Fighting fire with fire

Tired of reacting to PAS’ constant attacks, Umno goes on the offensive.

The organisers had promised a 10,000-strong crowd but it poured and they did not quite make the numbers. The impressive power point presentation on a gigantic screen looked incongruous in that humble part of town.



WITH just three days left to go before Kuala Terengganu voters choose their new MP, the tempo has picked up considerably.

Both sides have been holding forth in small ceramah clusters to explain local issues on street corners, at roadside eateries, just anywhere one could arrange a few chairs and makeshift table and microphone.

Deviating from this pattern, two nights ago, Umno held a massive gathering at the Cabang Tiga market to counter the Opposition’s claims.

Entitled “Masihkah Kau Ingat?”, it was Umno’s reminder of PAS’ rule between 1999 and 2004 when it had allegedly committed a variety of infringements to outright wrongdoings.

As testimony, Umno brought up a line of former PAS and PKR leaders to speak on its behalf.

The infringements encompassed the locking up of Kemas kindergartens, giving zakat money meant for poor Muslims to PAS executive councillors to fund their children’s education abroad, transferring some civil servants 15 times, logging in forest reserves by cronies, closure of the Mara Junior Science College in Besut and Dungun, among a long list printed in glossy booklets by the same title.

Unfortunately, with the confusion of Umno, Barisan and PAS flags hoisted around the market, it was hard to tell who was holding the ceramah. Moreover, some of the former PAS leaders whom Umno had arranged to speak turned up in white jubah (robe) and serban (cloth wound around their heads), the accepted PAS garb on the east coast.

So when Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak rushed to the site from another engagement with police escort lights blazing, they not surprisingly overshot the venue.

There was a few minutes of commotion as realisation struck and they had to hastily backtrack.

The organisers had promised a 10,000-strong crowd but it poured and they did not quite make the numbers. The impressive power point presentation on a gigantic screen looked incongruous in that humble part of town.

On the upside, each speaker was introduced with a short seruling (flute) display, interspersed with the occasional chant of “PAS kluk klek” (literally “PAS flip-flops” or is inconsistent) to the beat of drums.

Umno is still looking for that special “winning factor”. And what would that magic ingredient be?

“I don’t know,” said Datuk Dr Ramzi Mohd Zubir, 36, a Marang Umno committee member who had famously taken on, and lost to, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang last March.

“We have to create the winning factor, create the environment to make our victory possible,” he said.

He does know that “if people keep saying Barisan is going to lose, Barisan is going to lose, it will certainly lose”.

Dr Ramzi estimates that the all-important deciding voters have shrunk to “about 10-11% today, down from 15% before nomination day”.

He noted, however, that “people are fed up with national issues. So we stress local issues.

“We have to go on attack mode. All this while, we have been on the defensive,” he added.

The issues that matter most to Terengganu’s 88% Malay voters are the ones that affect their pockets.

Listening intently to the speeches at a ceramah, Pak Zainal, 60-plus, munched ravenously on his burger while perched on one of several metal tables strewn on the pavement across the market.

“You cannot deny that things are so much better now,” he said between bites.

“Dulu susah. Jauh bumi dengan langit. Tapi duit kelabu mata. (It was hard before. Now, it is as difference as between earth and sky. However, money can cloud one’s vision.)

“The oil royalty alone would be enough to feed everyone in Terengganu rice twice a day. If only the food is cheap. That is all the people want,” he said.

Taxi driver Mohd Ali, in his mid-50s, concurred. He retired from the army some years ago and then became a lorry driver.

He feels indebted to Umno because after his retirement, it was Umno which had given his children scholarships to pursue their studies.

So today, while he has some criticism of Umno, he remains very much an Umno man.

According to Dr Ramzi, the people of Terengganu have a negative image of PAS as an aggressive party, pointing to the Batu Burok incident last September when police had to be called in to break up an illegal gathering.

“PAS is worried that people will recall that stone-throwing episode. Now it has learnt to be more subtle.

“If PAS were the better government, they would have won (the state) in March (2008), during the political tsunami.

“You cannot go on a populist route, abolishing toll, giving three months maternity leave, or postponing assessment. The people have to think for the long term,” he said.

Making the decision is however not easy.

“For Malays, if they vote PAS, they weaken Umno, which is a Malay party,” he said.