Until we know who the candidates are there is very little we can do as far as election strategy goes. Nevertheless, the Chinese are going to be the ‘kingmaker’ and, with a 50:50 tie, their 11% is going to be very significant indeed.
THE CORRIDORS OF POWER(Malaysia-Today)
Raja Petra Kamarudin
The million ringgit question during the Permatang Pauh by-election was whether the 8 March 2008 ‘magic’ is still there? Was March 8 a one-off, flash-in-the-pan or was the Tsunami still strong?
Some in Umno forecasted that Arif Shah would win by at least 5,000 votes. Others in Umno, not so optimistic, forecasted that Anwar would win, but by less than 10,000 votes. Anwar won by more than 15,000 votes, exceeding even what Dr Wan Azizah won in the general election just over five months earlier.
Actually, Anwar won by more than 18,000 votes if you take into account the 1,000 ‘missing’ names (those who voted on March 8 but had their names deleted and could not vote on 26 August), the 1,000 voters bussed in on 25 buses, the 600 voters who discovered that someone had voted in their place using their identity cards, and the 400 postal votes. This came to about 3,000 extra votes for Umno.
Anyway, Anwar won two out of three votes or 66.6% in spite of the cheating. So March 8 was no fluke-shot or flash-in-the-pan. The voters very much wanted change and they demonstrated this in Permatang Pauh during the by-election.
That same question is now being raised for the 17 January 2009 Kuala Terengganu by-election. One difference though. Permatang Pauh was Anwar’s seat. No one thought he would not win it. The only question was by how many votes. Kuala Terengganu, however, is Umno’s seat. This means the opposition is not defending its seat like in Permatang Pauh but is trying to grab an Umno seat.
But Kuala Terengganu is not really an Umno seat as such. The Parliament seat of Kuala Terengganu comprises of four state seats -- Batu Burok, Wakaf Mempelam, Ladang and Bandar. And the seat has ding-donged between Umno and the opposition from time to time. It is like one election it goes to Umno and the next it goes to the opposition. So, since Umno held it the last time, it might just swing to the opposition this time around.
Batu Burok is split between government and opposition. Most government officers live in Batu Burok. So, invariably, they would normally vote government. But Batu Burok also comprises of Kuala Ibai, which is a PAS stronghold and where few Umno people dare stray into lest they get pelted with stones. Yes, the Kuala Ibai fishermen and farmers are most passionate about their support for PAS and woe to any Umno man or woman who attempts to campaign in that area.
This means, if the government officers swing to the opposition, like they did in 1999, then PAS would win Batu Burok. I will not know the current sentiment of the government officer residents of Batu Burok until I go down to the ground next Month -- and I plan to spend about two weeks in Kuala Terengganu from the 5th to 18th January to not only assess the situation but to help campaign for PAS as well.
Wakaf Mempelam is Mustapha Ali’s stronghold. So we can assume that PAS will secure this area unless Mustapha’s popularity has declined drastically since I was last in Terengganu. Mustapha, in case you did not know, is the PAS ‘mafia boss’ of Terengganu and once my neighbour when I lived there for about 20 years.
Ladang is unique. The Ladang folks have always been anti-establishment except for the period when the late Bakar Daud was its State Assemblymen. Bakar Daud was the football association President and Captain of the Terengganu football team. He was also very ‘generous’ every election, plus in between elections, and he ‘took care’ of the Ladang folks very well. Money, of course, talks, while bullshit walks. And throw in the Terengganu folks’ passion for football and Bakar Daud had it made.
When Onn Jaafar of Johor resigned from Umno to form Parti Negara, he chose Ladang as his seat and won. For a Johorean to win in Terengganu -- and opposition on top of that -- is quite a feat. But, as I said, Ladang is unique and no one can predict how the Ladang folks will vote come 17 January 2009. They might yet surprise everyone.
Bandar comprises of Losong and Kampong Cina. Bandar is the only MCA (state) seat in Terengganu. The rest -- 31 state and 8 parliament seats -- are all Umno. However, in the 1990 general election, the Chinese in Kampong Cina voted opposition while the Malays in Losong voted MCA. MCA, however, lost because, while the Chinese were solid in their support for the opposition, the Malays in Losong were split 50:50.
In the recent general election, the votes for the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary constituency were split almost 50:50. The calun bebas got about 600 votes, which is about the number of votes that PAS lost. If there were no calun bebas what would have been the outcome? Would Umno still have won or would that seat now be a PAS seat? If PAS had won then this would mean we would not be seeing a by-election come 17 January 2009.
Yes, Kuala Terengganu is not Kuala Terengganu. Kuala Terengganu is Batu Burok, Wakaf Mempelam, Ladang and Bandar. And Batu Burok is government officers, fishermen and farmers while Bandar is strong Chinese. And the Chinese, who form about 11% of the 80,000 or so voters, are Hokkien and Hainanese. This makes Kuala Terengganu most interesting and extremely unpredictable.
Much will depend on the candidate chosen by PAS and Umno. For PAS, there are four possibilities. Mustapha Ali, Wan Abdul Muttalib Embong, Mohamad Sabu (Mat Sabu) and Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi. All four have their strengths and weaknesses.
Mustapha Ali is the ‘mafia boss’. But he does not get along well with DAP and PKR. So there is a danger that the other Pakatan Rakyat members may not be campaigning too enthusiastically.
Wan Muttalib is a lawyer and very wealthy. But he is not popular with some of the PAS grass-root leaders because of his ‘loose cannon’ tendencies. Because of his success and wealth, Wan Muttalib can sometimes be quite arrogant and this pisses off quite a few people.
Mat Sabu is very popular. Even the DAP and PKR people like him. But he is an ‘outsider’ and this poses a problem. Terengganu folks are very regionalistic. Even if someone from Besut, in North Terengganu, contests in Kemaman, in South Terengganu, there would be acceptance problems. So Mat Sabu may face a problem if the Terengganu folks prefer a ‘local’ rather than an ‘orang luar’.
Syed Azman, I suppose, has no baggage. But, being a professional, he has problems ‘coming down’ to the level of the villagers, fishermen and farmers. You need to be ‘one of them’ to win them over. I have personally seen Syed Azman walk pass without shaking hands with those standing around waiting to greet their leaders. And this is a cardinal sin in Malay politics, especially when it comes to rural Malays.
Umno may probably choose Wan Farid Wan Salleh or Zubir Embong. Wan Farid is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s Political Secretary but his hands are tainted with the shooting of the two Bersih demonstrators in Batu Burok awhile back. He is also implicated in the mismanagement and abuse of the RM1 billion a year Wang Ehsan or oil royalty.
Wan Farid’s brother, Wan Hisham, together with Patrick Lim, is the man behind the RM300 million a year Terengganu Monsoon Cup. Whether Terengganu folks can forgive Wan Farid for the shooting during the Bersih rally, plus for the abuse of billions of ringgit of oil royalty, is left to be seen -- but it would be most interesting if Umno fields him because there would be a lot of issues to use against him.
Zubir Embong is yesterday’s news and if Umno fields him then PAS need not work too hard because many in Umno itself will see to it that he loses. He is from the Bakar Daud-Wan Mokhtar era and no longer acceptable. Umno would be better off choosing a fresh candidate rather than Zubir if Wan Farid is not going to be it.
So that’s how it stands thus far. Until we know who the candidates are there is very little we can do as far as election strategy goes. Nevertheless, the Chinese are going to be the ‘kingmaker’ and, with a 50:50 tie, their 11% is going to be very significant indeed.
Do I dare predict the outcome of the Kuala Terengganu by-election? Not at this stage. The by-election can go either way. And remember, it is not about Kuala Terengganu but about Wakaf Mempelam, Kampong Cina, Ladang, the government officers, the farmers and the fishermen. This is probably the most ‘mixed’ seat in the whole state of Terengganu.