KOTA BARU: Recently, the audience at a PAS ceramah here roared in laughter when the master of ceremonies yelled “Ubah”, the anti-establishment call for change that has been ringing across the nation for months now.
It was, of course, a slip of the tongue. The forum’s objective was to highlight the good that the PAS government had brought to Kelantan.
The emcee quickly realised he had blundered. He apologised profusely and, at the same volume as before and using similar hand gestures, shouted “Kekal”, which means “maintain” or “preserve”.
It was a forgiving audience and the ceramah proceeded smoothly after that.
However, an Umno supporter wryly commented that it might have been a Freudian slip considering that PAS was, according to him, feeling the pressure of an intense Barisan Nasional onslaught in Kelantan.
At stake are 45 state seats and 14 parliament seats, and Umno has been upbeat about improving its performance over previous elections.
Indeed, Kelantan BN chairman Mustapa Mohamed has expressed confidence that the coalition could win 30 state seats this May 5, finally toppling the PAS state government.
To most observers, that sounds more like a wish than a realistic assessment. But then, even staunch PAS supporters are saying that the party might be seeing some loss of support, mostly as a repercussion of the internal conflicts it has been going through.
“We definitely cannot repeat the performance of 2008. This time around, we have internal issues which need to be addressed,” a member of PAS’s election campaign committee told FMT.
He said his party might not win more than 26 state and nine parliament seats.
According to political analyst Mohd Sayuthi Omar, most of those “internal issues” stem from anxiety over the frail health of the iconic Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and the question of who is most qualified to replace him as Kelantan’s menteri besar.
The 13th general election is likely to be the last for the octogenarian, and most observers expect his successor to be named after the coming election.
The names most frequently mentioned are deputy caretaker menteri besar Ahmad Yaakob, deputy Kelantan PAS chief Nik Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah and party vice-president Husam Musa. Some pundits have also mentioned popular preacher Mohd Nassuruddin Daud.
But Nik Aziz’s shoes are hard to fill. The straight-talking scholar inspires deep respect even from political foes for his piety and wisdom.
At least in Kelantan and in other places where Malays are the predominant community, Umno campaigners are careful not to be too severe in attack Nik Aziz as a person.
The thrust of Umno’s campaign in Kelantan, like everywhere else, is still its claim to be a provider of economic development.
“I think the people living here want development,” said Hassan Harun, BN’s election director for the state. “They have become thirsty for it. The states under PAS are lagging behind others in many areas now.”
Hassan claimed that BN would get the support of voters registered in Kelantan but living outside the state.
This appears like an extravagant claim, given that these voters make up about 15% of eligible voters in the state. Moreover, some reports have said they were the ones that had swung the results of the last two elections towards PAS.
But Hassan said Umno’s survey showed that these outstation voters now felt let down by PAS in its compromise on its original principles, such as its tendency to blow hot and cold on the question of introducing hudud punishments.
“I’m confident outstation voters will support BN,” he said. “I feel it in my bones.”
However, former Kota Baru municipal councillor Phang Soon Dee said Umno was being over-confident.
He said PAS members and supporters were noted for their tenacity and he would put his money on the party to coast through.