Umno can win back Kelantan

 If Tok Pa is officially named as the Mentri Besar candidate, the party can retake the state easily. 

Having a power base is crucial for all political parties that want to be competitive in the long term. From that power base, they can project the model of government they can offer to win or retain power.

After taking over Penang from Gerakan, DAP has quickly turned the state into their own power base. Building their strength from Penang, today DAP is an important force nationally as well as in other states.

The party can confidently go to all parts of the country showing people the successes it has achieved in Penang, and project a model of how they would govern other states if they were to win power there.

Similarly, PKR too is making full use of its leadership in Selangor. The state’s wealth and the various machinery of government are available for use to project the party’s own model government.

We may agree or disagree with how these resources are used, but the point I am making is that having Selangor as PKR’s base has been beneficial for the party.

The importance of having a power base is not lost on the leaders of other parties. When I met the leaders of newer parties like Amanah and PPBM, they too expressed the desire to win at least one state, if not Putrajaya, in order to build their own base.

PAS is no different. Kelantan and Terengganu have been the party’s power base for decades, with their luck being better in Kelantan.

It ruled Terengganu for only two short terms. Its stint in Kelantan has been more successful, with the first one for 18 years (1959 to 1977), while the current one started in 1990.

I am sure PAS too is very aware of what could become of the party if it loses Kelantan. Despite all the bravado that it publicly displays, it would be foolish to think that it is not worried about the possibility of losing its only power base.

The biggest challenger in Kelantan is, of course, Umno.

In GE13, PAS won 32 of the 45 state seats, while PKR won one and Umno the remaining 12. At first glance, this looks comfortable for PAS. However, the picture is different as we dig deeper.

Before going further, I must first say that Umno did not win their 12 seats convincingly. Ten of the seats were won with majorities of fewer than 2,500, and of those, five were below the 1,000-vote majority. So Umno’s victories were not very big at all.

But the threat to PAS is not from Umno. It comes from Amanah because this new party could pull votes away from the former.

The vast majority of Amanah’s supporters are those who left PAS. So Umno’s level of support may not be too affected.

If PAS, Umno and Amanah were to put candidates across Kelantan, creating state-wide three-cornered fights, Umno can lie down and just wait for the crown to be handed to it. The splitting of votes between PAS and Amanah will almost certainly benefit Umno.

In GE13, 17 of the 32 seats that went to PAS were won with majorities slimmer than 2,500 votes. The majorities in 11 of those seats were just about 1,000 votes or fewer. So it is not at all difficult to remove PAS from those seats.

If Amanah can gain just 3,000 votes from PAS in each of these seats, it is not enough to secure a win for the new party, but enough to make PAS lose. And Umno will be presented with 17 additional seats, allowing it to comfortably form the state government.

Umno also has a very potent weapon it can deploy – Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, the Minister of International Trade and Industry.

Tok Pa, as he is fondly known, is a respected Kelantanese. He is well liked by friends and foes. Even his political opponents hardly have anything bad to say about him. His track record has been exemplary.

If Tok Pa is officially named as the Mentri Besar candidate, and combined with the impact of three-cornered fights, Umno will retake Kelantan hands down.

The question, however, is whether Umno really wants to win Kelantan.

Several friends are trying to convince me that Umno will allow PAS to keep its Kelantan power base if PAS agrees to force three-cornered fights in other parts of the country. All PAS leaders I met have denied any deal with Umno, but the rumour lingers on.

At the same time, I must admit that I have not seen Umno’s seriousness either. Otherwise, they would have named Tok Pa as their MB candidate a long time ago.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, and Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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