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GE14: Of the moon in Kelantan

  • On paper the PAS government will fall. And the winner? Umno/BN.

By Mohsin Abdullah

At the sidelines of last year's Umno general assembly, it is said a meeting was held at the Kuala Lumpur residence of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah which was attended by party leaders from Kelantan, including Datuk Mustapa Mohamad.

The guest of honor, according to sources, was Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak himself.

The agenda was supposedly Umno-PAS cooperation.But there was a "hitch". A baffling one at that.

While everyone agreed a cooperation of sorts with PAS when facing GE 14 would be "great" idea to rope in Malay support which, needless to say, is crucial. Umno big guns in Kelantan were keen to take on PAS in the state.

Why? Because Umno felt the party was in the best position ever to wrest control of Kelantan from PAS come GE14.

Their thinking was why strike a deal, be subjected to terms and conditions as well as share the "loot" when they can control it all?

Obviously, it would be odd to say the least that Umno has an election pact with PAS at national level, but fight PAS at state level i.e. in Kelantan.

It is not known if a solution was found to that baffling poser, but I must say the KL meeting and its agenda could not be independently verified.

However, Umno wanting to take on PAS on its own in Kelantan is no secret, and the party feels it is ready to win Kelantan which they lost in 1990.

Since 1990, despite the endless bravado, Umno has quietly admitted they cannot win Kelantan as long as "the old man" is there. The "old man" Umno leaders were referring to was of course Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat who was menteri besar for 23 years.

Nik Aziz passed away in 2015. His successor, 67-year-old Datuk Ahmad Yakob, is said to be lacking the charisma of the late Nik Aziz, and his administration in the eyes of Umno is "shaky".

Umno has been going round telling all and sundry that Kelantan has got problems in its economy. For years Umno has been promising the people of Kelantan of "better things" if the party is given the mandate to rule.

However, Kelantan has always been "laid back" economically, hence Umno's line of campaigning is nothing PAS cannot deflect.

But, Umno is saying the economy has further declined and now the people "cannot take it anymore".

And another Umno line is the "lack of job opportunities in Kelantan which has forced hordes of young people to leave the state".

But then this too has always been the scenario in Kelantan. Young Kelantanese leaving the state seeking greener pastures elsewhere (including to Singapore working in the construction sector) is "normal" and has been the practice for ages.

They leave the state, send money home, come back for Hari Raya and yes, elections.

In elections, they tend to vote PAS back into power, showing their preference for a laid back lifestyle as long as religious values are given top priority.

Yet, Umno is saying now it's different going back to the "people can't take it anymore" line although religion is still very much close to the hearts of the Malay/Muslim people of Kelantan.

Is this true? Well, going by the people The Straits Times of Singapore spoke to recently, it is.

Ordinary people, the simple folks interviewed, showed they are "beginning to question their political convictions which have long leaned towards religious sentiments at the expense of economic development".

That's how the ST puts it in a special report on the state.

And prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has also rubbed it in when he told a gathering in Kelantan a few weeks ago that the PAS-led state government "cannot even pay the salary of its civil servants without the financial aid of Putrajaya".

That was like being "sledge hammered" but the state government and PAS national leadership somehow appeared to have taken Najib's blistering words rather well. And the apparent friendly ties with Umno remain "friendly".

That can be seen as suggesting Umno-PAS electoral pact is something "realistic".

Najib's financial aid to the Kelantan government was seen by many in Umno and PAS as something which may pave the way for some sort of cooperation (read electoral pact) between the two parties.

But for PAS, a pact with Umno can be self-inflicting.

According to political analyst Norshahril Saat, the perception voters have of a PAS cooperation with Umno "is a factor that can sway their support against the party in Kelantan in GE14 ".

The remarks are contained in a report published by Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute picked up by news portal Malaysiakini.

The analyst observes that PAS has made it clear it prefers to go it alone. That would somehow suggest "PAS seems sensitive to sentiments on the ground which are against a formal merger with Umno".

Some grassroots PAS members I spoke to are still bitter at being betrayed by Umno in the late 1970s when PAS was kicked out of the BN coalition it joined in 1974.

Anyway, Norshahril also observes that while PAS says it wants to face GE14 on its own, yet it is less critical of Umno than Pakatan Harapan.

Says Mohd Sayuti Omar, political writer and long-time PAS watcher, it's all tactical going on to say "I believe if PAS cannot get the majority it will merge with Umno after GE14".

If what Sayuti says does come true, then we'll see a coalition government in Kelantan, or what is known as "UG" or unity government, a term coined by certain faction in PAS as far back as in 2013. Some say much earlier.

The irony of it all is that the pro-UG faction is said to include Nik Abduh, son of Nik Aziz who remained adamant against any cooperation with Umno until his last breath in 2015.

Based on current development, though, three-cornered fights in GE14, as Sayuti sees it, is imminent between PAS, BN and PH.

"In some areas, probably there will be independent candidates joining the fray, especially in the event of Pakatan component not happy with seat allocation," says Sayuti.

The main battle front, according to Sayuti, will nevertheless see three-cornered fights which PAS has very slim chances of winning.

On paper the PAS government will fall. And the winner? "Umno/BN" was his reply without hesitation. A bold prediction.

I can't say if I agree with Sayuti. Nor can I disagree. But I say this: PAS is losing grip.

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist who writes about this, that and everything else.)

 

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