno made a call for volunteers to help its campaign for the next polls.
“They asked me to help Tok Pa in Jeli and I became one of the party’s ‘underground’ activists’.”
In his case, the term refers to an Umno grassroots activist who campaigns for the party under a different guise so as to appear independent.
He did this by creating several groups such as the Jeli Medical Volunteers squad, the Jeli Antique Car owners club and a community association to help disabled persons.
These groups would hold programmes, dispense aid, spread pro-Umno narratives, and serve as the party’s eyes and ears.
Dr Aminuddin said he convinced Mustapa to use allocations from the Higher Education Ministry to set up a community college and a branch of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan in Jeli which had helped to boost the local economy.
Compared with the rest of Kelantan, Jeli has some of widest and smoothest roads despite it being one of the least populated districts –thanks to the MP-cum-minister.
The ensuing feel-good vibes of these projects propelled Mustapa to consistently win in Jeli – no small feat considering how Kelantan is PAS’ stronghold.
In 2004, Mustapa defeated PAS’ Apandi by 7,353 votes. In 2008 and 2013, he won with majorities of 4,436 and 5,269 votes, respectively.
“But the country’s landscape has changed. The government slaps everyone with GST (goods and services tax) without thinking how hard it affects people,” said Dr Aminuddin.
“We are a district with a border crossing with Thailand and we’ve seen how the ringgit which was strong during Dr Mahathir’s time, has weakened under the Najib administration.”
Dr Aminuddin does not know yet whether he will take on Mustapa parliamentary or state level. Mustapa won the Air Lanas state seat with a slim margin of 47 votes.
“Being a state rep is easier because you have a smaller population to take care. But we will see. We are currently short listing all our candidates.”
Bersatu has also been given the task of contesting Jeli’s two state seats, Air Lanas and Bukit Bunga, the last also held by BN.
Bersatu’s partner PKR will take on Umno in the remaining seat of Kuala Balah.
“So far people have been receptive towards PH. We have a 50-50 chance but we have to push harder,” he said on his and the party’s chances.
PH is counting on anger at cost of living issues to drain support from BN. Meanwhile, the PAS government’s poor service record is expected to push some of the Islamist party’s supporters over to PH.
Dr Aminuddin is also betting on the wide network he has built with the folk of Jeli through his civil society groups to help spread PH’s message.
But he is not underestimating his former boss’ appeal.
“Tok Pa is still well loved because he is an honest, upstanding man” compared with other Kelantan Umno leaders who have been tainted by scandal, he said.
“We cannot campaign against the man himself. But we can campaign against the BN administration and on national issues.
“People say I am like ‘kacang lupakan kulit’ (person who has forgotten his roots) because I am campaigning against Tok Pa. But why should I feel awkward about it if I am standing up for the truth?”