Unpredictable times in Kedah

DATUK Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah started out confident that he could secure a two-thirds majority in Kedah for Barisan Nasional.

But an election campaign can be quite unpredictable and so much has changed in the last week. The Kedah Mentri Besar’s team has scaled down its seat count to somewhere slightly more than its 2013 win – 21 out of 36 state seats.

Others think that Kedah is about to swing again.

Langkawi, the seat that Barisan wants to win above all else, is in the balance with Pakatan Harapan and Barisan making a last-ditch effort to get the votes.

Barisan incumbent Nawawi Ahmad is no match for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the younger man’s campaign is stumbling along.

Barisan and Pakatan are both forecasting victory in Kedah, while the PAS-led Gagasan Sejahtera is still in the kingmaker’s role.

The political mood in Kedah is so hard to read, even after so many surveys with varying conclusions.

“This time, I cannot predict what will happen. Come to my shop again on May 9 and then we will know,” said Ramli Hassan, whose Haji Ramli Nasi Kandar is one of the most famous in Alor Setar.

This is despite the fact that the businessman is a close friend of the Mentri Besar and all kinds of people come to his shop every day.

During the political standoff over the mentri besar issue two years ago, Ramli had his staff send packets of nasi kandar to reporters camped outside the state government complex.

He admitted that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is the biggest election issue for Kedahans and it is what his customers complain about most.

Pakatan’s pledge to abolish GST has resonated with the village folk, leading detractors to joke that GST stands for galak sampai tua, a snipe at Dr Mahathir for still lusting for power at his advanced age.

People talk of the undercurrents in Kedah but everyone, from politicians to coffeeshop analysts, seem unsure of the outcome on May 9.

People turn out in droves for ceramah only if big names are featured.

Like everywhere else, Dr Maha­thir has been the crowd-puller – people want to see him in action as the new Opposition leader, hear what he has to say and – for some – assess whether he is indeed healthy enough to be prime minister again.

Kedah is as Malay as it gets. Its population is 87% Malay and eateries here have names like Nasi Kerabu Ustaz and Burger Pak Haji.

With the Malay vote split three-ways between Barisan, PAS and Pakatan, no one can say which coalition commands the Malay ground.

PAS still has a firm foothold in the state, but its glory days seem to have passed. For instance, the flag war has been most intense in Pendang where giant PAS flags – bigger than the roofs of some houses – billow in the wind blowing across the padi fields.

The PAS campaign has reverted to its pre-2008 mode – door-to-door campaigning and village ceramah featuring local religious figures. They gather in the village surau where they pray, interact and hope for the best.

But a roadside PAS ceramah in a residential area of Jitra on Sunday night drew a crowd of only 100-plus, less than the number at an Indian event at the Sri Maha Mariaman temple, where Kubang Pasu incumbent Datuk Seri Johari Baharum was canvassing for Indian support.

Temple priest M. Ambalavanan was full of praise for Johari, who has used his clout to allocate close to RM1mil to Hindu temples in his constituency and some RM6.8mil to Tamil schools.

Jitra, one of two state seats in the Kubang Pasu parliamentary area, is where Datuk Seri Mukhriz Maha­thir is aiming to quash his one-time loyalist Datuk Aminuddin Othman, who stood by Mukhriz until his last day as Kedah Mentri Besar.

Aminuddin, better known as Pak Tam, is fighting for his political life, even though Johari insists that Mukhriz does not have the network in the area. Actually, Mukhriz’s enemy in Jitra is PAS, which got 44% of Jitra’s popular votes in 2013.

An afternoon event in nearby Pendang featuring Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz – “Iron Lady” to her new friends in Pakatan and “AP Queen” to her former friends in Barisan – attracted about 200 people.

Still feisty and packing a punch, she was there to campaign for Pribumi’s Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

Wan Saiful is MP material and a local boy, but he is struggling to find his way around the padi heartland, where many houses are accessible only by motorcycles.

Pendang has two state seats – Tokai is a PAS stronghold, while Sungai Tiang is the stronghold of Kedah’s own emerging Iron Lady Datuk Suraya Yaakob.

The Umno and PAS stranglehold in places like these is something Pakatan supporters outside the state can neither see nor understand.

Any party that wants to rule Kedah needs to penetrate this sort of area.

How will the undercurrents play out in Kedah? Malaysia will decide tomorrow but in Kedah, it is the Malays who will decide where their state is headed.

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