A large-sized PAS flag torn by heavy downpour in Manik Urai
WITH nomination day concluded, the contest for Manik Urai is officially a two-way fight.
The Kelantan state assembly seat has only 12,293 voters, of which 99.2% are Malay Malaysian. It is the smallest and most homogenous fight we’ve seen this year, and its election history doesn’t immediately hint at a head-to-head contest.
In the 2008 general election, for example, PAS took eight of Manik Urai’s nine ballot boxes, with an overall 1,352-vote majority. PAS’s Mohd Fauzi Abdullah, a fish wholesaler by trade, is the current favourite.
Still, the circumstances surrounding this by-election, to be held on 14 July 2009, warrants a closer look at how voters will throw their support in this seventh by-election since the March 2008 general election.
Bread and butter
Abdul Fatah According to PAS’s Manik Urai by-election operations chief Abdul Fatah Harun, the by-election will test whether Malay Malaysians in this Kelantan constituency prefer Umno or PAS.
“Actually, this seat is not really our stronghold,” Abdul Fatah admits. “We can [only] say that PAS members have been consistent [in winning].”
Leaders on both sides of the fence agree that how Manik Urai’s rural, conservative constituents cast their ballot will be in response to the parties’ treatment of bread-and-butter issues. One example would be the local rubber industry, as most Manik Urai constituents are rubber tappers.
“We will prove that the federal government is capable of bringing change,” said Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Mustapa Mohamed. He was speaking to reporters about the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s campaign strategy in Manik Urai.
“Kelantan PAS cannot change the people’s conditions [in the constituency],” he stressed.
The candidates: PAS’s Mohd Fauzi Abdullah (left) and Umno’s Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat
Indeed, PAS’s past stranglehold was due to the late Ismail Yaakob’s ability to serve his constituency, something party leaders admit as much.
“He was already established there. For the people [of Manik Urai], to get a representative like him was something they could be proud of,” PAS’s Manik Urai by-election operations advisor Datuk Wan Abdul Rahim Wan Abdullah tells The Nut Graph.
A five-term state assemblyperson for Manik Urai, Ismail — known as Paksu Wil to his constituents — was elected even during PAS’s 1978 general election rout.
“The benchmark for our candidate is Paksu Wil,” Wan Rahim continues.
“PAS doesn’t have that kind of leader any more. That species is extinct,” Wan Rahim adds, noting, as a possible exception, much-loved spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
It seems clear that PAS’s ability to defend the seat will hinge on how well Mohd Fauzi convinces voters that he will be able to serve their interests, and approximate Ismail’s previous track record. It should be noted that PAS lost Manik Urai in 2004 by a 52-vote margin during the general election where Ismail was not fielded in the constituency.
“The one time he (Ismail) didn’t contest, we won,” Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin tells The Nut Graph.
Umno is fielding a former South Kelantan Development Board (Kesedar) manager, Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat, a well-liked local. The BN’s campaign paraphernalia is all over the constituency, sporting the “Rakyat didahulukan, Manik Urai diutamakan” slogan — a riff off Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1Malaysia.
Entrance to the BN campaign headquarters
It is interesting that Umno is here — unlike Penanti, which Najib snubbed, claiming it had been a part of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s political game because the vacancy there was caused by the resignation of a Parti Keadilan Rakyat-elected representative.
Khairy explains that Umno was standing in the Manik Urai by-election because it “is called for legitimate reasons”. The seat became vacant after Ismail passed away from a heart attack on 22 May 2009.
“But we should also continue to test the strength of the opposition,” Khairy says, even though in Kelantan, PAS isn’t the opposition. Khairy is ostensibly referring to PAS as the opposition at the federal level.
Khairy thinks Manik Urai is a chance for Umno to watch how PAS works on the ground, after its recent invigoration as an opposition powerhouse, and following recent rumours of fractures within the Islamist party.
“There are deep divisions in PAS. They are deeply split over the unity talks issue. It will be interesting to see how this manifests in their campaign,” Khairy says. He reckons that one of the possible indicators of the rift would be the ratio of Nik Aziz-to-Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang faces on PAS posters in Manik Urai.
Khairy may be on to something. Hadi’s visage is missing from campaign material the Islamist party has chosen to put up on the main trunk road through the constituency. In contrast, Nik Aziz’s face, usually rapt in prayer, is on every other PAS campaign banner.
The Pakatan Rakyat contingent, petitioning a higher power on nomination day
Abdul Fatah pooh-poohs the imbalance, saying that posters of the PAS president have already been distributed in the constituency’s interior.
“We want these posters to go straight to voters first,” Abdul Fatah says. “That’s why they are not on the main road.”
“This has no connection with talk that PAS does not agree over the unity issue,” he adds.
The power of Nik Aziz
Whatever the case, it is obvious that PAS is leveraging on the popularity and respect Nik Aziz enjoys among Kelantanese folk. “Nik Aziz is an icon, he has no rival,” Wan Rahim says.
The BN, however, disagrees. “I feel I am also an icon,” Umno’s Mustapa said. He had been quizzed by reporters on whether Umno Youth‘s decision to lodge a police report against the Kelantan menteri besar would hurt the BN’s chances.
Mustapa (Source: unitar.com.
my)“Tok Guru (Nik Aziz) might have his strengths, but I also contribute to society,” Mustapa added.
Umno information chief Ahmad Maslan went further in rubbishing Nik Aziz’s iconic standing.
“Nik Aziz only operates within Kelantan. Tok Pah (Mustapha) is a cabinet minister,” Maslan said, adding that an icon was someone who could contribute to the state from both within and without.
Maslan added that PAS was trying to negate the BN’s strength, which lies in development.
A win for PAS would be an acknowledgement of the stature PAS party leaders enjoy within Kelantan, and a wider vote of confidence for the Islamist party’s ability to forge ahead despite internal bickering.
It would mean the PR’s by-election winning streak remains unbroken. This boost to momentum would be vital to the opposition coalition, which has recently been bogged down by so-called “crises of confidence“. Conversely, a BN win would see opposition momentum being eroded, and a ruling coalition confident that its season of setbacks following the March 2008 general election may finally be ending.