Barisan Nasional has more to lose in battle for Kuala Besut

Rasvinjeet S.Bedi, The Star

The Kuala Besut by-election will be one of the most-watched as voters will decide if it leads to a hung Terengganu state assembly.
Banners and flags of both parties are already fluttering in the cool east coast wind ahead of polling on July 24, a scene replayed soon after the May 5 general election.

The seat fell vacant following the death of Umno’s Dr A. Rahman Mokhtar who passed away on June 26. 

The by-election is a straight fight between engineer Tengku Zaihan Che Ku Abd Rahman, 37, of Umno and businessman Azlan Yusof, 48, of PAS.

Even though it is the holy month of Ramadan, thousands gathered outside the Kompleks Rakan Muda nomination centre here on Friday to support the two candidates.

While Kuala Besut was once well-known as a fishing town, it is more famous now as the departure points for the Perhentian Islands, popular with tourists from all over the world. 

Located at the Kelantan-Terengganu border and about 110km from the state capital Kuala Terengganu, the idyllic town will be in the intense spotlight for the next two weeks.

Regardless of whether the Speaker has the deciding vote in deciding the fate of the state, the assembly will have equal numbers on both sides should PAS wins this time round.

In the May 5 general election, Barisan won with a majority of 2,343 votes against PAS.

As it stands now, Barisan has 16 seats and the opposition 15.  Both Barisan and PAS will now have to do their utmost to ensure victory.

Barisan is confident of retaining the seat and former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, the Besut strongman, even targeted a 4,000 majority on July 24.

A confident Idris, who is Besut MP and Education and Higher Learning Minister, had even suggested to PAS to concede the by-election to “lessen the politicking”.  

PAS however has hit back calling Idris arrogant and even declared that they stand a chance of winning the seat they last won in 1999.

Barisan is fielding Tengku Zaihan, a former Department of Drainage and Irrigation engineer. While his father is a well-known religious leader in Kuala Besut, not much is known about 37-year-old Zaihan who worked in Putrajaya previously.

PAS on the other hand is relying on popular businessman Azlan.  Also known as Che Long to the locals, the 48-year-old runs a saw milling business along with his other ventures. 

Azlan, the Besut PAS treasurer, is said to be a big funder of PAS’ campaigns in the area.

At first glance, both candidates seem unprepared to contest this by-election and not very media savvy.

Knowing what’s at stake, the big guns from both Barisan and PAS have already made their way here to win the hearts and minds of the 17,683 voters, including 1,149 absent voters.

The locals here definitely know what is at stake and some believe that there might be instability should there be equal numbers of Barisan and opposition members in the assembly.  

Some think that fresh state-wide elections, coming just over a month after the May 5 polls, could become a reality.

Or even if Barisan loses the seat but retains the state because of the “Speaker advantage”, there might be problems if another by-election had to be called.

One thing for sure is that Barisan has definitely more at stake in this by-election.