Kuala Terengganu (KT), the last time I was there must be over twenty years ago when it was still a sleepy little town and the Primula Hotel just open its doors for the first time.
Terengganu and Kelantan share some similarity with Sabah. Facing the South China Sea, somehow,blessed these three states with some of the nicest beaches and coral reefs in the country.Similarly, they have also been thorns in the BN's flesh before, for being the only states that ever fell to the oppositions, long before the March 8 General Elections.
Kelantan has always been a PAS stronghold and the people have no love lost with UMNO.Kelantanese are rare breed among all Malays and are the most parochial and conservative.It is also the only state where the Chinese are very assimilated with local Malays, speaking the lingua franca, which is the Kelantanese Malay and conspicuously adopting some Malay culture and only practice the Chinese culture with less conspicuousness.Not unlike Indonesia, but very unlike the rest of Malaysia, sometimes, it is difficult to tell a Malay from a Chinese just by listening to his speech in Kelantanese Malay.Most Indonesian Chinese speak Bahasa Indonesia among themselves and even when they are overseas.Kelantan almost fell to the BN in the 2004 Elections.
Sabah became an opposition state in 1985 when personal clash between Harris Salleh, the then Chief Minister of Sabah resulted in him sacking Joseph Pairin Kitingan, a minister in his cabinet, who later formed a new party PBS (Parti Bersatu Sabah), contested and won the state elections.Pairin became chief minister and ruled Sabah as opposition under PBS for almost two terms.
Terengganu fell to PAS in 1999.Mahathir quickly abrogate the oil royalty payment to the state and stated that the Federal government was under no obligation to give the money to the state government.It was a kind of sanction against Terengganu for voting PAS.The state reverted to BN in 2004 when Malaysians were euphoric about Badawai's clean image and gave him a thumping victory at the polls. The people had high expectations that 'Mr Clean' as he used to be popularly known would bring, as promised, reforms and clean up the administration of corruptions and abuse of power.That failed promise would cost him dearly.The euphoria turned to disgust. The thumping victory he got in 2004 turned out to be the biggest embarrassment for the BN in the 2008 General Elections.It lost its two-thirds majority, lost 5 states to the oppositions and revived the political career of Anwar Ibrahim.
Abdullah is not by any definition cut from the same cloth as former strongman and former Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammad.After 22 years of Mahathir's autocratic ways Malaysians are not used to his meekly style.His weak leadership, inconsistencies and wanting to please everybody took a heavy toll on his leadership and personality.He was eventually pressured to step down by his own party and hand over the reins to his deputy in a transition deal that will see his exit as PM and President of the party in March 2009.
Can Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak restore BN's former glory ?
The testing ground for Najib's future as Prime Minister and the future of UMNO would be Kuala Terengganu.If UMNO wins the by-election on the 17th of this month than we can safely agree with former PM Mahathir than it was Abdullah's leadership that was the cause of BN poor showing in the March 2008 Elections.If UMNO loses, than it, maybe, sayonara for the party in the next general elections, unless Najib can quickly initiates reforms expected by the people.
The loss of Permatang Pauh to Anwar Ibrahim should not be used as a barometer to gauge Najib's and UMNO's popularity.It has always been Anwar's stronghold and has not wavered since the day he was thrown in prison.The fact is, his popularity actually rose while he was in prison.No matter what muck you made out of him, Anwar Ibrahim is still very popular among the youths and this group now holds the majority in the electoral votes.
They see in Anwar the embodiment of a new Malaysia, one that is free of corruptions and abuse of power.A perception that may not necessary hold water.
Although, I wouldn't exactly equate it to be the same, the misreading of Pak Lah was probably one of the best examples of "Judging a book by its cover", even the man nearest to him have admitted he made a mistake choosing him and had soured the relationship to become his biggest opponent.
In the March 2008 Elections, UMNO won the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat on a wafer-thin majority against PAS. The Chinese votes probably tipped the scale in UMNO's favour.There appears to be equal division of the Malay votes between UMNO and PAS and the minuscule Chinese votes had become crucial for both political parties.The Chinese in KT had become the balancing power and kingmaker.Can Najib entice the Chinese to vote for UMNO's candidate Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh, reputedly to be very arrogant and unpopular?
Najib himself carry the same baggage tag.Not only the 'sombong' tag but also excess baggage, which would not endear him to the Terengganu voters. Anwar's PKR is trying very hard to drag his name through the mire by reminding the voters of his association with the murdered Mongolian model Althantuya Sariibuu, an allegation that was never proven but stays on as ammunition in the opposition's camp.If that's not enough, his image took an even more vile impression by his wife's lack of social skills.Grace may not be in every woman's makeup, it's partly nature, partly nurture. Social graces and etiquette are certainly nurtured.
It appears that Najib is going all out to win this battle.It was reported that he was dishing out humongous amount of contracts to small-time Malay contractors through a method he called 'lucky draw' which he claimed "a world first" He said"In this lucky draw, every one wins.Every one gets a contract".He further reiterates that there will be more projects if UMNO won the by-election.
The contracts valued between RM30,000 to RM200,000 were distributed at random to contractors by bringing them on stage to click on a computer.The computer randomly picked the contract.No vetting and no question asked.Not to worry, no need to check the background of those so-called contractors, most of the contracts would eventually land in the hands of the China men.With a huge war chest, it would be hard to break the BN's money bag.Asia Sentinel has the report here.
It would be a neck to neck race to the finishing line and PAS seems to be the favourite among Pakatan supporters, punters and the blogging fraternity, but Najib might just pull this one off.
Winning the KT by-election would be his saving grace.Do not rule out possibility of the Malays returning to the fold.