RANTAU, April 13 ― Riding high on the euphoria of their twin wins in Semenyih and Cameron Highlands, Umno and PAS are working hard to achieve a “hat trick” in Rantau by focusing on the issue of Malay rights, the special status of Islam and the sovereignty of the Malay Rulers.
Since the start of the campaign in Rantau, Umno and PAS have maintained a narrative that all three rights as enshrined under the Federal Constitution are being threatened now that Pakatan Harapan (PH) has taken over the federal government.
These accusations worked during the Semenyih by-election when Barisan Nasional's Zakaria Hanafi won the seat after garnering 19,780 votes with a 1,914 vote majority against PH’s Muhammad Aiman Zainali (17,866).
BN hopeful Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan has intimated that he wants to keep the momentum going by repeatedly emphasising the importance of unity among the Malay community during his daily ceramahs over the past week.
“There is no complex or vague manifestos, just a simple three-point plan to defend the Malay community, to defend Islam and to defend the Malay Sultans and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
“That has become the mission of Umno and PAS now and the message is clear and simple for people to see. For those who understand their responsibility towards this obligation, they will know who to vote this Saturday,” said a Kampung Bembam resident who only wished to be known as Salleh.
PAS and Umno’s top leaders also made constant visits to the semi-urban seat and had played up the recent attempt and subsequent failure of the PH administration to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Although many voters admitted they were clueless as to the finer details of these two treaties, many Malays here believe they infringed on the special rights of the Malays, Islam and sovereignty of the Malay Rulers.
From Malay Mail’s own observation, PH has been unable to counter this narrative, or convince the majority of the Malay Muslim constituents here that the coalition is not against the Malays or the community’s rights.
Malays in Rantau make up 55.51 per cent or 11,615 of the 20,926 registered voters.
The rest of the breakdown consists of Chinese (18.46 per cent/3,863 voters), Indians (26 per cent/5,441 voters) and others (0.03 per cent/seven).
PAS support helps Tok Mat
Although PH leaders have accused Mohamad of financial impropriety with regards to his alleged transfer of RM10 million to purchase a property in London in 2007, it has had little effect among Malay voters here.
For local resident Ahmad Shamshul Baharom, 45, an attack on Mohamad’s credibility is overshadowed by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang's support for the acting Umno president.
“PAS coming to show support can only mean good news for Tok Mat. Now that there is some news about his wealth, the people may not trust him as much but with Hadi around some could be swayed depending on what he has to say,” he said.
On Thursday night, the mega ceramah which saw Mohamad and Hadi share a stage was attended by nearly 3,000 people.
Forty-year-old Tarmizi Taufik believes that the support of PAS only adds to Mohamad’s popularity as a household name in the state.
“Not much difference if Hadi's here. Tok Mat has plenty of influence and pull here. Been here so long, how to simply forget?
“Dr Streram has a tall order to win. Hadi coming down brings the staunch Muslim supporters out and if they can vote here they may vote Tok Mat's way,” he said, referring to PH candidate Dr S. Streram.
However, the alliance with Umno and PAS is not without its own challenges as both parties have been at odds with each other since the latter's departure from BN in 1977.
Earlier this week, Dewan Ulama PAS member Datuk Mahfodz Mohamed had even urged grassroot members of both parties to set their egos aside and work together.
He claimed with the current composition of seats in parliament and the number of state governments in the country being under “DAP control”, both Umno and PAS must unite for the betterment of Islam and the Malay community.
The issue of unity, however, still needs time to be properly cemented, said Mat Sapar Mat, a 62-year-old lorry driver from Pendang, Kedah.
Mat Sapar, who is part of the PAS election machinery, came to Rantau along with many other volunteers to help BN’s campaign.
“There are still issues as many grassroots members find it excruciatingly painful to vote the ‘dacing’ symbol,'' he said, referring to the symbol of BN.
“Some members had even tried to distance themselves from the alliance by stating that they are members of Nik Aziz's PAS and not Hadi's,” he said, clarifying further that dissenting members prefer to align themselves with PAS's late spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat who had been a staunch critic of Umno and BN.
“But thank god, PAS members understood that they have an obligation to defend Islam and that we cannot afford to stand alone or else be rolled over. For these members, all we need is time,” he said.
“We respect and obey our leaders, however, we do not put personalities over our obligation to Islam.
“We want people across the political divide and our new partners in Umno to understand that,” he added.