An uphill battle

That is how PAS view their chances in the coming Kuala Besut by-election. The seat fell vacant following the death of Barisan’s Dr A. Rahman Mokhtar.

Philip Golingai, The Star

IF you were a tourist heading to Pulau Perhentian, you would not sense that there was a by-election that could “hang” the Tereng-ganu legislative assembly.

There was no flag war in the Kuala Besut by-election. The only Barisan Nasional and PAS flags I saw the day after nomination on Friday were on the bridge leading to the Kuala Besut town, the gateway to Pulau Perhentian.

It was a subdued affair on nomination day. The Umno and PAS supporters were about 200m apart.

I was with the PAS supporters, mostly decked in green. The only excitement for me was to see a fashionably late PAS Mursyidul Am (spiritual leader) Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat arriving at the nomination centre in a Mercedes Benz.

Later in Kuala Besut town, I stumbled into an opposition leader.

“How’s PAS’ chance in this by-election?” I asked.

“It is an uphill battle,” he said. “PAS needs a miracle to win.”

The odds are for 37-year-old engineer Tengku Zaihan Che Ku Abd Rahman of Umno to defeat 48-year-old businessman Azlan Yusof of PAS. In the May 5 general election, Barisan won the seat with a majority of 2,342 votes against PAS.

Few weeks after GE13, it was unlikely that the majority of voters would have a change of heart and vote for the Opposition.

The seat became vacant following the death of Umno’s Dr A. Rahman Mokhtar on June 26. His death has kept alive PAS’ dream of recapturing Terengganu that it won in 1999.

That night to gauge the support for PAS, I attended a ceramah in Kampung Pusu Tinggi, about 10km from Kuala Besut town. About 150 people, mostly men wearing white skullcaps, gathered to listen to PAS’ top guns – Kuala Krai MP Dr Hatta Ramli and vice-president Datuk Husam Musa – speak.

“It has been two months and seven days since GE13,” a PAS Besut leader in Terengganu lingo told the crowd.

“In Besut (MP seat), it was Barisan 4 and PAS 0. It was Barisan 17 and Pakatan 15. Now it is Barisan 16 and Pakatan 15. You can make it 16 16.”

I was seated at a warung, sharing the same table with three die-hard PAS members who drove 45 minutes from Machang in Kelantan to listen to the ceramah.

“Perhaps PAS can win. But it won’t be easy,” one of the Kelantanese told me.

“Why was it four zero in Besut?” I asked.

He called a PAS leader from Kuala Besut to explain.

“From the eight voting streams in Kuala Besut, PAS only won two. We lost the votes from people living along the coastline and on the island (Perhentian). Those who live along the coastline are fishermen who rely on government subsidies,” said the Kuala Besut local.

“Those living inland voted for PAS. They are mostly farmers (who receive occasional subsidies).”

In unison, the three Kelantanese nodded their heads.

It was Dr Hatta’s turn to speak.

“Kuala Besut should not be a hollow creek – which means a quiet place,” he said. “Kuala Besut should be known all over the country as the one seat that changed the Terengganu government. But if Barisan wins, nobody will talk about Kuala Besut. You can create history.”

Next was Husam who spoke in local lingo. If you were from Kuala Lumpur, you would need to be a bit clever to understand what he said.

He mentioned “Deris” several times. I wondered what “Deris” was.

Later I put two and two together. “Deris” + “MB” = Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh (the former Terengganu Mentri Besar).

“Barisan relies on peteh. Peteh this and peteh that. But when the people don’t rely on peteh like in Subang Jaya, the opposition wins,” said Husam, in a dialect that I assumed was Kelantanese.

I thought he was talking about “peti undi” (ballot box). But it was not logical that the Opposition didn’t rely on the ballot box and therefore won the Subang Jaya state seat.

Finally, I figured that “peteh” meant money. Later I was told that it was a word used by the people of Terengganu.

Husam played the batu api (instigator).

“Besut used to have a local as MB. But since Datuk Seri Ahmad Said became MB, the people of Besut are treated like stepchildren,” he said.

In a twisted logic, Husam said a vote for PAS was a vote for Deris.

After the ceramah, journalists chatted with Dr Hatta.

“Terengganu is a petroleum state. It is the Kuwait of Malaysia but if you look around it is a third world state,” he said.

“But can PAS win this by-election?” I asked.

“We have a 45% chance of winning. We’re hoping it will increase on polling day,” he said.