(From left) PAS deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and Abdul Wahid
PAS has wrested the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat from Barisan Nasional (BN) by a 2,631-vote margin, with a greater swing in Malay Malaysian votes to the Islamist party.
PAS also swept the parliamentary votes in all four state constituencies in KT, winning in the Bandar seat by more than a 100-vote majority, according to early estimates. The seat, which is roughly 60% Malay Malaysian and 40% Chinese Malaysian, is the only one presently held by MCA in the state assembly.
The by-election result will be seen as a signal to the ruling BN that its lead party, Umno, has lost the trust of Malay Malaysians and has failed to regain the confidence of other Malaysians. In the 2008 election, PAS lost to the BN by 628 votes.
The result will be cited as evidence that the opposition’s wave of success in the March 2008 general election on the west coast was not accidental, a view that Umno’s hardcore have refused to accept.
PAS candidate Abdul Wahid Endut polled 32,883 votes against the BN’s Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh’s 30,252. Independent contender Azharudin Mamat @ Adam obtained 193 votes and lost his deposit.
The results were announced at 9.30pm by the Election Commission at the Kuala Terengganu indoor stadium, which was used as the vote-tallying centre. Shouts of “Allahu-akhbar!” erupted from a mammoth crowd of PAS supporters gathered outside the stadium, where the announcement was fed through loudspeakers.
Balance of power unchanged
While PAS’s win returns Kuala Terengganu to the Islamist party for a second time since 1999, the result has no bearing on the balance of power in Parliament. PAS only increases the number of its seats to 23, and the Pakatan Rakyat’s tally now comes to 81. The BN now has 137, while other seats are held by Sabah Progresive Party (2), Parti Sosialis Malaysia (1) and independent Datuk Ibrahim Ali (1).
Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Datuk Seri
Anwar Ibrahim (file pic)However, the consequences go beyond seat numbers. The by-election is also more than a referendum on individuals like in-coming prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. While the statuses of these two leaders will be impacted, the poll points to larger changes on the national stage.
The results show that the people are voting for whichever party’s policies they find more relevant in a changed environment of economic recession and greater awareness of multiracial politics. This is especially so since the March 2008 general election ushered in a genuine two-party system in the country.
It indicates that the BN’s formula of relying on its development record and asking voters to “balas budi” is no longer accepted by the public.
It is still unclear just how many of the Chinese Malaysian votes went to PAS, but the fall of Bandar is a telling sign as it has the largest concentration of Chinese Malaysians voters in Kuala Terengganu.
Signal to Najib
By-election can be seen as a signal to Najib that
some of Umno’s policies will not be tolerated“It will signal to Najib that he has to do more when he becomes Umno president and prime minister. It may not be that people reject Umno totally, but that they can no longer tolerate its policies,” says political analyst Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff.
For PAS, the result shows that it has been able to increase Malay Malaysian support above a minimum of half the votes in Kuala Terengganu, where its core strength is only about 30%. In the March 2008, PAS won about 53% of the Malay Malaysian parliamentary vote, but this was overrun by Chinese Malaysian support for BN.
This time, PAS was helped by the DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) in Chinese Malaysian areas, cementing further their ties under the Pakatan Rakyat banner.
“PAS will see that working with the DAP does not have to cost them Malay votes. The DAP will see that it is possible to work with PAS and not compromise its principles,” political analyst Ong Kian Ming notes.
Debunking the bogey image
The Pakatan Rakyat has put up a stronger multiracial front than the BN in this by-election campaign, and was thus able to debunk the Muslim extremist bogey image for PAS.
Implementation of hudud law became a non-issue in this by-election, despite the BN trying to drive it as a wedge between the DAP and PAS.
Abdul Wahid celebrates his victory
Though PAS won the by-election, it is a huge boost for Anwar, who will say that he has the backing of more Malay Malaysian voters.
The win will provide the Pakatan Rakyat with an extra gust of wind in its sails as it pursues the takeover of the federal government. More than that, it has gained credibility after having gone through the electoral process in Kuala Terengganu, as opposed to earlier attempts to form the government through defections.
As for the BN, whether Umno is humbled will be something to watch for when the coalition holds a special convention next month. The event aims to strengthen race relations and reform the coalition.
For now at least, the biggest loser is Wan Farid, the former deputy home minister and senator, who is now officially jobless.
Also see: PAS victory in Kuala Terengganu