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There are very few constituencies with over 99 per cent of Malay voters but Manek Urai in Kelantan is one such example. It is there that PAS's Mohamed Fauzi Abdullah, 50, a fish wholesaler, will face Umno’s Tuan Aziz Tuan Mat, 39, a manager with the Kelantan Selatan Development Authority or Kesedar in a by-election next month. And their July 14 battle has ramifications beyond Kelantan with political big guns, on both sides, descending on this small rural community bringing with them national issues. Voters who are pre-occupied with bread and butter issues like the price of scrap rubber, fish and the weather, can look forward to an entertaining time.

Manek Urai has enjoyed the charm and charisma of the late Ismail Yaakob, whose death caused the by-election, and whose departed presence clouds the by-election battle with both sides admitting he was “incomparable”. Legend has it that Yaakob once shot dead a tiger that had entered a kampung in Manek Urai and attacked villagers.

Politically he is legend, winning the seat for PAS five times even during the worst of times for the party like in the 1978 general election when Umno won 34 seats and PAS won only two, one of it Manek Urai. “That’s history. Manek Urai is fortress PAS,” PAS by-election director Cikgu Wan Abdul Rahim told The Malaysian Insider. “We are confident but we will also work very hard.” He said while big guns are raising national issues like oil royalty for Kelantan, the Port Klang Free Trade Zone fiasco and the loss of Perak, bread and butter issues would dominate the by-election campaign. The by-election comes as Umno is finding its footing in a changed political landscape with the majority of Chinese and Indians backing the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) as evident in recent by-elections with traditional Malay votes divided between PAS and Umno.

Umno hopes to capitalise on its revival in morale it by championing Malay rights. At the same time it is trying to regain Chinese and Indian support with numerous "fair minded" schemes appealing to non-Malays. It is a doubled edged policy. On the one hand it still seeks to frighten Malays into Umno's embrace by raising fears that the Chinese are “advancing” and on the other hand assuring Chinese and Indians that they have a firm place under the sun. With nearly 100 per cent of voters in Manek Urai Malays, the by-election is an important test of how successfully Umno is in winning over Malay support by playing on their fears of “losing” the country to the "advancing" Chinese.

Such strategies revisits old ghosts that had worked well in the past but in today’s changed political landscape the impact might be minimal. But old fears seldom die easily especially if new fuel is added to relight the embers. What might work against PAS is the deep schism between the Nik Aziz-led faction that is against any deals with Umno and the faction led by PAS president Hadi Awang. The issue has divided the party rank and file. The by-election is being seen by the grassroots as a fight between the Nik Aziz-faction versus Umno, not a PAS-Umno tussle or even a PR-BN fight.


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