Manek Urai: Pakatan fears ‘Umno scare tactics’, turnout 68%

(Suara Keadilan) The day of reckoning finally arrives! After eight days of hard work and emotional campaigning by both the Pakatan Rakyat and its arch rival Umno-BN, Manek Urai voters will go to the polling stations today to choose whom they want as their new assemblyman.

Amid a huge police presence, voters have begun filtering into the nine polling stations and 27 voting streams scattered across the small and quiet constituency. Polling began at 8am and will end at 5pm, with results expected to be announced before 8pm.

The morning began with little fanfare but picked up as both candidates, who are not eligible to vote, visited some of the nine schools used as polling stations today.

Neither contestant from PAS or Umno can cast their ballot, although both are local because they are still registered as voters in the neighbouring Guchil state seat.

PAS concerned about low voter turnout

balloting1At around 8.30am, Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat accompanied the Pakatan-PAS candidate Mohd Fauzi Abdullah to SK Peria polling centre, while Umno-BN’s Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat visited SK Manek Urai.

By 9am supporters of both groups have thronged the vicinity of the schools, with frequent shouts of Allahuakbar or God is Great ringing through the air, while traffic jams along the major roads have already begun to pile up.

By noon, the Election Commission says turnout is 68.4, but the Pakatan is still worried about low voter presence. The final outcome may hinge on the 2,000-odd constituents who work outstation.

Meanwhile, sporadic clashes too have begun to make their mark as supporters from both groups showed up in droves.

“There is some concern of low turnout. We are still monitoring the situation very carefully because what the EC says is one thing. What we see on the ground is Umno being very provocative. It may be a tactic to scare and keep as many voters away as possible,” PKR strategic affairs director Tian Chua told Suara Keadilan.

Nevertheless, Pakatan is still confident that Mohd Fauzi will triumph, despite a deluge of election goodies promised by arch rival Umno including a multi-million ringgit bridge.

“From our feedback, it looks pretty positive. Two big issues dominate public discussion, fish mongers and oil royalty. If the response at Anwar’s recent rally is any indication, Pakatan will win handsomely,” said Tian.

Manek Urai is just about two hours drive from the Kelantan capital of Kota Baru. It has inadvertently become the centre of a huge power struggle between the Pakatan and Umno-BN after its PAS assemblyman Ismail Yaacob died in May.

The state seat is a Malay heartland where 99 percent of the 12,293 voters are Malay and has at one time or other either tilled the land or fished the seas.

Ignored for decades by the federal government, residents have been watching with bemusement the long line of flashy bigwigs from Kuala Lumpur suddenly descending on their peaceful town and trying to convince them that it is now time for ‘change’.

Row over fishmongers and oil royalty

Early on in the eight-day campaign, Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin stepped on toes by belittling Mohd Fauzi, a self-made trader with a thriving fish-wholesaling business.

He described Mohd Fauzi as a mere fishmonger, with the implication that his Umno candidate Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat was superior because he was a UTM graduate and a former manager at government agency Kesedar,

Eager to make up for his faux pas, Muhyiddin recently promised to build a bridge linking Manek Urai Lama with Manek Urai Baru.

His claim was immediately rubbished by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim at a ceramah late on Sunday night

“Do not talk about the bridge, give back the RM1 billion and let Tok Guru manage it, they talk about RM6, RM7 million because they think people are stupid,” Anwar said to thunderous applause from the crowd of thousands.

He was referring to the RM1 billion oil royalty payment due to Kelantan that is still unpaid by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s federal government.

Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat – popularly known as Tok Guru – has issued an official claim for the funds. He recently invited Najib to an open debate on the matter but the Umno president has refused, citing a variety of reasons that have been criticized as vague.

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin too has set up backs during campaigning by insisting that “unity talks” between his party and PAS would be held despite repeated denials by PAS leaders.

The majority of PAS members are against any form of dialogue that will lead to a merger between the two Malay groups. They distrust Umno and believe that the “unity talks” are meant to weaken PAS and break apart the Pakatan coalition it has formed with partners PKR and DAP.

Smaller majority predicted by some as Lee Kuan Yew emerges

In an eleventh hour tactic, it hopes can help swing voters back to its fold, Umno last night began putting posters showing Nik Aziz shaking hands with Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Kuan Yew, who came to Kelantan on an official visit last month, is not a popular figure amongst the Malay community.

The aim of the posters is again to further divide the Malays – seeking to make them wonder why the MB would choose to meet the Singapore leader but reject unity talks with Umno. It of course omits to mention that Nik Aziz has repeatedly offered to host public debates with Najib.

Umno has also been using federal machinery including government and army officers to campaign on its behalf.

Emotions may run high and police have already warned against any victory processions to prevent any outbreak of violence. Polling began at 8am and Kelantan has declared Tuesday a holiday for civil servants to enable them to vote. Good weather is expected throughout the day.

Apart from phantom voters, the Pakatan also fears bias from the Election Commission and plan to scrutinise the balloting and counting process carefully at all stations. The EC has forecast an 85 percent turnout.

In the 2008 general election, the late Ismail beat his Umno rival Zulkepli Omar by a 1,352-vote majority, obtaining 5,746 votes against the latter’s 4,394.

Most analysts predict a PAS victory although many also expect a reduced majority for Mohd Fauzi.

“It is likely that Prime Minister Najib’s policy activism in his first 100 days will swing some Malay voters in Manek Urai back to BN,” said political analyst Ong Kian Ming.

“The recent decision to scrap the teaching of math and science in English will no doubt add to this swing as will the populist measures announced by Najib in his 100-day speech at the KL Convention Centre.”

[Suara Keadilan regrets it is unable to carry live coverage of the eventful day but will provide regular updates at the scheduled times – 8am, 10am, 12noon, 2pm, 4pm, 5pm onwards SK will begin live cover on the results]