KUALA TERENGGANU, April 5 — After successfully winning almost half of Terengganu’s state seats in 2013, PAS hopes to recapture the east coast state in the 14th general election.
But as uncertainties grow over party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s health, a tough road lies ahead for the party’s campaign.
Compounding the problem is the fractious internal split that gave birth to Amanah, the splinter party it would need to confront in the upcoming polls alongside incumbents Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN).
Furthermore, there is no guarantee PAS can even retain all of its current seats since seven of them were won with razor-thin majorities.
Yet Datuk Mustafa Ali, one of the party’s top local leaders, is confident that the Islamists can reclaim the oil-rich state with a “simple majority” — the party only needs 17 of the 32 state legislative seats to form a government.
“I can’t give you the numbers but we can win with a simple majority,” Mustafa, who was formerly the party’s election director, told ProjekMMO.
Based on the previous electoral map, seven of the 14 state seats controlled by PAS were won with less than 1,000 majority votes.
Out of the seven, three of them were won with less than 300 votes. PAS took Tepuh and Teluk Pasu with only 229- and 109-vote majorities respectively. Both the state seats are within the Kuala Nerus parliamentary seat, which the party won with just 610 votes.
Leaders from the Kuala Nerus Umno chapter have expressed confidence that the party can oust PAS from both the federal and state seats. Kuala Nerus, currently represented by Khairuddin Aman Razali, is made up of four state seats.
The other state seat, Rantau Abang, was won with only a 141-vote majority. There are expectations that the seat located within the Dungun parliamentary map can be easily grabbed by BN in GE14.
PAS only garnered a 588-vote majority for Manir, a state seat within the federal seat of Hulu Terengganu. Yet the constituency is considered one of the four PAS strongholds in the state due to the influence of its former representative, Datuk Harun Taib.
Since 1995, the party has won the seat with less than 500 votes, with the only exception being in 1999 when it rode on the back of the strong anti-Umno sentiment that stemmed from the Reformasi movement to carve out a bigger majority.
The four other state seats won with narrow majorities are Alur Limbat with 645 votes, Bukit Payung with 613 votes and Bukit Tunggal with 652 votes. Ladang, formerly an Umno stronghold, was won with 924 majority votes.
PAS has won Ladang only three times, including in 2008 with just 31 votes.
Pundits expect party efforts to retain the seven seats will be tough judging from the series of crucial developments that have taken place since GE13.
Shortly after the May elections, discontent against Abdul Hadi led a full-fledged mutiny and the unceremonious departure of several leaders who later formed Persatuan Ummah Sejahtera Malaysia (PasMa). The movement is reportedly strong in Terengganu.
Yet PasMa, or even Amanah, have not really succeeded in bleeding PAS of its members. It did, however, trigger strong rumours about potential internal sabotage, a scenario that made popular the political joke about mempelam harumanis, a type of mango used to describe PAS members who were “green on the outside but orange at heart.” Amanah’s party colour is orange.
But PAS remains confident that Amanah poses no threat to its influence in Terengganu, nor is it concerned with the arrival of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), an Umno splinter party led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
To them, Terengganu voters only know PAS or BN. The poor track record of other parties there provides ample proof, its leaders have said.
PKR, a former ally, only has one seat today while Semangat 46, a now-defunct Umno splinter party, only lasted two elections.
On the other side of the fence, BN has strived hard to consolidate its position after the political crisis sparked by former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Razif Abd Rahman nearly gave the state away to PAS.
But some said the coalition’s success in mitigating the damage has made it difficult for PAS to drive a wedge within BN and exploit the issue.
An Umno division leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity had also suggested that BN can foster a friendly relationship with PAS. But PAS Kuala Terengganu division chief Wan Sukairi Wan Abdullah denied this.
“With effort and hard work to serve the people, we can retain these marginal seats and even increase the majority,” Wan Sukairi told ProjekMMO.
“From the information that I got, insya-Allah (we can win). I cannot give figures, but we can take over.”
Terengganu is among the few states with a superior Malay majority electorate. Minority voters are only marginally present in two state seats: Bandar in Kuala Terengganu and Chukai in Kemaman.
Mustafa said Amanah will have little influence among PAS grassroots and hardcore backers. Most of those who defected were only mid-level leaders, he said.
He also downplayed Dr Mahathir’s influence and said PPBM’s potential to split Umno’s votes would benefit his party.
“Majority of grassroots aren’t influenced or affected. Amanah and PPBM are only vote spoilers. To win will be tough,” he said.
“PAS stands to profit from the lack of support for Umno. PAS has the advantage because PPBM is not as strong.”
But in the middle of all its preparations, the party was dealt a heavy blow as Abdul Hadi’s heart condition has sparked fear that the Marang MP could be forced to rest and play a lesser role in campaigning.
Speculation is rife that he would either defend his Marang seat or relinquish both. He also helms the Ru Rendang state seat.
Turning 71 in October, Abdul Haid has been absent in the Lower House for most of the time. His failure to partake in crucial policy debates has given detractors the ammunition to question his commitment.
But both Mustafa and Wan Sukairi insist the PAS president will contest.
“He will. I haven’t spoken to him directly, but I am sure he would still contest although I think it may just be for the federal seat,” Mustafa said.
“His health is still stable and under control,” Wan Sukairi said.
Talks have spread that his son, PAS Youth chief Muhammad Khalil Abdul Hadi, may stand in his place in Ru Rendang. Abdul Hadi has won the seat since 1982, while he has been the MP of Marang since 1986.