Ku Li in Galas battle royal

(The Star) Gua Musang is Ku Li and Ku Li is Gua Musang. That is why Umno is determined that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah should take the leading role in the Galas by-election.

WHEN Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah left for a long holiday in Italy and London with his wife last month, he sort of avoided the storm blowing over the Kelantan royal house.

But he will be flying into another kind of storm when he returns this Saturday because of the coming by-election in Galas, one of three state seats in the Gua Musang parliamentary area.

Another classic battle between Umno and PAS is shaping up in Galas and the royal politician is right in the middle of it all.

In fact, Tengku Razaleigh is going to be a central figure in the by-election.

His longtime aide Lukman Ghani confirmed the prince has agreed to be the election director and it looks like he will also have a big say in who is to be fielded and how the campaign will be run.

And the Umno candidate for Galas will definitely not be Tengku Raza­leigh as suggested by some.

Anyone familiar with the Gua Musang MP would know that he has a strong sense of himself and that sense of self does not include being an assemblyman, particularly at this stage of his political career.

He contested a state seat in 1969 but that was long ago and as Lukman said: “Tengku is not like some politicians who believe in holding two seats at a time.”

And neither is he about to walk into an Umno booby trap that will end his political life as suggested by the Internet chatter.

Ku Li, as he is popularly known, is too seasoned for that. The manner in which he has played politics with Umno and PAS the last one year is perhaps the best indication that this man knows how to shimmy around issues. He is his own master and not without his own wiles.

The talk that Umno wants to pin the event of a loss on Ku Li is quite nonsensical.

Umno actually stands a very good chance of winning with Ku Li in a leading role because, as they say, Ku Li is Gua Musang and Gua Musang is Ku Li.

Umno leaders know this and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin personally telephoned him last week to ask him to head the by-election.

The Prime Minister had also wanted to meet up with him in London but their schedules did not permit it.

“Ku Li is the one who calls the shots in Gua Musang. Even the orang asli look upon him as their raja,” said state opposition chief Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.

The orang asli there refer to him as “anak raja kita,” that is, our prince.

Alwi remembers campaigning against Ku Li in the mid-1990s when the latter was still in Semangat 46. At one of the Orang Asli settlements, Alwi was told: “Dalam dunia, semut pun ada raja; kita punya raja adalah Ku Li” (In this world, even the ants have their king; ours is Ku Li).

Needless to say, Umno lost in all the Orang Asli stations.

Even Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah, one of the most strategic minds in PAS, admitted that Galas will be tougher for PAS than the Manik Urai by-election.

Galas, he said, had been an Umno stronghold until it fell to PAS in 2008.

“We are the underdogs this time. Like it or not, Ku Li has always been there, he is an institution in Gua Musang.

“He held on to Gua Musang whether he was fighting Umno or PAS, it shows he has his own special strength.

“Let’s just say we have a fighting chance while Ku Li has the upper hand,” said Wan Rahim.

But the bigger dilemma for PAS is that they cannot run down Ku Li or offend him too much because they are planning to call him as their expert witness in their oil royalty suit against the federal government. Hence, their panic when they thought that Umno would be putting Ku Li as the candidate.

This by-election will not change the equation in the state but whoever wins will enjoy a morale boost before the bigger battle ahead. But Ku Li is also about to undergo his biggest test since his days in Semangat 46.

For some time now, he has portrayed himself as being bigger than the politics of the day and has transcended partisan politics on issues such the state’s demand on oil royalty.

He caused a stir earlier this year when he spoke on the issue at a PAS rally, calling into question his loyalty to Umno and sparking talk that Pakatan Rakyat was eyeing him as a “reserve” for Prime Minister in the event of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim going to jail.

Galas will be his chance to show that his sphere of influence is intact, that he knows what he is talking about, and that he is still on top of his game.

Engineering a win would also provide a boost to his personal standing in the state given that he has been on the wrong side of the palace feud.

More than that, he can prove that critical as he is of Umno, he is still an Umno man at heart.

Ku Li, said one of his staunch supporters Datuk Rozali Isohak, has “his own style of loyalty.”

“Some people understand it, many don’t,” said Rozali.

The royal politician will have to demonstrate his style of loyalty in the weeks ahead.