Critical Observation by Bridget Welsh

Gains and losses in Manek Urai
/ Bridget Welsh
Jul 18, 09
8:49am

Kelantan has always been a state for surprises and the slim victory by PAS is an excellent example. Despite PAS claiming a whopping 2,000 majority one hour before the close of polls, when the results were counted, PAS squeaked through with an embarrassing 65 majority.

While some would say, a small victory is still a victory and point to PAS win in Manek Urai as the fifth loss for BN since March 2008, the reality is that this by-election is a serious loss for the opposition.

It shows that the opposition has lost ground in the Malay heartland, the traditional base of political power. It extends the gains Umno won among Malays in the Bukit Gantang election, and provides badly-needed momentum for Najib Abdul Razak’s government.

While the implications of this contest are important at the national level, the campaign itself was very much a local dynamic.

The fight on the ground was fiercely contested as each party attempted to win over the 12,293 voters, often visiting the estimated 1,200 undecided voters more than five times in a 10-day campaign. These voters, along with the estimated 1,700 living outside of the area were decisive in the outcome.

PAS had the advantage in this traditionally ‘safe seat’ and it showed on the ground as the presence of green flags dominated the terrain in this rural constituency. They embraced their local advantage and organised their campaign around Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the party’s spiritual leader and beloved menteri besar.

PAS miscalculates the ground

The sea of green, especially on polling day when supporters poured in, fostered a sense of overconfidence. In contrast, the Umno machinery worked quietly as it established its base in a makeshift tent that provided an air-conditioned oasis for reporters and outsider party workers.

Umno was on a mission to burnish its reputation and this translated into a zeal as it focused on campaigning strategically.

The Umno big guns stayed away in what was perceived to be a losing battle, leaving the diehards to work the ground.

Even on polling day, when leaders left the constituency early, Umno knew it faced an uphill battle and expected defeat despite their campaigning.

The closeness came as a surprise to all sides, especially PAS who severely miscalculated the ground.

The campaign itself lacked the level of intensity of other Umno-PAS contests. Most of the campaigning involved house-to-house networking. The large ceramah featuring Pakatan Rakyat leaders drew more outsiders than locals as the battle was fought through face-to-face interactions rather than oratory skills.

There were two parallel set of issues – those discussed openly and those behind closed doors.

The former included the long-standing (and somewhat) stale contrast between religion and development (manifested over the discussion of the Manek Urai Lama bridge), the Terengganu-transplanted discussion on the failure by the federal government to pay RM1 billion royalty to the state, and perceived corruption on the part of Umno and its credibility in governance.

Umno did not present itself as the secular alternative, but portrayed itself as Islamic, reflecting its increasing efforts to embrace religion as part of its own identity. Relying on regional identity, PAS consistently appealed to the uniqueness of the Kelantanese, stressing the need for the state to continue to be ruled by the Islamic party. None of these issues were new as the lines of support in Kelantan have been long established.

Money helps win the day

The new dimension was the intensity of the behind-the-scenes campaign.

Here Umno focused on promoting Malay rights. Pamphlets attacking Pakatan were quietly circulated – against Selangor exco Elizabeth Wong, the issue of the pig farm in Kedah, land allocation in Perak, and the alleged increase influence of non-Malays.

Umno continued the tactic used in Bukit Gantang of using racial fear to mobilise support. This practice appears to be a defining practice of the Najib-Muhyiddin team.

The contest was about the respective parties, not the candidates. Both parties slated strong candidates who were well-respected, despite the differences in their education levels. They have integrity and are viewed as trustworthy, and both were local successes. As such, the Umno attack on the background of PAS candidate Mohamad Fauzi Abdullah only consolidated existing support rather than alienated voters.

Another key dimension was the use of funds. Manek Urai was not spared the flow of goodies as money was almost thrown at the voters – from the payment of transport allowance to the usual “grant” to households which ranged on average from RM100 to RM500. Polling station results show that these did have an effect.

In 2008, PAS won every polling station but Manjor. This round it lost in five areas. In at least two of these – Temalir and Laloh – Umno concentrated its fund allocation efforts at the micro-level. Gains were also made in Manek Urai Lama where the bridge was promised.

But it is important to note that Umno made gains in every polling station area. The gains were also in among the poorest areas of the constituency.

Livelihoods in this rural constituency have been badly affected by an almost 40 percent drop in rubber prices. The average income level in this area is less than RM1,000 a month.

The funds from the campaign were sorely needed, and many pragmatic voters responded to the offers. They understood that this election would not affect the balance of state or national power, and since it was considered a safe PAS seat, even traditional PAS supporters opted for the added income.

As was shown in Pendang in 2002, by-election patronage can be potent in low-income rural constituencies, even in those with strong PAS machinery on the ground.

First real test for Muhyiddin

One forgets however that the by-election advantage is not just about money, it is also about focus.

The relatively small size of Manek Urai allowed both parties to concentrate their efforts in certain areas. Working through the usual network of local leaders, religious networks, teachers and the local business community, each party honed these connections in order to influence voters. Umno particularly relied on these links and this gave the party a boost.

Manek Urai was comparatively more important for Umno, especially the deputy prime minister. This was the first major test of Muhyiddin Yassin as the campaign coordinator for Umno and he passed favourably. He was thrown to the wolves in Bukit Gantang, and was searching for redemption in Manek Urai.

Muhyiddin was not as hands-on as Najib, but he set the issues in place and pushed the campaign along. Arriving by helicopter regularly, Muhyiddin campaigned hard, changing the tactics systematically as the campaign evolved.

This was one of PAS’s major mistakes. They did not substantively evolve with the campaign. Instead it relied on a few messages from the onset and did not change effectively as the ground shifted. Perhaps blinded by overconfidence or too much faith in their own messages, they lost track of the pulse of the campaign as it changed.

Umno set the campaign momentum, not PAS. This disconnect ultimately contributed to the loss of support for PAS.

Unity talks undermine PAS support

One reason for this disconnect lay with divisions within PAS. It would be a mistake to say that this was a major factor for voters. Kelantanese voters – like most voters in Malaysia – carefully and clearly distinguish between Umno and PAS even if some of their leaders do not. Manek Urai voters did not comprehend the unity talks at all, describing them as illogical and unfeasible.

Nevertheless, the push for Malay unity has severely undermine support for PAS among its traditional supporters. The divisions within PAS provided a distraction and weakened cooperation. Noticeably there was less congeniality among leaders, with some staying away altogether. The PAS Kelantan-Terengganu (non-unity versus unity talks) tensions were real and persist despite claims to the contrary.

There was one interesting dynamic on the ground where these tensions spilled over.

Manek Urai voters made a clear distinction between Tok Guru Nik Aziz and PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, opting often to openly leave the latter’s speeches early.

The cool reception toward Hadi Awang reflected symbolically a response to the internal conflict, but also represented the substantive differences in outlook between the leadership of PAS in both states.

Described as “sombong”, extremist and always lecturing, Hadi Awang did not get the same level of adoration of the Kelantanese spiritual leader. This by-election showed that PAS cannot escape the need to resolve the differences within the party and will have to find a balance that reaches the most voters.

With claims that the distraction undermined Pakatan cooperation and knocked PAS off its game, the resolution of internal differences is now more pressing than ever, not just for PAS but for the Pakatan opposition as a whole.

Opposition’s message getting stale

Manek Urai has been described as a turning point for Umno and a wake-up call for the opposition. It is more the latter than the former.

For Umno, the turning point occurred in Perak where the party has started to realise the need for a new way of campaigning on the ground. It has opted for a dangerous racially-loaded path, but simultaneously improved its use of technology, posters and organisational coordination. Manek Urai has indeed given Umno a new shine.

The contest showed that the opposition has relied too long on the messages of March 2008.

Its messaging is getting stale and there is growing ambivalence toward the opposition as a whole as shown by the recent Merdeka Centre poll and confirmed on the ground in Manek Urai.

The reliance of PAS on campaigning around one man, Tok Guru, adds to the party’s vulnerability electorally.

When the votes were counted, Umno won this ‘pearl’ symbolically. Whether Manek Urai will be the first jewel for Umno or a solitary treasure remains to be seen, but, most certainly, it showed PAS and Pakatan that nothing should be taken for granted.

//

BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University. She was recently in the Manek Urai by-election and can be contacted at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.

Pilihanraya kecil Manek Urai

Thousands in Manek Urai for nomination day
Jul 6, 09 8:42am malaysiakini.com

The small town of Manek Urai has been buzzing with activities since early this morning with thousands of supporters from both PAS and Umno mobilising to back their respective candidates to file in their nomination papers.

While nomination period is set to open at 9am, the supporters from both sides of the divide had started gathering at their respective meeting points since 7am.

bn umno candidate and leaders manek urai by election nomination day 060709 14Umno members who gathered at the party headquarters in Kuala Krai kept themselves busy by playing traditional drums and gongs to the dikir barat beat while waiting for their national leaders to arrive.

First to arrive on the scene was the party’s state chief Mustapa Mohamed. Party secretary-general Tengku Adnan Mansor was also on hand to oversee their preparation.

By 8.30am, some 2,000 Umno supporters were getting prepared for a short march to the nomination centre.

Umno leaders such as deputy party president Muhyiddin Yassin, vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein, Mohd Shafie Apdal, Wanita chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin were also there.

bn umno candidate and leaders manek urai by election nomination day 060709 11They performed a short prayer before marching to the nomination centre at about 8.50am.

At the PAS end, about 2,000 of the supporters started gathering at the Kuala Krai junction by about 7am.

And by the time the party held a special prayer session at the Al-Jauhar mosque, the number had swelled to almost 10,000.

These supporters, led by their spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat, then started marching towards the nomination centre at about 8.10am.

The SMK Sultan Yahya Petra 1 nomination centre is located about 1.4 kilometres away.

Strong police presence

pas candidate and pakatan leaders manek urai by election 060709 20The other PAS leaders in the crowd include PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, Husam Musa, Khalid Samad and Hatta Ramli. Pakatan Rakyat leaders like Azmin Ali, Zaid Ibrahim, Khalid Ibrahim and Tan Seng Giaw were also in the crowd. However PAS deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa was not in the crowd.

On the way, these PAS supporters shouted slogans like ‘Hidup Islam’ and recited verses from the Quran. Many waved PAS flags.

As the main road leading to the nomination centre has been blocked by the police, the opposing groups of supporters would have to face-off at the road leading to the nomination centre.

By 8.40am, Nik Aziz and several Pakatan leaders have entered the nomination centre with their candidate.

pas candidate and leaders manek urai by election nomination day 060709 26There is a strong police presence at the nomination centre. Traffic in Manek Urai has come to a standstill while enterprising locals have set up stalls everywhere.

Kelantan police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi meanwhile estimated that about 7,000 PAS supporters and 4,000 BN supporters had gathered this morning.

He added that there were no untoward incidents reported so far and hoped the supporters would respect the law and order.

pas candidate and leaders manek urai by election nomination day 060709 27Some 2,100 police personnel were utilised this morning, including 600 at the nomination centre.

The by-election on July 14 will see PAS’ Mohd Fauzi Abdullah, 50, taking on Umno’s Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat, 39, if their nominations today are not rejected for any reasons by the returning officer.

The by-election on July 14 has been necessitated by the death of former state assemblyman Ismail Yaakob, of PAS, on May 22.

Other related news on the NEWS page on Page Menu.

Fuziah Salleh: Idea (Kerajaan Perpaduan) tidak akan jadi kenyataan

Sinar Harian 17 Jun 2009

Kuala Lumpur – Kerajaan Perpaduan yang dicadangkan Presiden PAS, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tidak akan menjadi kenyataan kerana sejarah kerjasama Pas-Umno menunjukkan Parti Islam itu dipergunakan oleh Umno untuk mengukuhkan parti berkenaan.

Pengarah Biro Latihan Parti Keadilan Rakyat (KEADILAN), Fuziah Salleh berkata, pengalaman PAS bekerjasama dengan Umno suatu masa duhulu cukup menyedihkan dan PAS sepatutnya belajar dari sejarah lampau.

Beliau yang juga Ahli Parlimen Kuantan berkata, sebagai pemimpin parti KEADILAN berpegang kepada prinsip untuk tidak menyokong penubuhan ‘kerajaan perpaduan’ kerana ia bukan satu fokus Pakatan Rakyat (PR) buat masa kini.

“Kita (PR) juga patut merasakan kita ada kekuatan sendiri dan tidak perlu mengharapkan keuatan dari Barisan Nasional untuk ke hadapan malah kita turut ada kelebihan berbanding dengan mereka sekarang.

“idea penubuhan Kerajaan Perpaduan adalah pandangan berbentuk ‘elemen pecahan’ dan bukan pandangan politik perdana PR,” katanya pada sidang media di Lobi Parlimen semalam.

Beliau berkata demikian mengulas kenyataan Perdana Menteri, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak yang menyifatkan PAS sebagai ikhlas dalam mengutarakan idea penubuhan Kerajaan Perpaduan dan Umno sedia untuk bekerjasama.

Tiada Kompromi tentang isu Kerajaan Perpaduan

Nik Aziz to Nasha: ‘Quit PAS, join Umno’
Jun 17, 09 1:26pm Malaysiakini.com

MCPX

Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat has asked party deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa to quit the party and join Umno over his continued stand in forging alliance with the rival party.

“The issue of forming a unity government is not something which came from PAS as a whole. It was a personal idea of someone.

nik aziz angry 170609“This matter was never discussed in PAS or within Pakatan Rakyat,” he said.

“If it is true that Nasharuddin supports the formation of a unity government, it is best that he joins Umno by quitting his PAS post (as deputy president) and as an MP for Bachok,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.

“Don’t cause problems in the party,” added the Kelantan menteri besar. He spoke to reporters after chairing state exco meeting in Kota Bahru.

This remark made by the most senior party leader today indicated that the party was clearly heading towards an open rift over the issue of holding unity talks with Umno.

Nik Aziz has been a vocal critic of having any links with Umno, constantly reminding the party members and leaders of the party’s bad experience in forming alliance with Umno in the 1970s.

Disappointed with Nasharuddin

He had previously labelled those who backed the unity talks as ‘Umno puppets’ and called such talks as “ridiculous”.

nasharuddin mat isa 170609 02The main backer to hold such talks is party president Abdul Hadi Awang. His deputy Nasharuddin is also a vocal supporter of the talks.

Nik Aziz also said that he was disappointed with Nasharuddin’s stand on the unity government issue as the situation has now allowed for a rift in the party.

“The Umno people are having a gala time now as PAS is in turmoil… Pakatan is in turmoil.”

He also added that if Barisan Nasional was genuine about forming a unity government, it should then appoint some Pakatan leaders as ministers.

“If it is agreeable to all, PAS (leader) can be a minister, DAP and PKR as well,” he said.

DPM: Be clear on what you want

Yesterday Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said that he was open to such talks with PAS.

After first broaching the subject at the PAS Muktamar two weeks ago, Hadi had then imposed conditions that he was willing to talk to Umno if the latter was ready to implement some democratic reforms.

Yesterday Nasharuddin responded to Najib by saying that PAS was willing to talk to Umno on matters of national interest but ruled out discussions on a unity government.

Earlier today PAS secretary-general Mustafa Ali said that the party would hold unity talks with Umno only if its Pakatan Rakyat partners – PKR and DAP – are included in the talks.

Responding to this Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said BN was clear in what it wants from the unity talks and urged the Pakatan allies to be united in what they want.

‘They should not keep changing goalposts,” he said.

Azmin warns against betrayal

Meanwhile in a related development, PKR vice-president Azmin Ali said that the quit call by Nik Aziz was PAS’ internal party affairs.

“I don’t know what would be the party’s next course of action but PAS should respect the decision taken in the last muktamar which is to strengthen the Pakatan coalition,” he said.

He added that unity talks were an act of treachery to the people who voted for Pakatan in the last general election.

However Deputy Umno Youth chief Razali Ibrahim did not feel that this was PAS’ internal matter. He instead said Nasharuddin should just join Umno.

“Our doors are always open for anyone to join us… in Nasharuddin’s case, he is someone with strong leadership and is an exemplary person,” he said.

“Of course we welcome him… Nik Aziz’s statement is unfortunate. Nasharuddin is someone who is truly honest in his struggle,” he added.

If Umno is so keen on pursing ‘unity talks’ with PAS, it should not contest in the upcoming Manek Urai by-election

Husam taunts Umno: Don’t contest Manek Urai
Andrew Ong | Jun 16, 09 5:27pm Malaysiakini.com
If Umno is so keen on pursing ‘unity talks’ with PAS, it should not contest in the upcoming Manek Urai by-election, said former PAS vice-president Husam Musa.

MCPX

husam musa pas interview 170507“What is the point of having ‘unity talks’ and yet wanting to fight against us?” Husam told Malaysiakini in a telephone interview today.

“If Umno is sincere, the first thing they have to do is not contest against PAS (in Manek Urai). But I don’t believe Umno is ever sincere.

“If they are serious about ‘unity talks’, the onus is for the top leaders of both parties to work out a no-contest situation. If that cannot be done, how can the ‘unity talks’ resolve bigger issues?”

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and his deputy Nasharuddin Mat Isa caused a storm at the recent PAS muktamar by aggressively floating the idea of forging closer ties with Umno.

Husam and party spiritual adviser Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, however, are against this.

najib and umno 151008Umno president Najib Abdul Razak had responded this morning that he feels PAS is sincere in wanting to form a unity government and that Umno is open to talks.

Some 12,000 voters will go to the polls in Manek Urai, Kelantan, on July 14, while nominations are set for July 6.

Umno is adamant about pulling off an upset in Manek Urai, after deciding not to contest the Penanti by-election last month.

Although the majority has been slim in previous elections, Manek Urai is considered a PAS stronghold as the state seat was held for five terms by Ismail Yaakob, until his death on May 22.

‘Altantuya issue will surface’

Should Umno field a candidate in Manek Urai, the by-election would become a “major test for Najib”, said Husam.

manek urai state seat 220509Husam said this is because this would be Najib’s first by-election as premier, and one held in a Malay-majority and rural area in the peninsula at that.

“After failing to win in urban or mixed seats, they think they can do better in a Malay-majority rural seat. But knowing the Kelantanese, they won’t stick to local issues alone,” said Husam.

“I think the Altantuya issue and corruption will be a major election issue. It will be a test for the new prime minister.”

Manek Urai is the seventh by-election since the last general elections in March last year, and the fifth since Najib was sworn in as prime minister on April 9.

Barisan Nasional’s sole win was by retaining the Batang Ai state seat in Sarawak.

Khalid Samad mengenai isu SIS

Nik Aziz: Kerajaan Perpaduan bukan kehendak PAS

Unity govt proponents are
Umno puppets: Nik Aziz

KOTA BARU: PAS spiritual leader
Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat
yesterday rapped party members
who defended the proposal of a
unity government mooted by PAS
president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi
Awang, regarding them as Umno
puppets.
He also disagreed with PAS
central election director Datuk
Mustafa Ali calling on all PAS
and Pakatan Rakyat leaders to
cease issuing statements on the
proposed unity government to
avoid confusing party members,
saying there was no reason why
they should.
“I cannot run away from the
decision made at the PAS assembly
in Ipoh last year … the decision
was to support the PR. Those who
support this unity (government)
are Umno puppets – clear and
obvious,” Nik Aziz said.
“The unwarranted call from
PAS to form a unity government
is (from) Umno puppets,” he said
at his offi cial residence here.
When told that the idea of
a unity government came from
Hadi himself, Nik Aziz said the
statement did not reflect the
wishes of PAS.
“The president is a leader
of an organisation, and (as) the
decision was not made by the
organisation, it is his personal
statement.” – Bernama