Monday, January 5, 2009

The dark horse of Kuala Terengganu

The dark horse of Kuala Terengganu
2 Jan, 2009

I will support PAS in Kuala Terengganu as a show of good faith and to demonstrate that we have bigger fish to fry. Then I am going to grab PAS by the balls and kick their arse like there is no tomorrow.

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

Raja Petra Kamarudin

No one expected it to be Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut. The names bandied about were Mohamad Sabu (popularly known as Mat Sabu), Wan Abdul Muttalib Embong (a wealthy lawyer), Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi (PAS State Assemblyman for Batu Burok) and Mustaffa Ali (populary known as Chikgu Pah and the Warlord of PAS Terengganu). But not Wahid Endut, the PAS State Assemblyman for Wakaf Mempelam.

So it is going to be Wahid Endut then. This will be the PAS candidate for the Kuala Terengganu by-election on 17 January 2009. And what will this do to PAS’s chances? The Chinese bookies have placed odds on PAS winning the by-election even before the candidate was known. Is that now going to happen or have the odds been revised?

I, too, have placed a ‘friendly bet’ (no money involved, just drinks) on PAS. And while many have given PAS a mere few hundred votes, or at the most 2,500 votes, I have gone utterly bullish and betted on a 5,000-vote majority for PAS on the basis the candidate was going to be Mat Sabu. If it was any other candidate, I would have reduced my majority drastically and it wouldn’t have been 5,000 votes. But it’s now too late to change my bet.

No one thinks I am going to win the bet though, even if Mat Sabu is the candidate. Many also bet on PAS but they don’t think it can be as high as 5,000 votes. They think I am crazy and am giving PAS too much confidence by betting on a 5,000-vote majority. I am not sure if I will win the bet but I will certainly camp in Kuala Terengganu over the two weeks from Nomination Day to Polling Day and will go all out to campaign for PAS to make sure I will not be poorer by RM500 or so by having to pay for drinks all around.

Before I go on, those of you who would like to contribute a small amount to the Kuala Terengganu by-election effort can do so by sending some money to Tabung Dana Pilihanraya at CIMB Islamic, bank account number 1449-0000017-10-4. I know many will not be able to make it to Kuala Terengganu but you can make up for this by smoking one packet of cigarettes or by drinking one glass of beer less and, instead, send the equivalent amount to the ‘Kuala Terengganu war effort’.

Let’s raise RM1 million for Kuala Terengganu and help in the effort to cut Barisan Nasional’s racism and arrogance down to size. And even if you give just RM10, this RM1 million can be raised easily and in no time at all with no great dent to your pocket. Let’s do it people!

On 28 December 2008, I wrote, in this same column, an article called Issues versus personalitieshttp://mt.m2day.org/2008/content/view/16408/84/). No mention was made of Wahid because he was not in my list pf possible candidates. Neither was he in the list of the New Straits Times, The Malaysian Insider, or even A. Ghani Ismail, the veteran political analyst -- as the three items below show.

Even PAS leaders were taken by surprise and many are expressing despair at the choice of candidate. To be fair to Wahid though, there is nothing wrong him. He carries no baggage as such. For that matter, Mat Sabu, Mustaffa Ali, Wan Muttalib and Dr Syed Azman carry more ‘baggage’ than Wahid does. It is just that their ‘strong points’ can offset the ‘baggage’ they carry. But baggage they still do carry, nevertheless, although not serious enough to pose any problems.

Wahid is not known outside the state like the four ‘contenders’ and we really can’t label him a ‘national leader’. But ‘less known’ also means ‘less controversy’ and, in the same process, less enemies. And this is how I would sum up Wahid.

Sometimes, however, we need some controversy. ‘Less controversy’ does not necessarily mean ‘less problems’. It can also translate to ‘lower profile’ and therefore less people will know the candidate. But does this really matter? Wahid may be unknown outside Kuala Terengganu, unlike the other four, but it will be the Kuala Terengganu folks who ultimately decide who to vote for and not those from the other states or from the Pakatan Rakyat coalition partners like DAP and PKR.

I have said this before and I will say it again. There is not one PAS. There are many PASess. There is PAS Kelantan, PAS Terengganu, PAS Kedah, PAS Perak, PAS Selangor and PAS Pusat. And the many PASess do not tick as one. This is not something new. This has always been so. And that is why we hear conflicting and opposite ‘noise’ from each faction of PAS -- which at times can be quite confusing to those who would love to like and trust PAS but can’t quite figure out how to do so with the ‘mixed signals’ PAS is sending out.

This may sound terrible to those who are used to the Barisan Nasional culture of control from the centre. In Barisan Nasional there is only one coalition, the one that Umno controls. And no one can deny that Umno decides everything and no one within Umno or from the other coalition members can go against what the top Umno leadership wants -- that is final, no negotiations on the matter.

In Pakatan Rakyat this does not apply though. PAS, DAP and PKR have their own views of things. We can’t say that any one party calls the shots in Pakatan Rakyat. So, in that sense, there is no ‘boss’ in Pakatan Rakyat. Even Anwar Ibrahim is not able to control the motley crew, as would be no other way of describing them. Then, within PAS, DAP and PKR, there are again different factions. Even internally, within PAS, DAP and PKR Selangor, there are many factions, as the recent goings-on in Selangor have shown. PAS, DAP and PKR Selangor appear to have many internal problems and much dirty linen has been aired in public.

Those who are used to seeing a strong hand from the centre when it comes to Barisan Nasional just can’t imagine a credible opposition with Pakatan Rakyat having so much inter-party and intra-party ‘disunity’. And this is not just inter-party and intra-party ‘disunity’ at national level but at state level as well. Many have said that Pakatan Rakyat is ‘disintegrating’ and that the opposition coalition will not last. And the proof is all around -- and as far as they are concerned this can’t be disputed.

As I always say, you see the half glass of water as half full or half empty, depending on how you see things. Barisan Nasional is also fragmented. But the Barisan Nasional glass is half full while the Pakatan Rakyat glass is half empty. But is not the half empty or half full glass equally half a glass of water? Why the different yardsticks when comparing Barisan Nasional to Pakatan Rakyat?

The fact that no one party controls Pakatan Rakyat the way Umno controls Barisan Nasional may not be good for the opposition coalition but is certainly good for the people. This means Pakatan Rakyat, or any one member in Pakatan Rakyat, will never have the political hegemony like in Barisan Nasional. No one party in Pakatan Rakyat is too strong. So no one party can become the boss or the gangster warlord.

And the coming Kuala Terengganu by-election has demonstrated this. Neither DAP or PKR calls the shots in Pakatan Rakyat. And neither does PAS. In fact, PAS can’t even call the shots in Terengganu. PAS Terengganu, not PAS Pusat, decides what happens in Terengganu. And, as much as DAP, PKR of PAS Pusat may have their own idea of things, what PAS Terengganu wants and not what the others want is what matters in Terengganu.

You can choose to be dismayed at PAS Terengganu’s choice of candidate for the Kuala Terengganu by-election or you can choose to celebrate. The way the candidate was chosen shows no one is the boss or is in complete control. What the people on the ground want is what matters. Other opinions do not count.

Okay, PAS Terengganu has spoken. They want Wahid as their man. I never for one minute thought it would be Wahid. No one, in fact, thought so as well. But I will campaign tooth and nail for Wahid, never mind if I think that is not the best choice or that it was not my choice. If that is PAS Terengganu’s choice then that is good enough for me.

I will look at the big picture. And the big picture must not be about personalities. It must be about issues. And the issue is we need to continue sending messages to those who walk in the corridors of power that enough is enough. Barisan Nasional has been racist and arrogant for far too long. 50 years is enough. This racism and arrogance must end. And the message must be sent through denying Barisan Nasional the Kuala Terengganu parliament seat.

Politicians understand only one message. And politicians are concerned about only one thing -- winning the elections. If they fail to win then they eventually get the message.

8 March 2008 was one message we sent Barisan Nasional. The Permatang Pauh by-election was the second message. But both messages fell on deaf ears. So we must, yet again, send them another message. And this message must be to deny them the Kuala Terengganu seat. And we have to keep sending messages as long as they remain deaf. That is the only way and no other way.

So, meet you in Kuala Terengganu. If you can’t go then at least send PAS some money to help them finance the by-election. And let’s kick Umno into the South China Sea like we kicked them into the Indian Ocean in the Permatang Pauh by-election.

Sure, I too don’t agree with much of what PAS is doing and saying. I too feel that PAS needs to address matters involving civil society and that they are not doing enough in this area. But I will support PAS in Kuala Terengganu as a show of good faith and to demonstrate that we have bigger fish to fry. Then I am going to grab PAS by the balls and kick their arse like there is no tomorrow.
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When Pas spiritual chief Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat jumped the gun and announced last week that Mohamed Sabu alias Mat Sabu was his choice as candidate for the Jan 17 Kuala Terengganu by-election, he was trying to use his stature to stampede the party into NOT choosing a candidate from the conservative Ulama group led by president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.

Nik Aziz is now alligned to the party's Erdogan faction, who has thrown its lot behind Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader who has close ties with the Turkish leader. And Mohamed, considered a moderate, is more acceptable to the Erdogan faction.

Herein lies the dilemma before Pas — pick Mohamed, the popular, seasoned campaigner but an "outsider" in the state and face a possible defeat or place the bet on a local boy but a respected Ulama and still face defeat.

It is a Catch-22 situation for the Pas leadership.

Supporters of Hadi are saying a veteran Pas leader like Terengganu Pas commissioner Datuk Mustafa Ali or his deputy Datuk Wan Abdul Muttalib Embong, both locals, stand a better chance against an Umno/BN candidate. DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang has also spoken up for Mohamed, saying he was a good candidate and that the party would work hard to win over the Chinese voters, who form 11 per cent of the electorate of about 80,000. Lim's preference for Mohamed is because the latter is a moderate, and has worked with DAP and human rights NGOs like Suaram and BERSIH over numerous issues ranging from urban squatters to human rights abuses.

Mohamed's supporters — both in Pas and in the opposition ranks — believe that if he is selected it would be easier to woo the crucial Chinese voters who, in the event Malay votes are split equally between Pas and Umno, would be the kingmakers. It is also easier for the DAP to campaign for Mohamed and more difficult to back Mustafa or Wan Muttalib, who are hardliners and leading conservative voices in Pas. Both are also lesser known to the Chinese community compared with Mohamed.

These are considerations the Pas leadership is weighing.

The dilemma is compounded by the fact that the voting trend in Kuala Terengganu since the 1986 general election shows that an "outsider" gets fewer votes compared to a local. Pas leaders estimate that about 2,000 votes will stray from Pas if an outside candidate like Mohamed, who is from Penang, is fielded as the candidate. As evidence they point to the fact that although the majority of voters voted opposition in the state seats in the Kuala Terengganu constituency in the March 2008 election, the votes for Mohamed in the parliamentary election saw a 2,000 vote shortfall.

This means the 2,000 voted for Pas but not for Mohamed.

"We blame these discrepancies on the 'local-outsider' factor," said a top Pas leader requesting anonymity. "It sounds stupid as we are all Malaysians but it is a known fact that local candidates have an edge over non-locals."

There are larger issues besides the "local versus outsider" issue. Much of this has to do with the Hadi and his vision of the party, Islam and Malay society. Terengganu is Hadi's home state and he wants to play the key role in the by-election battle and play it his way, Pas insiders said.

"He wants to lead and win and does not want others overshadowing his lead," insiders said referring to both Anwar and Lim as possible individuals who could take the limelight away.

Hadi also feels, they said, that the Malays are finally turning to Islam and to Pas for leadership and direction in the face of uncertainties in Malay society since the March 8 general election. "He sees opportunity here for Pas and for Islam to lead the way for the Malays at a troubled time... not any other idealogy," they said.

Malay society, they said, has been roiled by Umno's constant harping on the loss of Malay supremacy and attacks on Anwar as a traitor. "All these and other issues have confused and raised fears among the Malays."

"Even the Malay Rulers are re-exerting themselves… Pas leaders believe the conditions are now right for Malays to return to Islam and they want Pas to play the ultimate role as protector and guide for the future," they said.

In this context, supporters of Hadi say, the by-election is crucial for them to show that Islam and Pas is the way forward for the Malays. (Baradan Kuppusamy, The Malaysian Insider, 9 December 2008)

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Will Pas pick Batu Burok State Assemblyman Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi as its candidate for the Kuala Terengganu by-election? He is a popular figure among voters -- at least according to two opinion polls conducted recently.

One involved 700 voters. When asked whom they preferred as the Pas candidate, 82 per cent picked Syed Azman, the former Kuala Terengganu Member of Parliament, over vice-president Mohamad Sabu and state Pas commissioner Datuk Mustaffa Ali.

More than 20 per cent of the 622 respondents in the other poll also wanted Syed Azman as the candidate. Next was Mohamad Sabu, followed by Terengganu Pas deputy chief Wan Muttalib Embong and Mustaffa.

On Wednesday, on his return from the haj, Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said Pas would consider all views, including those of bloggers and those in poison-pen letters, to determine the candidate for the Jan 17 by-election as the right choice was "the single most important aspect in facing Barisan Nasional in the by-election".

Party spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat had suggested that Mohamad Sabu be re-nominated and this will be taken into account despite opposition from Terengganu Pas Youth that Mohamad Sabu is not a local. Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP leaders are also in favour of Mohamad Sabu being fielded despite his failed debut in March.

But these are just names being bandied about. The Pas central committee is expected to decide on a candidate at its meeting in Kuala Terengganu on Sunday. The names will then be submitted for endorsement by the Majlis Syura Ulama or Consultative Council of Religious Scholars before an announcement is made on Jan 1, 2009.

"Sunday's meeting will deliberate on the nominations for the candidacy from Terengganu Pas," said deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa, who is the by-election director.

On the other side, the list of prospective Umno candidates keeps getting longer as party members await an announcement from deputy president Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the menteri besar's official residence tomorrow. Umno is said to be wooing independent religious speaker Wan Sohor Leman, an International Islamic University lecturer, although Deputy Home Minister Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Ahmad and senior state education officer Mohd Zuber Embong remain popular bets.

But several local Umno and Pas leaders are sceptical since most of Wan Sohor's family members, who reside in Ladang, one of the three state constituencies under Pas in Kuala Terengganu, are known to be Pas supporters. The by-election is shaping into a possible multi-cornered contest but the main bout will be between arch-rivals Umno and Pas. (New Straits Times, 19 December 2008)

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While the Barisan Nasional will have against her the stubborn inflation resulting from the fuel price-hike that was clearly a bad boob, for the Pas it is a challenge against Terengganu’s parochial thickness if the party chooses again to field Mohammad (Mat) Sabu for the January 17 by-election.

Unlike in Kelantan where many “outsiders” have won in elections running as Pas’ candidates, the same does not hold true in Terengganu. Even the brand new Pas Secretary-General failed in his bid to breach the difficulty in the 8 March polls. He contested in Besut.

Mat Sabu lost on 8 March 2008 by 628 votes in Kuala Terengganu because he was not a domicile. There’s no other reason that can explain why the “imported candidate” had lost as narrowly as he did.

Kuala Terengganu is a hard place for the BN to win too. Voters gave three from four state seats within the federal constituency to Pas, with the total votes exceeding the BN take by 2,283, meaning Mat Sabu ought to have won.

But if the Pas were to opt for Wan Muttalib Embong instead, or Dr. Syed Azman Syed Ahmad who won in Batu Burok (Kuala Terengganu), the BN, which is likely to choose the educationist, Zuber Embong, or the CEO of the Religious Council, Alwi Mohamad, will have to fight tooth-and-nail to keep the parliamentary seat in this by-election.

Kuala Terengganu passed from the BN to Semangat 46 in 1990 and then to Pas in 1999. It can go either way once again, the BN being sadly depressed by the general disenchantment arising from the out-of-control prices of goods and mainly of foodstuff. Prices of foodstuff kept going up in Malaysia after the prices of fuel at the stands were reduced since the price of oil had gone down from the record of USD 147 to below USD 36. There’s no way for the government to explain this sad failure without making voters cry foul louder than otherwise.

On the brighter side in Kuala Terengganu are the facts the present state government was chosen by the palace and the sultan will be chairman of the Terengganu Investment Authority where RM 10 billion of the state’s sovereign fund shall be deposited.

Sultan Mizan, who is presently the Yang Dipertuan Agong (Malaysia’s King), is highly respected in the state for himself and not merely as a constitutional ruler. He and his household have conducted themselves beyond a mist of reproach. The sultan is above party politics, of course, but the gist of the fact he chose the present state government against the wishes of the Prime Minister is a big plus for the BN.

The previous Terengganu state government had been cruelly mangled by federal intrusions that introduced the jinxed “Typhoon Cup”, said businessman, Syed Muhammad, a grandson of the famous savant, Tok Ku Paloh. Like the cherry on the cake, this year’s Typhoon Cup was held while Kuala Terengganu was flooded.

In a recent move the state government was seen to have weeded out the poorer performers in the state capital, paving a path for a more efficient team to finally commercialise and industrialise oil-laden Terengganu instead of being dependent on tourism. The tourism binge had been a follow-through of the Monsoon Cup. It gave Kuala Trengganu a classy fa├žade of a crystal mosque and a miniature Taj Mahal, some jobs and a face-lift. Those artifacts on Pulau Wan Man off Kuala Terengganu did draw more than 1.5 million sightseers this year.

But how all that would improve the state’s human resources and lead into a sustainable economy after the oil and gas are gone, is beyond easy reach of sensible minds. Is Terengganu too primitive to be thinking half as loud as Dubai? Is it true Terengganu’s ship-building industry is quite recent and found only on Pulau Duyung opposite Kuala Terengganu?

Ocean-going ships of three to five masts were built in various locations of Terengganu from as early as the 14th century according to available records and chances are, the ship-building had been there several centuries earlier.

Terengganu was the second Malay kingdom on the Peninsula after Patani and it was already a Muslim country long before Islam reached Malacca with the conversion of Parameswara in 1411.

Trengganu was ahead in this maritime region with a strong ship-building industry, gold mining and metallurgy, silk and fabrics that still survive as batik and songket, and agriculture and fisheries.

Terengganu was an industrial leader in the region, and probably the leading ship-builder in the whole of Nusantara even after Aceh began building her large ships of war in the 16th century under IskandarMuda and Iskandar Thani, and then when the woman, Malayahati, was Laksamana (Admiral).

Hence people in the coastal state have asked where has the will puffed to deter setting sail for the gone-glory?

The Malay Archipelago (The Spice Islands) remained the largest contributor to the world GDP even during the initial encounter with the Occident before widespread colonization was forged by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Kuala Terengganu was a ship-building and industrial port that was looking eastwards during those times when China was a big maritime power.

Now, after decades of oil-wealth, it does sound ludicrous to be busily gearing Kuala Terengganu into a tourism hub, spending billions on glassy enchantments in the murk of the muara (river mouth) while the people are left without understanding even how a tungsten-bulb is made.

It is certainly time to change the direction of government in Terengganu and this is what is being accomplished, beginning with the sultan’s intervention following the 8 March elections.

There’s an air of expectation in Terengganu. Will that translate into a larger-than-normal winning number of votes for the BN on January 17 is what’s left to be seen. (A. Ghani Ismail, http://naningku.blogspot.com/ 19 December 2008)

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EDITOR’S NOTE

To those who wish to donate to the Kuala Terengganu by-election effort you can bank in the money to the following bank account:

Tabung Dana Pilihanraya
CIMB Islamic
Bank account number: 1449-0000017-10-4


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