COMMENT | On Malaysia’s beautiful east coast, PAS is experiencing a sweet honeymoon in Terengganu. On the ground, PAS is similarly receiving the positive energy and goodwill felt in the Klang Valley towards Pakatan Harapan.
In fact, one could even argue that Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar’s leadership of Terengganu is seen as one of the most dynamic nationally at the state level. With less resistance to its leadership within the civil service, a young professional team and a focus on economic development for the state, PAS’ new government is working to establish itself. Dr Sam, as he is known, is quickly coming out of party president Abdul Hadi Awang’s shadow, despite being his protégé.
The challenges PAS faces in Terengganu are significant. The state’s oil and gas revenue are on the decline. Umno seriously depleted the state funds in its mismanagement, leaving little in the coffers. The sharp disparities between the wealthier south and poorer north remain large. Some of the northern areas around Setiu are among the poorest in Malaysia.
There remains a large dependence on government assistance, with a “bantuan” mindset deeply entrenched. There is a large young population in search of jobs, and a deficit of opportunities in the marketplace. Unlike in entrepreneurial Kelantan, more Trengganuites opt to stay in their own state and this reinforces a more insular orientation and conservativism.
These factors converge on three key issues – a need for money, a need for new drivers in the local economy and a need for leadership to move the state toward greater modernity.
What will be crucial to PAS’ success in moving Terengganu forward is whether they learn the lessons associated with GE14 and avoid their party’s mistakes of the past. The May 2018 election has striking similarities to that of 1999 when PAS won the state in the groundswell of anger against Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his local stand-in, Wan Mokhtar Ahmad, the former chief minister in office from 1974 to 1999.
PAS’ 2018 victory in Terengganu was decisive. Not only did they win 22 seats in the 32-seat state assembly, a large majority in the state government, they also secured six of the eight parliamentary seats. There was a swing of 8% overall toward PAS this election, which in the history of Terengganu is one of the largest swings, although not as large as that experienced elsewhere in GE14.
A first potential mistake is to assume that this victory was a vote for PAS, rather than a vote against Umno. Sure, the Islamic party’s grassroots did support the party, but the majority of new votes it received came courtesy of Najib Razak. Trengganuites voted strategically, for the party that was the most likely to defeat Umno, most organised on the ground and most familiar in the risk-adverse environment.
PAS thus faces the task of giving voters a reason to continue to support it, as anger to Najib and his GST no longer serves as a lightning rod for discontent. Given the continued divisions within Umno in Terengganu, however, PAS is in a relatively safe position, but its foundation of support remains weak...