The bridge connecting Manik Urai Lama with Manik Urai Baru. Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin
would promise on 12 July to build a new bridge — on the condition that the Barisan Nasional was voted in
ON 12 July 2009, after a final rally for the Manik Urai by-election campaign, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat admitted that he thought his party would retain the state seat.
“Confident? Yes, I’m confident. But I don’t know, there might be phantom voters,” Nik Aziz, who is also Kelantan menteri besar, half-jokingly told reporters.
Answering questions about the federal government’s RM1 billion debt that PAS alleges is owed to the Kelantan government, Nik Aziz quipped: “If we are in federal government, then it’ll be easy to get our money.”
Contrast this easygoing demeanour to Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who appeared in SK Manik Urai Baru for a state-wide Teacher’s Day function earlier the same day.
“We have a new deal for Manik Urai,” the Umno deputy president, who is also education minister, said, citing development injections such as the RM125 million education allocation for the constituency.
Appealing for rationality, Muhyiddin said the constituency deserved to be developed, but the minds of its residents were still pilloried. “We are offering something better than Nik Aziz. Why don’t you support Barisan Nasional (BN)?” he asked.
The Manik Urai by-election is pitting PAS’s Mohd Fauzi Abdullah against the BN’s Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat, two individuals who are similar in their lack of political charisma. Both have depended heavily on the reputations and machinery of their respective parties.
More magnetic leaders from both sides have descended on the constituency, appearing at nightly ceramah to convince voters that their respective parties have the most to offer. Posters of Nik Aziz and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak were more prominent than those of Tuan Aziz or Abe Uji, as Mohd Fauzi is colloquially known, throughout the campaigning period.
Yet this blitz has done little but maintain the status quo of opinion. The Islamist party was the favourite at the beginning of this race, on 6 July when nomination took place. Since then there has not been any indication of a shift. As the people of Manik Urai prepare to vote today on 14 July, a PAS victory is quite certain.
Muhyiddin at the Teacher’s Day function
One of the reasons why this is so is the BN campaign’s weakness, which was rife with miscalculation. This was best exemplified by the ruling coalition’s early strategy of disparaging Mohd Fauzi’s education — or rather, his lack of.
In introducing candidate Tuan Aziz, Muhyiddin emphasised the former South Kelantan Development Authority officer’s university degree, and consistently pointed out that “he is not a fishmonger”.
Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Mustapa Mohamed would later try to soften this message, qualifying it by saying “while PAS’s candidate is good, the BN’s candidate is excellent.”
But the damage was done. Muhyiddin’s quip was seen as an indirect insult to Mohd Fauzi’s person. Worse, it was one that could be transposed to encompass Manik Urai voters as a whole. The majority of the constituency’s 12,293 voters are rubber tappers, with little in the way of formal education.
PAS was swift in exploiting the issue. A protest jointly organised by the party and the Kelantan Fishmongers Association on 10 July railed against the BN’s “insults to their profession”. Nik Aziz pointed out that the Prophet Muhammad himself had been a lowly shepherd.
“What’s wrong with selling fish? It is halal work. What about corruption? They make fun of fishmongers, but their party is full of corruption and they are proud of it,” Nik Aziz had said.
Tarmizi Salleh, the fishmongers association head, vowed to defend Mohd Fauzi, and pledged 40 barrels of fish for each polling district. Constituents enjoyed this boon the following night, roasting the fish on makeshift grills.
The BN’s platform of development also opened them to attack from PAS. On 11 July, Muhyiddin pledged to build a new bridge connecting the twin villages of Manik Urai Lama and Manik Urai Baru if voters decided in favour of Tuan Aziz.
Speaking at the 12 July ceramah, opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim told his audience that it was easy for the federal government to spend RM6 to RM7 million on a bridge in Manik Urai when it was withholding RM1 billion in oil royalties.
The money, the Kelantan government claims, is rightfully theirs from a Thai-Malaysia joint development area in Kelantanese, albeit internationally contested, waters.
“Give back the RM1 billion and let Tok Guru (Nik Aziz) manage it,” Anwar urged, adding that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parliamentarians would use a PAS win in Manik Urai as leverage to pressure the finance ministry to account for the oil royalty issue.
Banners protesting against the BN’s put-downs of the fishmongering business
In the end, however, both campaigns have done little in swaying pre-existing opinions. By all accounts, staunch PAS or BN folk have not changed their minds. Most now look to returnee voters — younger individuals who work in cities outside Manik Urai, but vote here — to decide matters. Banners put up by PAS on 12 July read “Welcome home, travellers!” while Muhyiddin has callled on these outstation voters to think of the constituency’s development needs.
PAS recognised the importance of this group, estimated at almost 2,000 votes by the party, early on. In the Islamist party’s first press conference of the campaign, on 5 July, Manik Urai by-election operations chief Abdul Fatah Harun claimed that there were employers who were not allowing voters leave to return. Polling day falls on Tuesday, a working day.
Their failure to come back to Manik Urai to vote would throw a spanner in PAS’s perceived lead. It would benefit the BN, as this group tends to vote against the federal ruling coalition. PAS’s victory in 2008 was by a 1,352-vote margin; the loss of returnee voters would mean, at the least, a PAS win with a smaller majority.
This would be seen as a weakening of the PR narrative that the opposition coalition was gathering public support in the wake of their unbroken by-election victory record. As such, the Islamist party is currently working on bringing these voters home — chauffeuring them, if need be.
There was a sizeable number of young faces in the 5,000-strong crowd at the 12 July rally where Nik Aziz spoke. But it was also a ceramah that featured Nik Aziz, Anwar, and DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang as speakers — and all three tend to attract political tourists.
The traffic jam that stopped up the main road through the constituency was filled with Federal Territory number plates. It remains to be seen whether these cars belonged to actual voters.
Traffic jam after the rally