Commentary Politics

United Umno a must if history is not to repeat itself in Kedah

Most of the Umno leaders in Kedah, led by by Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah (right) are against the leadership of Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir (left).

Most of the Umno leaders in Kedah, led by by Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah (right) are against the leadership of Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir (left).

April 22, 2018

Except for 2008, the opposition has never been much of a factor in Kedah politics but this is one state where BN has a habit of self-inflicting the wounds. This is also one state where the older generation generally doesn’t take kindly to anything that demonises Mahathir.


THE Barisan Nasional has had it easy in Kedah but the defeat to PAS in 2008 at least woke many people up from their slumber to realise that nothing should be taken for granted.

Because of the long dominance by the ruling coalition, the defeat appeared to come from nowhere. Statistics from previous general elections since 1959 didn’t show any sign that the Islamist party was capable of rocking the boat, although its presence in many rural areas was very conspicuous from the many flags and posters put up along the main roads.

But such was the hit inflicted on BN that if it had an 86.11 per cent share of the state seats in 2004, this was down to a mere 38.89 per cent four years later.

Those in BN blamed it on the Chinese tsunami and the alliance of PAS, PKR and DAP under the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat.

A side-by-side comparison of state seats won by BN and PAS

Party

Seats won

Percentage

1955 –total seats 12

Alliance

12

100 per cent

PAS

0

Nil

1959 – total 24

Alliance

24

100 per cent

PAS

0

Nil

1964 – total 24

Alliance

24

100 per cent

PAS

0

Nil

1969 – total 24

Alliance

14

58.3 per cent

PAS

8

33.3 per cent

1974 – total 26

BN

15

92.31 per cent

PAS

9

34.62 per cent

1978 – total 26

BN

19

73.08 per cent

PAS

7

26.92 per cent

1982 – total 26

BN

24

92.31 per cent

PASs

2

7.69 per cent

1986 – total 28

BN

25

89.29 per cent

PAS

3

10.71 per cent

1990 – total 28

BN

26

92.86 per cent

PAS

1

3.57 per cent

1995 – total 36

BN

34

94.44 per cent

PAS

2

5.56 per cent

1999 – total 36

BN

24

66.7 per cent

PAS

12

33.33 per cent

2004 – total 36

BN

31

86.11 per cent

PAS

5

13.89 per cent

2008 – total 36

BN

16

38.89 per cent

PAS

14

44.44 per cent

2013 – total 36

BN

21

58.33 per cent

PAS

9

25 per cent

But the more politically savvy Kedahans said that the dissatisfaction against BN, which was mostly self-inflicted by the coalition, had been brewing and gathering steam since the 80s and 90s.

Although the dissatisfaction did not translate into votes, the way the menteri besar was appointed, for example, gave rise to feelings not favourable to the ruling party.The other was the issue of governance.

This was especially so during the tenure of Tan Sri Osman Aroff (1985-1996) and the late Tan Sri Sanusi Junid (1996-1999).

“The only reason why many continued to vote for BN during those times was because they thought that, come what may Umno and BN were still the Tunku’s party,” said 68-year-old paddy farmer Azmi Shapii.

The people’s beef with Osman started when his administration began acquiring paddy fields from farmers in Kerpan in 1993 to be turned into shrimp farms. To the unfamiliar, paddy planting is a huge deal in Kedah as the bulk of the rice produced in the country comes from the state.

The protest was so intense to the point that many had amassed in Kerpan and prayed for divine intervention which they believed happened when Osman was replaced by Sanusi three years of later.

However, despite Sanusi’s appointment the Kerpan issue was not amicably settled and in 1997, a year after Sanusi came to office, some farmers attacked three staff at a farm.

Sanusi’s relationship with some Kedahans continued to strain due to his penchant for dishing out outrageous ideas such as telling farmers to plant paddy on rooftops and a lets-pluck-our-husbands’-grey-hair campaign.

It was also an open secret back then that Sanusi was unable to foster good relationship with those in the Kedah Civil Service (KCS) and the Muda Agricultural Development Authority.

Talk had it that the cold reception given to Sanusi was partly due to the latter’s supposed habit of voicing caustic remarks against those he deemed to be a tad asinine than him.

These issues were said to be the main cause why BN’s hold on power was eroded from 94.44 per cent in the 1995 elections to 66.7 per cent in 1999.

While Kedahans did not have much of an issue with Sanusi’s successor Datuk Seri Syed Razak Syed Zain Barakbah, aside from the latter’s academic qualifications, this was not the case with Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid who replaced him in December 2005.

One would have thought that having been MB for only two-and-a-half years Mahdzir would not have courted any controversy but he did and made worse by the fact that his tangle was with former prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

The controversy happened amidst the Mahathir-Pak Lah tiff (then PM Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) when Mahdzir and Kubang Pasu member of parliament Datuk Johari Baharom sort of shooed Mahathir from going to the rostrum at an Umno meeting in Kubang Pasu.

“You don’t get to be rude to Che Det (what Kedahans call Mahathir) and get away with it,” echoed a group of bricklayers in Alor Janggus. “For many of us that was it, we had to teach them a lesson.”

But the PAS-led Pakatan Harapan government in Kedah quickly turned into a letdown for many Kedahans due to their inefficient governance, especially relating to the rampant logging in Changlun and Sintok.

Kedah PAS was also plagued with internal squabbling between their ulama and technocrats which eventually led to the birth of a splinter pressure group, Pasma, led by Datuk Phahrolrazi Zawawi who was then the Kedah PAS deputy commisioner.

While those from BN said they have worked hard under the leadership of current MB Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md. Hanipah to get back Kedah, there was also the view that Kedah BN’s victory in 2013 was largely due to the split in PAS.

Some also pointed out that they voted for BN simply because they were curious and excited over the prospect of having the son of Mahathir as MB and when Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir became MB, the locals did not have any grouses against him.

While that may be so, Mukhriz’s supposed unorthodox style of governance, one of which was his regular back to KL weekends, did not go down well with the KCS and Umno warlords, so much so that it led to him being out in 2016.

Today, both Mahathir and Mukhriz are confident their party Pribumi Bersatu has enough clout to cause a Malay tsunami in Kedah which BN has consistently dismissed as nothing more than a mere pipe dream.

Their rebuttal is that PAS –which will be contesting in every parliament and state seat in the state – will be Pakatan Harapan’s biggest spoiler as any three-cornered contest will be advantageous for BN.

That said, there is also a prevailing suspicion among locals that PAS is in cahoots with BN due to the former’s peculiarly quiet stance on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad issue.

“Umno is an antithesis to PAS and usually they won’t miss out on any opportunity to highlight BN’s flaws but now they’re keeping mum over 1MBD. How odd?” commented an elderly paddy farmer.

The only consolation to Kedah BN right now is that many of those echoing the call of “kaleh bagi baik” (let’s switch) are still willing to listen to an explanation over how 1MDB has managed to reduce its debt from RM50 billion to RM32 billion.

While claims of a Malay tsunami may be exaggerated, Pakatan, particularly Pribumi Bersatu, has definitely made waves in Kedah.

Those who look close enough would have noticed that the regime-toppling-symptoms of 2008 have resurfaced.

And it does not need a political pundit to predict what will happen if Kedah BN continues to be entrenched with the ways of its warlords.

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Zaidi Azmi and Ahirul Ahirudin