It’s PAS Versus Umno At Manek Urai, No Independents
Wong Choon Mei
An intense and emotional campaign is expected to kick off now that the Election Commission has confirmed that the Manek Urai by-election will be a straight fight between Umno and PAS.
About 15,000 supporters thronged the quiet town, creating a festive atmosphere with their kompang beats, loud cheers and also jeers as they accompanied the two main protagonists for the state seat to the nomination centre at SMK Sultan Yahya Petra 1.
Man-of-hour was PAS spiritual adviser and Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat as he led his party’s candidate Mohd Fauzi Abdullah to file in nomination papers.
PAS president Hadi Awang was also present to lend a hand, along with other Pakatan Rakyat leaders including Azmin Ali, Zaid Ibrahim and Tan Seng Giaw.
Umno candidate Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Rural Development Minister Shafie Apdal, Women Affairs Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil and party Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin.
But despite the presence of top brass from the federal cabinet, Umno supporters were easily outnumbered by at least three to one.
Although seven sets of nominations forms had been sold, only PAS and Umno filed their papers on Monday. But even if Independent candidates had emerged, the by-election would still have been waged primarily between arch foes PAS and Umno.
A PAS stronghold coveted by Najib
For Manek Urai is a core Malay heartland, part of Kelantan’s green belt, and a long-held PAS enclave. The seat fell vacant after its assmblyman Ismail Yaacob died from illness in May.
Both pretenders to his crown – Mohd Fauzi and Tuan Aziz – are local men and well known to the Manek Urai folk.
But despite being a PAS bastion, a heated contest is expected.
Thanks to recent ‘unity’ offers and jibing from Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also Umno president, all eyes are now on the outcome of the contest.
Najib has been trying to knock together a power pact with PAS, claiming Malay and Muslim unity, although PAS members are disinclined to believe him.
They have counter-accused the PM of trying to weaken their party and thereby their Pakatan Rakyat coalition with PKR and DAP.
As PAS has already publicly and emotionally rejected the high-profile offer, the result will be closely watched as a referendum on Najib and his waning appeal to the Malay community.
Having lost in five of the past six by-elections, the heat will now be even greater on him as he approaches his 100 days in office with little to show that he can snap the Umno-BN’s losing streak.
Not only has he antagonised the non-Malays, his relentless efforts to ‘woo’ PAS which at times appear more like attempts to belittle and ridicule the Islamist party may well have further solidified existing tensions within the Malay community itself.
Emotional and intense campaign expected
According to latest data from the EC, there are 12,293 voters, including 25 postal voters. Of these, 99 percent are Malays, 0.5 percent Chinese and 0.3 percent Indians.
The constituency is also one of the four state seats that make up the Kuala Krai parliamentary constituency. The other three are Mengkebang, Guchil and Dabong,
PAS’ Mohd Fauzi is the Kuala Krai party treasurer. He is an affluent and self-made trader with a thriving wholesale fish business, and already very active in local politics.
At 39 years of age, Tuan Aziz is 11 years younger than his main rival Mohd Fauzi. Tuan Aziz also has a completely different profile although he too is a local boy. A Universiti Teknologi Malaysia graduate, he is the former Kesedar project monitoring division manager.
While voters in rural Malaysia tend to pick Wakil Rakyat or state representatives based on their familiarity with the candidate and his ability to service them, this time, it is likely that they will also vote to make a statement on the recent spate of politicking at national-level.
Chief among these would of course be Najib’s unity talks that sparked an internal quarrel in PAS and the consequent attacks against Nik Aziz, who is revered within his party and throughout the state.
“We don’t think all the voters here fully support PAS and Nik Aziz,” DPM Muhyiddin, who is also Umno deputy president, told reporters after nominations closed.
Still, a main question that Umno will have to contend with will be why the 55-year old Najib has persistently shied away from public debate with the 78-year old religious scholar, despite his showy offers of unity talks with PAS.
As Nik Aziz put it: “I just want to ask two things – why reject Islam and embrace nationalism, and what is wrong with the policy implemented by PAS, especially in Kelantan.”