DESPITE earlier indications that the Manik Urai contest would hinge on local, bread-and-butter issues, leaders on both sides of the political divide have been reminding constituents of the by-election’s wider significance.
On 6 July 2009, Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Mustapa Mohamed told the residents of Laloh that the Manik Urai fight — should the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat win — would be a turning point for the state.
Pointing out the PAS state government’s apparent failure to bring prosperity to Kelantan, Mustapa thought that the fall of Manik Urai would result in a domino effect for the rest of the state. “Manik Urai will be the beginning of change for Kuala Krai, and the whole of Kelantan,” Mustapa said.
Manik Urai is one of the four state seats in the Kuala Krai parliamentary constituency, and is widely regarded as a PAS stronghold.
“We are bigger than the state government,” Mustapa added, referring to his own status as a cabinet minister. He pledged that the BN would deliver on development promises it was making in the rural constituency. Mustapa, who is international trade and industry minister, cited as proof the BN’s performance after its win in the 2005 Pengkalan Pasir by-election.
Ascension to power
Datuk Husam Musa
Placing Manik Urai in the national context is also something PAS, as part of the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition, is doing in its campaign. In a ceramah on 7 July 2009, at the Chuchuh Puteri (A) football field, PAS central working committee member Datuk Husam Musa told a crowd of about 4,000 that they were slowly ascending towards federal power.
“If [they lose here], Malaysians will know that BN is finished!” Husam stressed.
PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, one of the night’s featured speakers, also emphasised Manik Urai’s importance in the wider scheme of things.
“Why is Umno being busybodies in Manik Urai? They want to prove that they have the support of Malay [Malaysians],” Anwar said.
“But Malaysians have already rejected Umno on March 2008. They (the BN) should have followed what they did in Penanti (not contest) and ‘saved money’,” Anwar continued.
He said Malay Malaysians, in Manik Urai as elsewhere, knew to reject the ruling party for its policies, which “betrayed all races: the Malays, Chinese, and Indians.”
Anwar brought forward the rhetoric of racial harmony, speaking out against Umno-style calls for Malay unity.
“We, as Muslims, are called to be good examples. Why should Malays be united if it is a unity designed to steal people’s livelihoods, hurt both Malay and Indian [Malaysians], and insult other races?” Anwar asked.
Within a religious framework, such ideals may carry some mileage. PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, repeated his assertion that Umno, in embracing racial politics, had abandoned Islam.
“Like these, Umno is also a deviant teaching,” Nik Aziz charged, explainig that the faith taught Muslims to be colour-blind.
“The Prophet was a Muslim leader, not an Arabic leader,” Anwar had pointed out earlier.
The crowd listened to both Nik Aziz and Anwar in rapt attention, but it is difficult to say whether they did so because they were persuaded with the message, or out of reverence to the political superstars. In Manik Urai, with its 99.2% Malay Malaysian demographic, multiculturalism may be largely abstract — and, therefore, a toothless platform.
There is even evidence that the PR’s commitment to being progressive has not trickled down to PAS’s grassroots. Kelantan executive councillor Wan Ubaidah Wan Omar, on the afternoon of 7 July 2009, told Manik Urai Lama residents that, if not for Umno’s control of the federal government, there would be no parallel civil-syariah system. The Kijang assemblyperson also reminded her fellow female Muslims to cover up properly.
The audience at Chuchuh Puteri was more vocal when speakers stuck to specifics, such as the Kelantan oil royalty issue. Husam, in his speech, explained that there was an agreement that proved the federal government was liable to pay the state royalties if oil and gas were found on its land or in its waters.
“They actually owe us RM1.7 billion, but [Menteri Besar Nik Aziz] is only asking for RM1 billion,” Husam said. “We are afraid that the federal government might get too shocked.”
The crowd audibly balked at the large figure.
“The BN government spent RM12 billion on the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ). With that money, we could take care of Kelantan for 40 years!” Husam said.
“Allah!” the crowd cried in shock.
High-faluting issues of national importance, such as race relations, are of interest for the wider Malaysia listening into the contest. However, if reactions in the PR ceramah in Chuchuh Puteri were any indication, it seems clear that ultimately, the Manik Urai by-election may be decided by how well both PAS and Umno play out the material, logistical matters of finance, infrastructure, and service.