“BN Candidates List Shows it is Serious about Wrestling Kelantan from PAS” by Norshahril Saat

2018/43, 24 April 2018

On 23 April, BN (National Front coalition) revealed its candidates for the state of Kelantan for GE 14. This northern Malaysian state has 14 parliament seats and 45 state legislative assembly seats. Since 1990, BN has been the opposition to PAS (Islamic Party of Malaysia) in the Kelantan State Legislative Assembly (SLA). Analysts argue that GE 14 will be BN’s best chance to recapture the state after PAS’ internal split (which led to the formation of Amanah, National Trust Party). In 2015, PAS also lost its spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat, who was Kelantan Chief Minister between 1990 and 2013. The possibility of three-cornered fights between BN, PAS and PH (Alliance of Hope) would not be helpful to PAS’ cause to retain control of the state as PH will gain some of PAS’ supporters.

BN’s candidate list reflects its desire to win back Kelantan. The chairman of BN Kelantan, Mustapa Mohamed remarked that BN’s list is inclusive: it incorporates different aspects of political leadership: women, youths, and women’s youth; officers from the private and government sector; religious elites, and NGOs. He indicated that 62 percent of the candidates are new faces, including eight youth candidates. Also, four of the five women contesting under the BN banner are fresh faces as well. BN retains all five incumbent MPs for the parliament seats, and majority of the 12 incumbents for SLA seats. The fresh faces will contest in the existing seats currently held by PAS.

BN has invested heavily on mega projects to win over the hearts and minds of Kelantanese, the biggest being the ECRL (East Coast Rail Link) railway linking Port Klang to Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan. Another promise includes a new stadium in Kota Bharu if BN wins. Beyond these grand promises, its candidate list shows its seriousness in recapturing the state from PAS. First, it has named heavyweights including cabinet members, not only at the “safe” parliament seats, but “marginal” ones too. As expected, Mustapa Mohamed, will be contesting in the safe seat of Jeli. The Minister of International Trade and Industry who is also known as Tok Pa, will also be contesting SLA seat of Air Lanas, which means that he can qualify for the chief minister post if he wins. However, in 2013, Mustapa won Air Lanas by a meagre 47 votes, obtaining 49.6 percent of votes over his opponent from PAS, who garnered 49.2 percent.

Surprisingly, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah will be contesting again. Despite the rumours that he may be retiring, he is running again in Gua Musang, a BN stronghold. This will be Ku Li’s (as he is affectionately known) 12th GE. BN will also be fielding heavyweights Awang Adek Hussin and Annuar Musa at the marginal parliament seats of Bachok and Ketereh. In the 2013 election, Bachok saw PAS candidate Ahmad Marzuk Shaary defeated Awang Adek by 0.3 percent with a majority of 201 votes. For Ketereh, Annuar defeated PAS Abdul Aziz Abdul Kadir by 1.8 percent with a slim winning majority of 974 votes. Awang Adek was Malaysian Ambassador to the US and was MP for Bachok between 2004 and 2008. On the other hand, Annuar Musa was a former minister for rural development.

BN’s rising star, Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, a deputy minister in Prime Minister’s department, and currently a senator, will be contesting in the seat of Pasir Puteh. Dr Asyraf will be the Islamic face for BN in Kelantan, which is essential to compete with PAS. Another BN heavyweight to be fielded in Kelantan is Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub, who will be contesting the seat of Machang. Ahmad Jazlan is incumbent MP for Machang and Deputy Minister for Rural and Regional Development. In the 2013 elections, Ahmad Jazlan won by a meagre 1.6 percent majority votes and only 805 votes.

The placement of BN heavyweights in marginal seats in Kelantan shows the coalition’s desire to recapture the state from PAS. It is confident that it can do better in these marginal seats, even if this means risking of losing a minister at the federal level. Kelantan will be a test ground if opposition’s claim of a national Malay tsunami against BN will take place in GE 14. Kelantan has its own dynamics, and a Malay tsunami may benefit BN and not vice-versa.

Dr Norshahril Saat is Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He is Co-coordinator of the Indonesian Studies Programme.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.