WHEN Prime Minister Najib Razak, also the president of Umno, the dominant coalition partner in Barisan Nasional, made a friendly deal with the leaders of PAS, they must have thought that when it comes to the 14th general election, winning Malay-majority states, such as Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis, would be a plain-sailing exercise.
With a weakening Umno, as reflected in the GE13 results and subsequent long-standing issues surrounding 1Malaysia Development Berhad, which have not gone away and are far from being resolved, a very weak PM working closely with a formidable opposition party such as PAS seems to be a good idea that could lead to a winning strategy.
At least, PAS leaders are now seemingly less critical of BN and the government of the day, although the situation at the grassroots level seems confused at best and wrathful at worst.
This confusion and wrathful attitude towards their leaders is a dangerous trend, as far as the general election is concerned. It hits both sides, Umno and PAS, especially the grassroots members.
Long-standing feuds and local political rivalry cut quite deep in the Malay heartland, where the bitterness towards each other is symbolised through the colours of blue and green, respectively.
Green (PAS) being more Islamic, and blue (BN) used to be more open and liberal. But in reality and in practical terms, they do not mix well.
They pray at different mosques, do not attend each other’s important functions, such as weddings and funerals. Many social events at the local level are held according to these political colours. In other words, entire lifestyles and daily practices in Kelantan (and Terengganu) characterise political support for and an inclination towards who they voted for.
PAS first won Kelantan in the 1959 general election, when it got 28 out of 30 contested state seats, and ruled the state until 1977. After the 1969 polls, PAS joined forces with Umno/BN, and by the 1974 polls, when BN, including PAS, ruled the state, there was no opposition at all in the state legislative assembly.
This BN membership, however, did not last long, and in typical PAS political fashion, a crisis broke out and it was kicked out from BN in 1977. As a result, it was badly punished by voters in the 1978 general election.
PAS was left with only two state seats, with a breakaway faction, Berjasa, taking 11 seats and BN the rest. Umno/BN, together with Berjasa, governed the state until 1990, when a much bigger and more serious crisis, this time in Umno, surfaced and took its toll.
Under the new leadership of the late Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, PAS somehow managed to convince voters and took advantage of Umno’s internal squabble, and crawled back into power in the 1990 polls, together with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (TR), who, by then, had left Umno.
After he failed to unseat Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Umno’s presidential election, he left and formed a breakaway party, Semangat 46. TR collaborated with PAS and cleanly wrested Kelantan from Umno/BN, leaving Umno/BN with not even a single seat in the state assembly in the 1990 polls.
That is Kelantan voters for the taking; outright rejection of Umno/BN, pretty decisive with no emotional attachment despite Umno’s 13-year rule in the state prior to that.
To be fair to the state and its voters, BN did not do much over that 13-year period, anyway. The so-called “development agenda”, often found in BN’s campaign manifesto and propaganda, never took place, and Kelantan remained physically isolated and poor in terms of infrastructure and economic development.
Kelantan’s gross domestic product remained stagnant for many years and the average monthly income of its population did not increase as expected. There was no economic development to speak of.
It is worth noting that despite the Malaysian government’s affirmative action plans via the New Economic Policy at that time, which was meant to uplift the economic status of Bumiputeras, not many Kelantanese became millionaires as a result.
In fact, many Kelantanese, who are mainly in the Bumiputera category, continued to struggle in terms of employment.
There was hardly any job creation in Kelantan, no manufacturing, no factories, no new investments.
Statistics show that as many as half of the population had to migrate to other states to look for jobs or set up businesses. Kelantan remains under-developed.
So, it was not surprising at all when Kelantan voters totally switched sides and punished Umno/BN, leaving the coalition with no seats at all in 1990. From that year onwards, Umno/BN continued to lose in the next five polls, in 1995, 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2013.
Loss of Malay culture
But the sad part for Kelantan was that PAS could not govern the state, either. The strong mandate given to the party to rule Kelantan was interpreted, for many years thereafter, as an endorsement of PAS’ Islamic agenda, an unclarified party policy that took precedence in the state administration.
In the process, PAS not only did away with all forms of open and liberal policies, but also deleted Malay culture and traditions from everyday life.
Slowly but surely, PAS dismantled the Malay cultural heritage and banned all forms of Malay cultural shows by classifying them as un-Islamic.
Malay traditional dress was abandoned and replaced by long, flowing Arab robes for men, and a tablecloth with a hole called a “tudung” for women. Any form of entertainment, and alcohol-serving places, such as clubs, music halls and karaoke spots, were not allowed, and even cinemas were banned in Kelantan.
The main excuse was that entertainment can be found across the border in southern Thailand.
The PAS administration, for the most part, was not only seen as totally rejecting life on Earth, preferring the afterlife, but was also quite hostile towards non-compliance. The state assembly was used as a rubber-stamping board to pass one Islamic bill after another to punish Muslims who did not comply with the state’s version or PAS’ way of life.
Even women’s use of lipsticks became a state issue and was banned. Under PAS rule, life in Kelantan became one big fake life, and created more hypocrites than ever.
One could blame many influencing factors for this dormant and doomed period of PAS rule. No effective opposition, a poor education system, an “overdose” of religious schools, autocratic decision-making processes, no development plans, the erosion of Malay cultural values and hypocritical Kelantan Umno leaders were some of the key elements that dragged Kelantan into its religious abyss.
As opposition members in Kelantan, Umno leaders were worthless and could not play their pretended secular roles effectively to counter the extreme religious agenda.
It took many years for voters and some current leaders to realise that this is not the way to move forward, and definitely not exactly what they voted a government for.
This long and overdue realisation came in the form of two breakaway parties: Amanah, which emanated from PAS, and Bersatu, an offshoot of Umno, the leaders of whom were tired of the RM2.6 billion donation scandal and corrupt practices in Umno.
Amanah and Bersatu
Amanah obviously drew its main support from ex-PAS members, with many notable leaders, such as Husam Musa, Wan Abdul Rahim Wan Abdullah and Mohd Hatta Ramli, to name but a few of the able Kelantan big guns who will certainly sway voters to this new party.
Eleven of 21 current MPs who won in the 2013 polls on PAS tickets have opted to join Amanah. As the name suggests, Amanah is built on the concept of Islamic integrity, honesty and accountability, which seem to be missing from the leftover leadership in PAS.
And while Bersatu has Dr Mahathir at the top, it has managed to attract other ex-Umno members too, as well as new members in Kelantan, the so-called “fence sitters”.
One notable leader of Kelantan Bersatu is none other than Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, who was the secretary, deputy chairman and chairman of the Election Commission for many years. He is highly respected and a key figure in bringing in more votes for Pakatan Harapan.
Several leaders of these two new parties, when they met recently, attributed the new mindset of Kelantan voters to the fact that the Kelantanese are now better informed.
Many of them are now living outside Kelantan as a result of economic migration, in places where information is more readily available, and they can see issues in a better light, but continue to maintain strong links with the state through holiday visits, ties with relatives, ownership of properties in Kelantan, business interests in the state and so on.
This has made them more eager to see meaningful changes in the state, but not through the present “sitting duck” government or suspiciously corrupt Umno.
From many reliable sources, the Kelantanese are now ready to make that change once again. So confident are Amanah and Bersatu, grouped under PH, campaigners now that they no longer highlight the misfortune of 1MDB or corrupt Umno and PAS leaders, things that have been well publicised, regularly espoused and understood by many among the crowd that they draw each time a talk is held in the state.
The focus has now shifted to having a development plan for Kelantan, a realistic and solid plan that will deal with real issues of the day, such as flooded rivers, poor kampung facilities and the absence of proper drainage systems for the floodplain of Kota Baru.
The long-standing issue of not having hydro dams to control floodwaters and, at the same time, to generate much-needed electricity and provide clean water to all Kelantanese homes, is a top priority. The expenditure will be derived from oil and gas royalties that Kelantan was promised and supposed to receive, but did not get for many years.
The new PH government will pursue this agenda.
Another important element in its manifesto is to have an infrastructure master plan that will truly transform Kelantan to be on a par with other states in Malaysia, such as Selangor and Johor, and areas in the Klang Valley.
Within this transport master plan, there is talk about cancelling the East Coast Rail Link, which is expensive and not really beneficial, and replacing it with a more straight and direct route via a Kuala Lumpur-Kota Baru high-speed rail link that may eventually be connected to southern Thailand, a vast market that has also been neglected for far too long.
An absence of highways to connect Kelantan with neighbouring states, such as Terengganu, Perak and Pahang, and even southern Thailand, is also being included in this agenda.
There is talk about transforming education and its facilities, so that the Kelantanese can receive better education and to make them more technically qualified. There are strong craftsmanship skills in many Kelantanese who support the local craft industry, relating to wood-based and traditional architecture.
This will become part of the long-term educational and technical plans that will be enhanced further through specific facilities and programmes.
Also, a focus on bringing back Malay culture and traditions, so that Kelantan can truly live up to its long-standing reputation as the Malay cultural heartland, rich in Malay heritage and traditional values.
In other words, the campaign by PH is not only to make Kelantan a fully developed state in terms of its physical setting, but also equally rich in the Malay culture and lifestyle, in which the values of integrity, honesty and accountability become part and parcel of the transformation.
Without spelling it out directly, the elimination of corrupt practices is definitely high up in its Malay agenda.
A small swing
All in all, a small swing of 10% is all that is needed in order to form a new government in Kelantan. A 5% swing (or roughly about 750 votes) in the overall voting pattern in Kelantan will see PAS and Umno/BN losing 12 seats, that will go to PH.
Five of these seats are currently held by Umno/BN, while the other seven are held by PAS.
A swing of 10% (about 1,500 votes) will result in another 12 seats changing parties, four of Umno’s and eight of PAS’ going to PH.
What it means is that PH will need only a 10% vote swing in Kelantan in order to win about 24 to 26 seats in the state assembly. Given that there are 45 seats in the state assembly at the moment, and a few of those seats are already in its hands from the formation days of the new parties, a simple majority of 23 seats, based on a conservative vote swing of 10%, is very much achievable in the current political climate and scenario.
Of course, there are others who predict that a vote swing in Kelantan this time around will be massive, in the order of 15% to 20%, due to the strong swell against both PAS and Umno. But, I would rather make a more cautious forecast, unless both leaders, Najib and Abdul Hadi Awang, decide to go down to the ground and campaign in Kelantan during GE14. This approach, if it ever happens, will spell a bigger disaster for both Umno and PAS.
So much for state seats, what about parliamentary seats? A swing in parliamentary seats is more potent for PAS and Umno/BN, unfortunately.
As for parliamentary seats, there are 14 to be contested. It appears that even with a small swing of 5%, seven of the seats, P19, P23, P25, P26, P28, P29 and P31, are already dominated by PH.
The contest will be for the remaining seven seats. Given the track record and the fact that Kelantan Umno is not exactly united, with ongoing local squabbles and tussles for leadership, plus its strong objection to cooperating with PAS, against the wishes of Putrajaya, it would not be a surprise if it can get hold of only a single seat.
Some predictions at the ground level are more scathing for PAS. There is no similar campaign of “zero vote” for BN in Kelantan, but if there was one, such a campaign would be more suited to PAS, voiced some of its ex-hardcore supporters in Kelantan.
Their main grouse is almost personal, that they cannot stand Hadi, he is the opposite of former leader Nik Aziz, Hadi is working hand in glove with Najib, and as an Islamic leader, they do not trust Hadi anymore.
In conclusion, past trends have illustrated that the Kelantanese have shown that they have a mind of their own when it comes to the general election. They certainly know how to exercise their rights, and are very resolute in their approach and decision-making, especially when it comes to casting their votes.
Political anger and the wrathful attitude towards Pas and Umno/BN will certainly translate into votes for PH.
Given the current voting pattern, and the bitterness and issues surrounding the country at the moment, the so-called “winning strategy” lit by Najib and Hadi will certainly backfire, come GE14.
In reality, green and blue do not mix well, and get very muddled.