Friday, August 13, 2004

The crucial Kuala Berang factor

The TV3 SMS survey conducted recently by the private television network indicated that 52% would vote for PAS for the upcoming August 28 Kuala Berang state by-election. A surprising figure given UMNO is still in an elative and party mood after its big win during the March 2004 general election particularly in Terengganu. Many agree that the survey results do not accurately represent the actual situation on the ground in Kuala Berang, as Malaysians of all ages throughout the country could freely participate in such a survey. Nevertheless, UMNO people were the least amused, party secretary general Radzi Sheikh Ahmad lambasted the station for conducting the survey, which according to him is illogical, unnecessary and done in bad taste.

No one could blame Radzi for his outburst as this by-election is set to be a crucial one for UMNO. True enough whatever result it may bring would not matter much as UMNO has firm control over the state, yet losing the seat to PAS or even winning it with a smaller majority would have a lot of disastrous after effect to many in the party and the party itself.

UMNO general assembly is due on Sepetember 22 where an intense fight is expected for several key posts from the vice president down, including several critical posts in the Youth, Wanita and Puteri wings. UMNO lobbyists are busy scurrying the length and breadth of the country canvassing support for each other’s candidates. This is a difficult task particularly for those without government position or much fund to throw around. Thus, many party opportunists see the unexpected by-election as a fertile ground for them to exploit and carry out their activities which they are extremely expert at.

With the impending by-election UMNO big wigs of all ranks from the central, state and divisional level shall surely converge in the sleepy hallow of Kuala Berang. It would definitely be an opportune moment to rub shoulders and beg for support not only from the Kuala Berang voters but also more importantly from delegates to the September assembly, at least that is what most party hopefuls and their campaigners would do as on record they are never saints in the first place.

Surely Muhammad Taib for instance, as incumbent vice president who has recently been appointed the Barisan Nasional coordinating committee chairman in the by election, would make full use of his position to ensure a BN victory as well as a passport for him to win the vice president post which is currently also being eyed by several more able leaders in the party ranks.

Perhaps foreseeing such a calamity Wanita head, Rafidah Aziz recently delivered a stern reminder to Wanita hopefuls to toe the line while busy campaigning for party positions. But then again will party hopefuls and their lobbyists who have barely a month or so to solicit support would ever agree to tone down and abide by such rulings? Well Malaysians have seen much over the years to know UMNO very well.

In the meantime, Kuala Berang voters will look forward to be pampered and feted by UMNO Terengganu leaders. At stake are the few of them who are vying for UMNO supreme council seats. A landslide victory in the by-election shall carry a lot of weight and boost their chances of gaining entry into UMNO’s prestigious war lords club. The Terengganu MB declared that the majority attained in March would this time be increased to above 2,000 votes from 1,695. However, Terengganu UMNO might not be as strong as they were before. Already the recent divisional elections saw wide rift among them as most party veterans and elders were eliminated by young turks and groups associated to the new MB. Many questions if they would be able to close ranks or simply sabotage each other because of their continuous deep and burning animosity.

Meanwhile, Kuala Berang shall always remain as a significant historical site. It was here that the renowned “Batu Bersurat” was found, evidence of Terengganu once being an Islamic state fully practicing the Islamic legal system. Shall Kuala Berang once again create history by delivering an upset to UMNO? On the other hand, shall the replica of the Batu Bersurat just stand silent merely to be idolized as a monument by tourist at the Ladang roundabout in Kuala Terengganu.

True enough PAS in Terengganu was delivered a heavy blow last March, but history has shown that PAS is capable of wining a by election even when they are in the opposition in the state. This is the best chance for the party to redeem its lost honor. In 1989 PAS as the underdog defeated UMNO in a state by-election in Teluk Pasu. Ustaz Dato’ Harun Taib who is currently the state assembly member for Manir and Central Ulamak Head, was then the victorious candidate. Coincidentally the constituency of Kuala Berang lies within the Hulu Terengganu division which is also headed by Ustaz Harun. Therein UMNO will have to play their cards carefully this time lest they risk losing the seat and witness the fall of many within their ranks later in September as a result.

No comments: