DATUK Kamarudin Sidek, the PAS chief for Melaka, looked so solemn at the launch of the Perikatan Nasional manifesto that his Selangor collegue Roslan Shahrir asked him if he was alright.
Kamarudin is a naturally serious person but that evening, his body was at the manifesto launch in Shah Alam while his mind was in Duyong, the seat he is contesting in the Melaka election.
“He still has a lot of work to do in Duyong,” said Roslan who is the Selangor PAS election director.
It would have been a breeze for Kamarudin in Duyong had PAS not teamed up with Perikatan. Umno had been prepared to make way for PAS but Kamarudin has now found himself the underdog in a fight with Umno and DAP.
Duyong has over 60% Malay voters and Umno has taken over the seat from MCA which lost to DAP in 2013 and again in 2018.
As such, it has boiled down to which party can secure more Malay votes in Duyong.
Moreover, Kamarudin, a graduate of Al-Azhar University, is close to former chief minister Datuk Sulaiman Md Ali who had appointed him as the religious advisor to the then government.
The PAS decision to forego its own party logo has left many members on the ground conflicted.
Some PAS members are openly helping Umno to put up flags and banners. A number of them even spoke to TV3 about it, saying they have gotten to know Umno leaders through the Muafakat Nasional programmes.
They are assisting Umno only in seats where PAS is not the candidate but it says a lot of how they feel about Perikatan.
All this adds to the undercurrents that have made the Melaka election so hard to forecast.
The Perikatan manifesto has hit all the right buttons for what Melaka people need to make their lives better. The trouble is that not many people take election promises seriously anymore.
The way alcohol and gambling has crept into the campaign also underscores the lack of real issues in the state election.
The Cabinet decision to allow the Timah whisky brand name was seen as MCA telling the Chinese voters that it is can speak up for their interests in the government.
On the other hand, Kedah’s ban on gambling and alcohol sales, that came from out of the blue, was perceived as helping out PAS in Melaka.
It seemed like PAS telling the Malay voters that the party is serious about implementing Islamic values in government.
But tourism, which is Melaka’s lifeline, thrives on a more open and tolerant society and PAS candidates could be kissing goodbye to the non-Malay votes.
The whole idea of PAS coming under the Perikatan umbrella was to woo non-Malay votes. The ban has taken the party back to square one.
Malay candidates tend to ride on their religion in one way or another.
Critics of Umno have borrowed an analogy from the Prophet’s life in commenting about the 68 year-old grandmother Umno fielded in Pengkalan Batu.
They said the Prophet Muhammad had walked the earth as a prophet from age 40 to 63 and that Datuk Kalsom Nordin is past her prime.
It led to a retort from Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Alwi Che Ahmad: “What about Mahathir who became PM at 92?”
Kalsom’s own retort was that “a mature coconut has more santan”.
This is the final stretch after a rather boring campaign and the question on everyone’s lips is who is ahead.
With the Chinese support more or less locked up by DAP, the answer lies in which party or coalition is will get the most Malay votes.
Kota Laksamana, Bandar Hilir, Kesidang and Ayer Keroh, where Chinese make up between 50% and 79% of the electorate will go to DAP even if the candidate is a banana tree.
The remaining 24 seats will be decided by the Malay voters who will determine who forms the next government.
It explains why Umno, which is contesting 20 seats, has grown increasingly confident.
Their fixed deposit of votes that gave them 13 seats in 2018 is intact, the wind is no longer lashing at them and they think the Malay swing that cost them seats has swung back their way.
They can sense it in their tea sessions with Malay locals who have lots of complaints about Umno leaders but who also have nothing good to say about the other side.
Moreover, there has been quite a bit of nonsense blasted out on social media to scare Malay voters about Pakatan and its DAP partner.
At the same time, the Umno war room has instructed Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh to ramp up his campaign in Tanjung Bidara where Perikatan’s Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin is said to catching up.
Mas Ermieyati, who is Masjid Tanah MP and a deputy minister, has an established presence in the area.
“It is not because Mas is popular, it’s because Rauf is seen as ‘orang atas’ (privileged group). Humility is important with Malay voters,” said an Umno war room figure.
Perikatan is not short of funds or ideas but can it really take on Umno?
The prevailing opinion among many journalists on the ground is that Perikatan is under pressure and struggling.
Was that part of the reason why the normally unflappable Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin suddenly lost his temper at a press conference when asked about a provocative remark made by fellow Johorean Tan Sri Shahrir Samad?
Bersatu secretary-general and Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin said Perikatan’s chances should not be underestimated.
“Umno has the machinery, but it could not be utilised. Candidates and social media hold the key to winning in Melaka,” said Hamzah.