Stepping up the pressure on PAS

(The Star) – BARISAN Nasional’s confidence in giving PAS a good fight in Kelantan or even wresting the state is not just big talk and hot air, but is based on a real development that is currently shaping there.

The state may be a PAS fortress but the party is increasingly on the back foot over the past year after a series of missteps compounded by Umno’s increasing traction among voters.

PAS’ infamous prayer calling for Umno’s destruction as well as its unwillingness to censure DAP’s objection to hudud and PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar‘s comments on religious freedom have upset many Kelantanese.

Add Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak‘s popularity and a state Umno that remains united, many observers feel that Barisan and PAS are now almost evenly matched.

“Defeating PAS is doable, but I don’t want to appear overly confident,” said state Umno chief Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, adding that Barisan is confident of winning at least 23 of the 45 seats in the state assembly.

PAS may be entrenched in Kelantan, having been in power for 22 years, but it is not invincible.

In the 2004 general election it was just one seat short of losing the state after it secured 23 state seats compared to Barisan’s 22.

In the 2009 Manik Urai state by-election, PAS retained the seat by a mere 65 votes while Umno managed to wrest the Galas state seat in a by-election the following year with a 1,190-vote difference.

PAS’ ceramah have always drawn large audiences but the numbers have dropped of late and the crowds at Najib’s events in the state have been unexpectedly large.

“PAS is beginning to feel the pressure and is now trying to revive flagging morale,” said Mustapa.

With the race to the finish line now in the final stretch, Mustapa noted a worrying trend.

As seen during the recent PAS muktamar, which saw the party organising a prayer that among others called for Umno’s destruction, PAS is increasingly resorting to attacking the religious faith of its foes to bolster its flagging image as a defender of Islam.

This, said Mustapa, could raise tensions among the Malays, especially prevalent in the 1980s and the 1990s, which saw PAS supporters ostracising fellow Muslims due to opposing political beliefs.

Mustapa’s own popularity among many voters who see the straight-arrow politician as a potential Mentri Besar is also a factor for Barisan’s rising momentum.

Some believe Barisan should only field him in a safe seat instead of hedging its chances by having him contest both a state and parliament seat.

It could help to convince many people who believe in him to vote for change.

“That’s a view I respect, but it is not the only view. I’m guided by my boss and wherever I am placed I will still have to work very hard for the people,” said Mustapa.