A SILENT rebellion could be brewing n the Umno fortress of Besut in Terengganu that could give Pakatan Harapan (PH) the edge over Barisan Nasional and PAS in the next polls.
Grassroots activists and constituents say how PH fares in the remote coastal parliamentary seat, which borders Kelantan, will be a bellwether for how well the opposition can expect to fare in the rest of Terengganu.
The logic is if PH can win over the rural folk, who are traditionally hardcore Umno or PAS supporters, it can win over anyone, not least the urbanites, who form the base of the opposition’s campaign for Putrajaya.
Some predict that it will be 1999 all over again in Terengganu, the year of the 10th general election, when the state fell to PAS.
“It feels like 1999 again, based on what people are telling me,” said Alias Ahmad, a former religious teacher and PAS member, who was at the PH ceramah, Save Malaysia, in Besut, last night.
“In 1999, it was a reaction to (former deputy prime minister) Anwar Ibrahim’s black eye. This time, it is about how they are being squeezed by the GST (Goods and Services Tax) and the rise in the cost of living.”
“We hope this silent wave of protest will help us in Besut and the rest of Terengganu,” said the 69-year-old Alias.
In the 2013 polls, Umno won Besut and the four state seats within the constituency by majorities ranging from 960 to more than 8,000 votes, and Setiu and its four state seats by majorities of 782 to 7,900 votes.
“The opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, won all the urban seats from Kuala Terengganu to Dungun to Kemaman,” said an Umno grassroots activist in neighbouring Setiu.
“It was seats like Setiu and Besut that helped Umno. If it loses here, the rest of Terengganu can fall,” the activist told The Malaysian Insight on condition of anonymity.
Despite the venue being on Umno territory, a crowd of more than 1,000 people turned up to hear Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other PH leaders speak in Kampung Raja, Besut.
They stayed till the end, huddled under tents as rain fell steadily through the night and the field on which they were gathered grew water-logged.
Besut resident Zulkifli Awang Su claimed both Umno and PAS held two separate events in different parts of Besut on the same night.
“It is likely because they do not want their people attending our event,” said Zulkifli, a former Umno branch member who left for Bersatu, the party headed by Dr Mahathir and a PH component.
Zulkifli said anti-BN sentiment was evident in private conversations among Besut folk, who were reluctant to air their feelings in public.
In Terengganu and especially in a rural constituency like Besut, the distribution of government aid, such as handouts and money to repair the home, is dependent upon the approval of the MP or assemblyman, he said.
Businessmen on the other hand, depend on contracts from government-linked companies or agencies as there is very little work in the private sector.
“So, many people are scared that if they voice their opinions, they will jeopardise their source of income or aid. So, many keep their mouths shut but they are aware of what is going on. After all, everyone has a smartphone and internet connection these days.”
Zulkifli said it was likely that disenchanted constituents would either vote for PH or not vote at all.
The hope is that when it comes till to mark their ballots, these silent protesters will choose PH over Umno or PAS.
In his speech, Dr Mahathir made a similar plea.
“Umno will offer you RM500, a motorcycle or a car. We hope that you can resist this. If you cannot, just take the gifts but you don’t necessarily have to vote for them.”