By Wong Choon Mei
It’s all systems go for the Pakatan Rakyat at the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election.
With less than two weeks till nomination day on Jan 6, operations offices have already been set up by all three partners - KeADILan, PAS and DAP. The trio will collectively go all out to wrest the seat from the Umno-led Barisan Nasional and try their best to put in place their candidate from the Islamic-based PAS.
According to Pakatan people, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim himself will kick-start campaigning and is due to deliver the first official ceramah of the evening on nomination day.
Leading the charge for KeADILan will be Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim. Khalid will lead a team from Selangor, who together with KT locals, will focus on winning the hearts and minds of the urban KT dwellers.
Party bigwigs from neighbouring Kelantan, Pahang and other states will tasked to present the coalition’s case to the village folk living in the outlying areas of this peaceful coastal town, Pakatan members added.
“We are ready, it’s all set-up,” said KeADILan information chief Tian Chua. “The work has been planned and farmed out to all the different zonal chiefs. It is massive teamwork, a huge collective effort at both party and coalition level to win back KT for the people. We are very motivated.”
Who will represent Pakatan?
Balloting is on Jan 17, leaving both the Pakatan and the BN with 11 days to get their message across to the people of this breezy, royal capital town where rain-bearing monsoons dictate the pace of life for large parts of the year.
PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang is due to announce the name of the candidate on Jan 1. Hadi, along with other Pakatan leaders, has chosen to keep mum on who will represent the coalition.
“We already have a candidate. It is in my pocket, Insya-Allah…wait for Jan 1 for the announcement,” was all Hadi would say despite intense badgering from the press.
Nevertheless, speculation is rife that the PAS candidate will be either Batu Burok assemblyman Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi or party veteran Wan Mutalib Embong.
A doctorate in political education, Syed Azman was also Kuala Terengganu MP in 1999 before he lost the seat to Umno in 2004. Party stalwart Wan Mutalib has been tasked with running the Terengganu PAS election machinery.
KT - a crucial test of Malay leadership
In the other corner is Deputy Home Minister Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh, the official choice of the Umno-led Barisan.
The KT seat is a crucial test for both Pakatan and the Barisan. Both coalitions need the victory to show that they have indeed advanced in terms of voter acceptance and popularity since the March 2008 general election.
In particular, because KT has an 88-percent Malay population, the seat is regarded as a key litmus test for Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, as he is also the incoming Umno president.
“The results will show who has leadership over the Malay community. Is it still Umno, can Umno still say they are the lords of the Malay race? Or have the Malays themselves already shifted allegiance to PAS and the PKR by now,” said a political watcher.
Umno has been declining in prominence, losing thousands of Malay intellectuals to KeADILan and PAS. Hit by internal strife and massive corruption, the bitterly divided Umno has pinned its last hopes on Najib, the eldest son of Malaysia’s second Prime Minister Abdul Razak.
Altantuya-corruption allegations unabated
But Najib is himself dogged by serious allegations.
Not only has he come under attack for having had a sexual relationship with a brutally murdered Mongolian translator, Altantuya Shaariibuu, his involvement in various high-cost arms deals during his time as Defence Minister has come under scrutiny. Najib has repeatedly denied the accusations.
The fear now is that the 55-year old will revert to the policies pursued by his mentor and ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad. These include unpopular large-scale sales or privatisation of national assets, mega-projects and cronyism to raise funds to prime the economy. Malaysia is on the brink of a full-blown recession that experts believe is inevitable from next year onwards.
Najib, who is due to take over from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in March 2009, again tasted fire when he recently tried to privatise the National Heart Institute to conglomerate Sime Darby Bhd. The deal sparked a huge wave of protest as the people feared it signified another step towards higher public healthcare costs.
Another deal that was very quietly put through was a RM1.7 billion budget air terminal granted to Sime and Air Asia - which was criticised by analysts as wasteful expenditure given the lean economic times when projects with a greater multiplier effect should be prioritized.
Now you see, now you don’t
The latest controversy over the implementation of hudud law has also caught both the Umno and Najib on the hop.
While Umno has shied away from taking a firm stand on hudud, fearing a backlash from Muslim voters if it is seen to be promoting too a liberal view, rival PAS knows exactly where it stands.
Grilled by non-Malay groups including Pakatan partner DAP for stating that PAS would implement hudud if it came into power, Husam nevertheless managed to turn the tables on Najib.
Explaining that PAS would only implement hudud if partners KeADILan and DAP agreed, Husam told reporters: “However, PAS will continue with its struggle to implement hudud law, which is God’s law, by explaining to all quarters, including the Pakatan Rakyat component parties, until they are ready to accept the law.
“The hudud law is still hypothetical. There are other issues that have to take precedence. What’s wrong with waiting longer? Umno has not done it after more than 50 years in power.”
There are 80,229 registered voters in KT, of which nearly 11 percent are Chinese.
Some pundits believe this minority group will be the deciding factor in the fight for KT. Yet others believe there has been a shift in Malay sentiment towards PAS and KeADILan, making the Malay vote just as critical.
“I and other top Pakatan leaders from PKR and DAP will enter the field to campaign for PAS victory,” said a resurgent Anwar.
Sumber: Suara Keadilan