PAS will have every chance to wrest the Kuala Trengganu (KT) parliamentary seat in January, for one simple reason: there will be more dissension in the Umno ranks.
The presidency of Umno may have been resolved, but a whole slew of key positions have not, and in that realisation everyone will have an eye to Kuala Trengganu, and on how it can improve their own chances with the national delegates in March.
Women and Men
The wanita wing is the focal force in the Umno arsenal, especially in by-elections. Their ability to penetrate the religious divide to the more basic day to day concerns of families always are telling in elections. Now Rafidah Aziz has to lead her people, with full knowledge that a large part of that core have openly and derisively asked for her departure. The discontent and inability to work as a whole will be evident in the campaign, and Rafidah especially will be using the opportunity to win back – or heckle until they submit – support.
With a crowded platform, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil will have to respond or risk being branded as someone fearful of Rafidah.
And that is just the wanita wing.
The main contest for the deputy prime ministership is ongoing. There is indecision on the side of both Ali Rustam and Muhammad Muhammad Taib on who will yield to the other, in order to have a one on one with Muhyiddin Yassin. Both Melaka and Selangor man, might go down to KT to get a better read of sentiments. The longer they hold off the decision the better the chances for Muhyiddin to sweep the post.
At the same time – as politics go – all three of them would love to see BN lose the seat and allow Najib Abdul Razak to assume the prime ministership with less leverage.
They will all remember how Musa Hitam was the victim of Mahathir Mohammad’s intent on staying in power long, and in Umno the formula for an enduring stay in power is by castrating your deputy or removing him. The longest serving dpm under Mahathir was Ghaffar Baba – and that was because the limitations of a former schoolteacher who is out of his depth in policy, English and persuasion.
The deputy prime minister leads by-elections – and if Najib fails to keep KT, then he will be that much weaker as prime minister in March.
Besides that, there are keen tussles for youth chief and the supreme council.
There will be mixed signals all over the place.
Trengganu, the real one
In the lead up to the general election in March 2008, there was uproar over the choice of candidates by Umno central.
And post election the sultan appointed assemblyman Ahmad Said as the menteri besar over Abdullah Badawi’s Idris Jusoh, and a constitutional crisis was on the verge of happening.
Badawi backed down along with the 22 other Umno assemblymen when they were unwilling to challenge the sultan, who is the Agong.
Something like that does not happen, and then just goes away. The chief of the state’s Umno is not the menteri besar, in Umno-terms, everything is fair game right now. The candidate picked will be placed under much scrutiny, in terms of affiliations and symbol.
There are tensions underneath everything and the subterfuge will be engrossing.
PAS’ own peccadillos
The Erdogans and unitarists are in a struggle for breathing space in PAS.
The Erdogans in wanting to bring PAS to the centre, of being a more Islamic principled national party seeking to run a secular country.
And in the other corner the unitarists – the idea of Islam and Malayness and by extension Malay rights are inseparable – are gathering the conservative and indeed to larger end of the party to shoo out too modern thoughts.
The unwillingness of the Erdogans to have a face off keeps the temperatures manageble in the party for now. There is broad consensus – unlike in Umno – to set aside those differences to win the election.
This will keep them more potent in the grab for Muslim votes.
The media spins the non-Muslim votes as the tie-breaker, but I do think it is an oversimplification.
There is every chance the Chinese votes will be split down the middle, in a country coming to terms with its flawed past. There is less likelihood that the community will just vote Umno nine days before their new year, just so that they can secure stability in a time of uncertainty.
A sense of right and wrong is starting to move votes in Malaysia, and the Umno base is eroding because of it. KT’s stature of just being a east coast contest with fixed variables and possibility is likely to be challenged this election, with a result that might surprise mostly those in the PWTC.