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KOTA BARU, April 20 ― Non-Malay voters only make up roughly six per cent of the predominantly Malay population in Kelantan, but political parties are paying more attention than ever to them ahead of what could be prove the most hotly-contested general election yet.
Despite what seems like negligible numbers overall, the parties believe that non-Malays or non-Muslims hold the key to several seats that were won by their opponents by slim margins in 2013.
Last month, Kelantan Pakatan Harapan (PH) officially appointed its inter-racial relations committee that would work with elections directors in each division to help the Opposition pact’s quest for ethnic minority support in the state.
“If we see the percentage of non-Malay voters, it may seem small. But if we go to Parliament and state seats, their votes would be decisive.
“This is because for many seats in Kelantan, the majority is below 2,000 votes. So, that’s roughly how many Chinese voters are there,” its committee chief, Parti Amanah Negara’s Tan Ah Wang told Malay Mail after the launch ceremony.
Meanwhile, Kelantan PAS communications secretary and state exco Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi said it is the responsibility of the state government to protect, defend and ensure justice for non-Muslims in the state.
“In seats which are marginal, where there are more non-Muslims, in these towns their proportion is higher. In these soksek areas, their votes are important,” he told Malay Mail in a recent interview, using the Kelantanese dialect to refer to the outskirts.
“Kelantan is also a ‘political university’, we don’t want the minorities to be ignorant on politics. We want them to take responsibility, to determine their leaders.”
Swing seats up for grabs
In the 13th general election, four out of 14 federal seats were won by fewer than 2,000 votes — Bachok, Ketereh, Pasir Puteh and Machang.
The margins were as little as 201 votes in Bachok, where PAS’ Ahmad Marzuk Shaary defeated BN’s Datuk Awang Adek Hussin.
BN’s Datuk Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub won Machang by a majority of merely 805 votes, while Tan Sri Annuar Musa won Ketereh with just a 974-vote majority.
In the four abovementioned seats, non-Malay voters made up roughly between 1 to 4 per cent.
The highest proportion of non-Malay voters in 2013 was in Gua Musang with 7 per cent ethnic Chinese and 12 per cent others, mostly the Orang Asli. This was followed by Kota Baru, with the ethnic Chinese at 16 per cent and ethnic Indian 1 per cent.
As for the state seats, a whopping 25 out of 45 fights were won with a majority less than 2,000 — more than half.
Even Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed won the Air Lanas seat by a miniscule 47 votes.
In at least two out of the 25 seats — Guchil and Galas — non-Malay voters were as high 15 and 35 per cent, respectively.
What are the Chinese worried about?
Tan told Malay Mail that the concerns of non-Malay voters here are largely the same as that of the majority Malays: rising cost of living and diminishing quality of life caused by many factors from the Goods and Services Tax and the impact of a falling ringgit on imports from neighbouring Thailand, to a lack of job opportunities.
During the launch of the inter-racial relations committee, Kelantan PH chairman Datuk Husam Musa also pointed at the hardships faced by the Orang Asli community, whom he claimed is being marginalised by the state government that is allegedly siding with land-grabbing capitalists.
“If we can take over Kelantan, among our main focus is the problems of the Orang Asli We have a wide expanse of land, even if we award them to the Orang Asli it would not come to much,” he pledged.
Earlier this month, the Orang Asli from the Temiar tribe had erected blockades at three entry points to forest reserves, pitting them against timber and plantation firms, the Forestry Department, and the state government.
In 2015, the Temiar were among those badly affected by Kelantan’s worst flood in recent history. They had blamed massive deforestation, illegal logging and mining for exacerbating the natural disaster, something that Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yaakob had denied.
There is also the issue of Islamic policies enacted by the PAS administration and its local councils.
Since 2013, Kelantan MCA had complained to Malay Mail about by-laws such as gender segregation in hair salons, etc; the requirement for Kota Baru businesses to incorporate “Islamic” design elements in newly-constructed commercial buildings, and strict dress codes for women employees that affect Chinese shop owners.
MCA’s Chua Hock Kuan, its candidate for the Kota Lama state seat where Chinese make up 34 per cent of the voters, said such restrictions are frequently talked about in coffee shops here.
He also claimed biased enforcement, pointing to a previous public aerobic workout session in a secondary school here held by the MCA women’s wing that was allegedly halted by council officials until participants were segregated by gender.
“These by-laws are trivial These are modern times, people can think for themselves now. This kind of thinking [by PAS] is archaic.
“It is like a bomb. Whenever they wish to use it against us, they would detonate it,” said Chua, who is expected to face PAS’ four-term incumbent Datuk Anuar Tan Abdullah, a Chinese Muslim convert.
In 2014, Malay Mail reported that the Chinese community had finally banded together to express its opposition to any implementation of the Islamic penal code of hudud, with the Kelantan Chinese Assembly Hall delivering a memorandum against it.
In the years since however, the furore has simmered down since the enactment passed in 2015 is still blocked at the federal level by the Syariah Courts (Criminal) Jurisdiction Act 1965, with PAS yet to successfully table a private member’s Bill seeking its amendment.
“It has been 20 over years since the policies enacted by Tok Guru. The Chinese can accept those,” said Tan, referring to Islamic policies by the late former mentri besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, such as banning gambling and alcohol sales in public.
“But on hudud, 100 per cent, they can’t implement it. PAS brought it up just to attract the public, but they can’t do it.
“We’re not afraid of it at all, because it can never come to be,” Tan added, referring to hudud.