Sunday, September 30, 2007

Can BN Wrest Kelantan From PAS?

KOTA BAHARU, Sept 13 (Bernama) - It has been almost 17 years since PAS came into power in Kelantan and the people of the state have got use to the opposition party's rule anchored on the Islamic tenets.

While there is still no clear indication on the date for the 12th general election and the current mandate of the government extends to April 2009, one thing for sure is that political pundits have already started estimating Barisan Nasional's (BN) chances on turning the tide against PAS.

Umno shoulders BN's challenge in Kelantan and the party is well aware of the Herculean task ahead in ending PAS' domination. One thing for sure PAS has seen stable leadership in the state through its Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat despite its one seat majority while Umno has recaptured loss grounds.

However, political pundits are cautious in determining the odds for BN and PAS especially knowing well the Kelantan electorate is different compared to the rest of the country. What more when they literally gave BN a 39-0 knockout in the 1990 general election.


As for the record, after losing all the state seats in the 1990 election, BN gained some grounds in the following general election in 1995 with seven state assembly seats and two Parliament seats but in the 1999 elections BN was trounced again leaving it with two state seats and a Parliament seat.

Nevertheless, BN finally began seeing light at the end of the tunnel in the 2004 election. In a surprising turn of events BN considered the underdog won 21 out of the 45 state seats and eight of the 14 Parliament seats in Kelantan.

Though BN still failed to acquire the majority to form the state government, at the least it emerged as a credible opposition party in the state. Also for once Umno's presence was felt in the Kelantanese political landscape after a long hiatus.

PAS' majority was further narrowed down following BN's success in wresting the Pengkalan Pasir state seat in the by-election in Dec 2005 leaving BN with 22 seats and PAS with 23.

Yet PAS remained unfazed with the single seat majority. While some political observers started the countdown for the end of PAS' reign, Nik Abdul Aziz and his party held firmly to power and its obvious that they would continue until the next election.

For any political observer the question remains whether BN is really capable of taking on the iconic Nik Aziz, the PAS' spiritual head and a towering figure in Kelantan. There is a local saying that as long as Nik Aziz is there PAS will rule.


It is an open secret that BN's defeat in Kelantan in the 1990 general election was due to internal bickering and Umno's splinter party Semangat 46 headed by a former Umno strongman in the state Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah that split the votes. The effects of the party's internal problem continued until the 1995 general election.

Nonetheless in the 1999 election, the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the deputy prime minister's post in 1998 and the events that followed prompted the electorate to denounce BN.

However in the 2004 general election, BN came close to creating a surprise.

"Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's `Mr Clean' image was the factor that won the hearts of the Kelantanese who voted for BN," said an Umno veteran from Machang, Kamal Che Pa, 72.

He related that Abdullah who took over from his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in late 2003 also exemplified good Islamic characteristics.

"That is why a big number of Kelantanese voted for BN, which almost defeated PAS," he said.


To win back the people's confidence, Umno has gone the extra mile in convincing the electorate that it can provide a better alternative for PAS.

"Umno headed by its state liaison chief Datuk Seri Annuar Musa has done `all that is necessary' to woo the people, and BN will wrest the state assembly mandate from PAS.

"I can see that the momentum for Umno and BN is increasing and there is no reason why we can't unseat PAS this time," said Annuar.

In winning over the people, BN is banking on "Manhaj Islam Hadhari" or the Islam Hadhari approach.

Umno also took note of Terengganu's `Blue Wave' campaign that brought down PAS' administration in the state and came up with the `Kelantan Baru' campaign with the same goal.


If the good attendance in programmes organised by Umno is anything to go by, then BN has a good chance of turning the tide against PAS.

Yet for PAS, the changing tide failed to bother its leadership and instead a senior leader of the party voiced his confidence that PAS would win more than 40 Parliament seats at the expense of BN.

PAS' Vice President Datuk Husam Musa said his assumption was based on the increasing support for PAS because the people had enough with Umno and BN. Nik Aziz too shared the same optimism.

Nik Aziz contended that there is no reason why the people should reject PAS because the party has done the best for the people and has never betrayed them.


A Kelantan resident, Asri Yaakub, 42, is still confident that the people in the state would remain loyal to the leadership of ulama.

"It's better to support PAS because we the people of Kelantan are getting all that we never enjoyed during BN's rule in Kelantan," said the goldsmith.

It's true, that the Kelantanese should be thankful to the federal government that has promised billions of ringgit especially for the East Cost Corridor to be launched by Abdullah after Aidilfitri.

Presently, there are many projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan in the implementation stages and visitors to Kelantan would be surprised to see the development there.

The prime minister recently announced the construction of the second bridge across Sungai Kelantan costing RM143 million and is expected to be ready in two years time. A new highway worth billions linking Kota Baharu and Kuala Krai is also on the way.


Asri's view is also shared by Umno veteran Tan Sri Hussein Ahmad who is sceptical on BN's chances of capturing Kelantan.

Hussein is of the view that there are many more things that BN must rectify beforehand if it's to win over the people.

"No doubt that Umno has made inroads but it is still not good enough for the party to come into power and no doubt what I'm saying may offend many but this is the reality that Umno has to accept," said Hussein who was the former state Umno information chief.

He claimed that the continuing internal bickering has been a cause of concern for the state Umno.

Hussein also noted that the Kelantanese were looking for "Mr Clean" to administer their beloved state and BN would receive cold shoulders if it is still hounded by internal problems.

Hussein exemplified that "PAS is not strong but it is actually Umno that is weak".

Regardless what Hussein says, the chances of PAS or BN ruling Kelantan at the end of the day is still open for debate.


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