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UMNO can win Kelantan

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, the DAP has quickly turned the state into their own power base. Building their strength from Penang, today the DAP is an important force nationally as well as in other states. They can confidently go to all parts of the country showing people the successes they have 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 their leadership in Selangor. The state’s wealth, and the various machineries of government, are available for their use to project their 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 their base has been beneficial for the party.

The importance of having a power base is not lost to 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 bases.

PAS is no difference. Kelantan and Terengganu have been their power bases for decades, with their luck being better in Kelantan. They have ruled Terengganu for only two short terms. But their stint in Kelantan has been more successful, with the first one for 18 years (1959 to 1977) and then again from 1990 until now.

I am sure PAS too is very aware of what could become of them if they lose Kelantan. Despite all the bravados that they present to the public, it would be foolish to think that they are not worried about the possibility of losing their 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 is we dig deeper.

Before going further, I must firstly say that UMNO did not win their 12 seats convincingly. Ten of the seats were won with a majority of less than 2500, and within that, five with not even 1000 votes majority. So UMNO’s victories are 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 corner fights, UMNO can lie down and just wait for the crown to be handed to them. The splitting of votes between PAS and Amanah will almost certainly benefit UMNO.

In GE13, 17 out of the 32 seats won by PAS were won with a majority of less than 2500 votes. The majority in 11 of those seats were just about 1000 votes or less. So it is not at all difficult to remove PAS from those seats. If Amanah can gain just 3000 votes from PAS in each of these seats, it is not enough to make them win, but enough to make PAS lose. And UMNO will be presented with 17 additional seats, allowing them to form a comfortable state government.

UMNO also has a very potent weapon they can deploy if they are serious about winning Kelantan. That weapon is Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, current 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 UMNO officially names Tok Pa as their Chief Minister candidate, and combined with the impacts 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 their Kelantan power base if PAS agrees to force three-corner 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.

First published for Sin Chew Daily, 12 September 2017

Wan Saiful

Wan Saiful is Chief Executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, Director of the Southeast Asia Network for Development and Chairman of the Istanbul Network for Liberty.

2017-09-11T06:35:11+00:00 12th September 2017|Opinion|Comments Off on UMNO can win Kelantan