EVERYONE knew it was a tight race between two Malay Muslim parties. On the night of 17 Jan 2009, as the votes were counted for the Kuala Terengganu by-election, the ebb and flow of emotions outside the tallying centre was both audible and palpable.
Tens of thousands had gathered outside the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Indoor Stadium, tense with anticipation of the completion of a story that started out too close to predict.
As the result from each ballot box was announced over the loudspeaker, the hordes of PAS supporters collectively emitted either guttural rumbles of despondency or roars of jubilance.
For the first hour or so of counting, there were slightly more “awh-lawhhh” groans. But from the moment PAS took the lead in the official tally, “Allahu-akbar!” rang through the night.
In the end, PAS’s candidate Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut won the parliamentary seat with a 2,631-vote majority, spectacularly wresting the seat away from the Barisan Nasional (BN). He polled 32,883 votes against the BN’s Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh, from Umno, who only garnered 30,252 votes. Independent candidate Azharudin Mamat @ Adam managed to secure only 193 votes.
Over at Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said’s residence, BN leaders held a press conference to concede defeat. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak admitted the loss was a setback for the BN, but the coalition would continue to serve the people.
Reporters noted how the entrance of Najib’s convoy was unfamiliarly quiet, without the usual outrider sirens. Outside the gates were PAS supporters lining the streets, blasting and tooting every noise-making device they could find.
By the time PAS’s victory was final, tens of thousands tore down the streets, hollering, howling and honking on a high. PAS flags, which had dotted the landscape throughout the campaign, rapidly disappeared into the hands of supporters who hoisted them from vehicles.
Even though Terengganu and the federal government remain in the BN’s control, PAS’s victory in Kuala Terengganu is a signal. After losing three elections in the past 10 months, the BN’s need for a re-evaluation seems critical, while the opposition Pakatan Rakyat can claim traction in their moral victory.
Danny Lim is a freelance journalist and photographer.
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