DATUK Seri Aminuddin Harun caused ripples when he announced he was not keen on becoming the president of the Seremban International Golf Club because the club served alcohol.
Many were taken aback because the Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar is not the sort to wear his religion on his sleeve.
Aminuddin said his Muslim constituents would not approve and besides, he does not play golf.
The club’s constitution stipulates that the mentri besar would automatically be their president and its liquor permit had never been an issue with former mentris besar.
Aminuddin also told reporters not to equate him with the former mentri besar.
It was interpreted by many reporters as his way of saying that he is a better Muslim than his predecessor Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.
PKR leaders, to their credit, do not usually mix politics with religion but Aminuddin is preparing to do battle in the Rantau by-election where Malays make up 53% of the voters.
Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for Rantau is Dr S. Streram but the burden is on Aminuddin to capture the seat for the ruling coalition.
The Mentri Besar is under tremendous pressure to reverse Pakatan’s losing streak.
He also feels the need to put a definitive end to the career of Mat Hasan, as his predecessor is known.
It has not been easy for Aminuddin, given the constant comparisons between him and Mat Hasan, who has a good reputation and track record in the state.
Moreover, Mat Hasan has turned out to be a credible and effective opposition leader and the media covering the state assembly sittings agreed that he seemed to be the only one who really knows what he was talking about.
Having Mat Hasan on the opposition bench has been like a thorn in Aminuddin’s side.
The Mentri Besar has also been struggling against a mutiny from within his own party.
Of the eight PKR divisions in the state, six are openly against him and have lobbied the party leadership to remove him. However, if PKR wins in Rantau, Aminuddin will be able to tell his party detractors to go jump into the lake.
The stakes are high even though Rantau is only a state seat and the by-election outcome is not going to make a difference in the power equation.
A win for the Umno deputy president will confirm that the party is slowly but surely making a comeback.
Mat Hasan seems to have brought good feng shui to Umno. The party has won two difficult by-elections in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih since he took over the presidential duties.
But Rantau will be his highest mountain to scale even though he has held the seat since 2004.
According to Unisel vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Redzuan Othman, Mat Hasan would have lost in the general election if Dr Streram had been allowed to contest.
Rantau is one of four state seats in the parliamentary constituency of Rembau.
The breakdown of votes for Rembau showed that in the Rantau area, PKR secured 8,210 votes, Barisan Nasional 7,778 votes and PAS 777 votes.
As such, Dr Streram believed that he had a good chance of winning when he filed the petition for a re-election last year.
But Dr Redzuan admitted that sentiment on the ground have changed since then and that it would be quite tough for Dr Streram.
“The mood out there is that people want to remind Pakatan of their promises.
“Moreover, a by-election is different from a general election – people will examine you from your hair to your shoes in a by-election, and that can be tough,” said Selangor PKR politician Lee Chin Cheh.
Dr Streram is also facing some internal resistance. During the PKR election in November, he was the only one from his team who won a position in the Rembau division which is now controlled by his rival R. Tangam.
To compound matters, Tangam had lobbied for his wife, who is the local PKR Wanita chief, to be the by-election candidate.
Dr Streram has been doing some work in the area but he lives in Klang and is seen as an outsider.
Mat Hasan, on the other hand, was born and bred in Rantau where his family home still stands.
He speaks the local Malay dialect and during a ceramah in Semenyih, he had said: “Kek Rantau den bertanding. Itu kampung den, takkan den nak lari. Biar den mati di kampung sendiri.”
It was his way of saying that Rantau is his kampung, he has no intention of running away and that he would fight to the end there.
Dr Streram will do well among the Indian and Chinese voters who make up 27% and 18% of the electorate but he will struggle to connect with the Malay base.
Pakatan has made moves to emphasise the Malay agenda since their loss in Semenyih. Will that help ease the way for them in Rantau?
“The problem is, people want it now. They want something that is of an immediate benefit to their everyday needs. Announcements like an international airport is great news but it cannot pay their bills,” said Dr Redzuan.
Mat Hasan has also behaved like a gentleman despite knowing that many voters in Rantau were not with Barisan in the general election.
“This is politics, it is their right to vote for who they want. But they are all my kampung friends, we grew up together until I was in Form 5 when I left for my studies,” said Mat Hasan.
He still goes to his favourite mamak shop in Rantau town and greets everyone as “my old friend”.
He also has a habit of riding a motorcycle around the kampung without a helmet, greeting people along the way.
Dr Streram will be a giant-killer if he manages to beat Mat Hasan.
The stakes are much higher for Mat Hasan. A loss will spell the end of his political career and any ambitions that he may have for the leadership of Umno.
Mat Hasan is not your typical political animal but he has carried himself well since taking over the party leadership.
Unlike his predecessor, he is not interested in taking Umno to power by the backdoor. He said his priority is to rebuild the party and prepare for the next general election.
Party people who watched him speak and campaign in Semenyih said that Umno may have found a potential prime minister candidate.
But that is a far, far away dream and Mat Hasan needs to fight it out in Rantau before anything else can happen.
Dr Redzuan said there are signs of dissatisfaction among the non-Malays but no sign of rejection (of Pakatan) going by the results of preceding by-elections.
“But among the Malay voters, there are clear signs of rejection,” he said.
In that sense, neither side can take things for granted. The candidates will have to fight for every vote they can get.