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SPARE me the need to travel the 246km from Kuala Lumpur to Manik Urai to appease this desire to tell you a plausible story – I was born and raised in the hilly land of Kuala Krai to know enough about Manik Urai without setting foot there.
My old friend, Muhammad Abdullah, runs a Caltex station in La’loh. I bet if I were to drive off and drop by there today, I would see him… There, at the cashier’s seat, punching away on his cash till.
And I still remember one fish peddler at the Kuala Krai wet market.
To my mum, at least, the fish he sold were somehow always fresher than the rest – this fish taukey, whom I knew as “Pu’ji Ike”. Yes, this is the same Fauzi Abdullah (Pas candidate) from his glorious days as a fish taukey in Kuala Krai.
The people of Manik Urai – or the Kelantanese in general for that matter – have a distinctive if a little too independent point of view when it comes to politics. And the recently concluded by-election held in that constituency serves as evidence to my testimony.
En route to Kelantan via Gua Musang, you cannot miss this sleepy hollow with its famous cascading waterfall, Lata Rek. Unfortunately, this serene beauty is dying an untimely death for lack of better care and the absence of basic amenities. The fringe of this waterfall was where I had spent numerous weekends during my formative years; the folly of my youth made me blissfully unaware of the political game either in Kelantan, or even locally in Kuala Krai.
The old folk in Kuala Krai had told us kids the story of how Manik Urai was bestowed its name. A long time ago, there was this beauty of Thai descent, Mok Nik Urai, who was among the native settlers of the place. Her beauty was legendary; so much so that the place was named after her. There is no historical record to back up this folklore but growing up, I heard it being retold a million times, just like a broken record.
The recent death of its State assemblyman brought an inevitable limelight onto the face of Manik Urai. I confess – like many other Kelantanese now living elsewhere – I didn’t think the ruling coalition stood a chance of reducing the incumbent party’s previous winning majority; let alone winning this seat. I simply thought Pas would sail through easily – or, at worse, win with a slightly lesser majority.
There is one particular trait present in general among many Kelantanese: the defiance of never feeling the obligation to “kowtow” to anyone in so far as their political beliefs are concerned, making them mavericks in some way. I think what made Tok Guru Nik Aziz such a powerful figure at the axis of Kelantan’s politics is his demeanor and his subtle manner in preaching Islam as the way of life.
He places importance in the afterlife over the pursuit of wealth – and the Kelantanese have always chosen Tok Guru over anything or anyone else.
I wasn’t far off the mark when Pas did win again in Manik Urai on Tuesday. But securing the seat with a shockingly miserable 65-vote majority is definitely not something for Pas to trumpet around town about. Self-reflection is now a “must-do” for Pas, dare I suggest?
The Manik Urai by-election showed how divided the voters were between allowing PAS to retain its seat; or to take on a possible roller-coaster of change Barisan Nasional had vowed to bring them.
The internal fracas within Pas was pejorative for this by-election – and that’s putting it mildly. If you ask me, I think the messily ruffled feather between the Pas’ Erdogan and Ulama factions, if not controlled, will crack the party even wider.
The self-inflicted troubles in the Pakatan-held States of Kedah, Perak and now Selangor, helped dampen Pas’ chances to win big in Manik Urai. Politics, after all, makes strange bedfellows – and they aren’t exactly serenely positioned right now.
In retrospect, one cannot turn a blind eye on the Barisan’s quite exemplary campaign strategy this time. Its pragmatist approach in dealing with issues that were widely politicised by Pakatan Rakyat brought about a rather warm reaction from the rakyat, vis-à-vis a surge in the approval rating for Datuk Seri Najib Razak, as shown in a recent survey held by the Merdeka Centre.
But a win, by whatever margin, is still a win – the seat remains with Pas.
Pas and its cranky bedfellows need to take heed of this: BN is now well on the path of recovery post 2008 general election.
Manik Urai will undoubtedly return to being the sleepy hollow it has always been after this by-election’s fervour subsides, with people going back to tapping rubber and selling lemang by the roadside. What remains now is for the election promises to be fulfilled. Will they?
● Elviza Michele Kamal is an idealist at heart – her husband told her so. She will continue to blog at http://www.elviza.wordpress.com