By Shahrum Sayuthi
November 25 2017
IT was a great victory for Barisan Nasional when it wrested back Terengganu from Pas in the 2004 general election by winning 28 of the 32 state seats and all the eight parliamentary seats.
Despite nationwide setbacks suffered by the coalition at the polls four years later, it still did relatively well in the state , winning 24 state seats along with all the parliamentary seats except Marang which was won by Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.
However, the outcome of the last general election in 2013 was not so good for BN as it only managed to form the state government with 17 state seats, just two more than Pas’, while losing four of the eight parliamentary seats.
Political observers generally agree that the BN’s poor showing in 2013 was largely due to Umno’s infighting, which followed its victory in 2008 after which, the then Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh was replaced by Kijal assemblyman Datuk Seri Ahmad Said.
The BN’s precarious position due to its slim majority in the Terengganu legislative assembly became very apparent on May 12, 2014 when Ahmad was “forced” by the Umno leadership to step down as menteri besar to make way for Seberang Takir assemblyman Datuk Seri Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman.
Ahmad had then, along with Ajil assemblyman Ghazali Taib and Bukit Besi assemblyman Roslee Daud quit Umno, causing Terengganu to have a minority BN state government for a while until the trio later on revoked their decision and returned to the party.
The coming 14th general election which is just months from now should by right be tough for BN in the state as the internal problem within Terengganu Umno continues to simmer till today.
Even Razif’s position as menteri besar was said to be insecure with many predicting that he will be replaced after the election by either Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Shabery Cheek, who is currently the Kemaman MP, or Communication and Multimedia Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Jailani Johari, who is the Hulu Terengganu MP.
However, the situation within Terengganu Pas, the strongest opposition party in the state has not been so rosy either after the Islamist party lost more than a quarter of its members following the purge of its so-called professionals faction in 2015.
Even though Pas may not be much affected in the overwhelmingly Malay majority Terengganu following its decision not to join the main opposition coalition of Pakatan Harapan, the fact remains that the creation of its splinter Amanah has taken away some portion of its strength in the state, the same as in other parts of the country.
Local political observers had also noted that the current Terengganu Pas leadership, helmed by the recently appointed commissioner Datuk Hussin Awang, had been struggling to keep the weaken party on an even keel with the general election drawing nearer.
As for Pakatan Harapan, their charge will be led by Amanah’s first-term Kuala Terengganu MP Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad, who is actually considered by many as a novice who won his parliamentary seat in 2013 purely because he was was backed by the Pas machinery.
It was noted that the opposition coalition is still struggling to prepare itself for the election in the state, considering that its own machinery on the ground for now is almost nonexistent.
Observers were mostly in agreement that Raja Kamarul Bahrin himself will find it hard to defend his seat against the vastly more experienced and better funded election machinery of Umno and Pas .
For most people in Terengganu, the coming election, despite it being expected to be a three-cornered fight, is still going to actually be just between the established Umno and Pas.
This is especially so for those in the rural areas, as sophisticated issues such as the 1MDB controversy being used by Pakatan Harapan as the pillar of their campaign strategy were too complicated to persuade them to choose other than Umno or Pas with which they are already familiar.
Despite the Pakatan Harapan leadership accusing Pas as being the spoiler which is going to break the anti-BN vote bank, in Terengganu, the situation is likely the other way around with the opposition coalition being the one which will reduce Pas’ chances against BN.
Considering the likely split of opposition votes between Pakatan Harapan and Pas in a three-cornered fight, Terengganu BN is almost certain to have the advantage of increasing its seats in the coming election.
Furthermore, a closer look at the results of 2013 general election shows that Pas’ majority at its three remaining parliamentary constituencies were not all that impressive. It won in Kuala Nerus with just 49.9 per cent of the votes and a slim majority of 610, Marang with 52.6 per cent (5,124 majority) and Dungun with 51.9 per cent (3,942 majority).
Raja Kamarul Baharin was actually the best performer among the Pas’ parliamentary candidates that year, winning Kuala Terengganu with 56 per cent of the votes and a majority of 10,785.
For comparison, BN won in Besut with 56.1 per cent of the votes and a majority of 8,342 ; Setiu with also 56.1 per cent (7,943 majority); Hulu Terengganu with 56.5 per cent (8,213 majority); and Kemaman with 56.9 per cent (12,036 majority).
As for Pas’ 15 state seats won in 2013, eight were held with a majority of less than 1,000 votes making them now BN’s prime targets in the coming election.
They are Tepoh (229), Teluk Pasu (109), Bukit Tunggal (652), Ladang (924), Alur Limbat (642), Bukit Payung (613), Manir (588), and Rantau Abang (141).
Only four of the 17 BN’s state seats were won by similar razor thin majority. They are Jertih (930), Jabi (782), Kuala Berang (449) and Kemasik (898).
Based on the three-cornered fights scenario, it is highly realistic to expect BN to improve its electoral performance in Terengganu instead of Pas and Pakatan Harapan.
The optimism should however be tempered with caution to prevent any implosion within the coalition, or to be more precise, Umno in the state.
If Terengganu Umno leaders could focus on serving the rakyat well, refrain from making less than intelligent statements, and avoid resuming the infighting which caused the setbacks in 2013 for the coming months, there should be no reason for them to fear losing the state in the next general election.