Come 6th. January, Nomination Day for Kuala Trengganu’s By-Election (BE), there will only be just 11 days for campaigning. However, the contesting political parties would already be busy in the midst of their own (unofficial) campaigns, having started to fish for candidates since early December.

Kuala Terengganu BE is being held following the demise of the then incumbent Datuk Razali Ismail (BN) last November. In the last General Election (GE), the late Razali defeated PAS Vice President Mohamad Sabu by just a thin majority vote of 628. Even Independent candidate, Maimon Yusof had managed to garner 685 votes! (There were 1,050 damaged votes: 931 damaged and 119 ballot papers unreturned).

According to Election Commission, Kuala Terengganu (P36) has 80,229 registered voters, including 1,035 postal voters. P36 has four (4) State Constituencies, i.e. Wakaf Mempelam, Bandar, Ladang, and Batu Buruk. In the previous GE, PAS won three State Constituencies but P36 Parliament was won by BN.

Deputy Home Minister Senator Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh is Barisan Nasional's standard bearer for the Jan 17 Kuala Terengganu BE, whilst Abdul Wahid Endut, the state assemblyman for Wakaf Mempelam, was named as the Pakatan Rakyat candidate.

Wan Farid, 46, a former lawyer who graduated from Thames Valley University, London, has held the Kuala Terengganu UMNO division head's post for two terms, was the most appropriate candidate who was believed to be capable of retaining the parliamentary seat for the BN.

Mohd Abdul Wahid, 52, Kuala Terengganu PAS chief and state PAS treasurer is a Fisheries and Marine Science graduate from the Universiti Putra Malaysia and has never been defeated in the four elections he has contested. Wahid is now into his fifth term, having scored a 2,193-vote majority over his Umno rival in the March 2008 general election.

In the last GE, the defeat of Mat Sabu to Razali was initially said to be due to him (Mat Sabu) being a non-local resident. Being represented by an ‘outsider’ is something quite unacceptable to the people of Terengganu. In addition, voters were also said to be more attracted to Razali’s personality.

In view of the fact that it would be quite difficult for Wan Ahmad Farid to compete against the dynamic personality of Razali, BN may have to pick an issue to topple its challengers. And the hottest issue now is the suggestion by PAS to implement Hudud laws. Other than that, the best weapon yet for BN is to lead PKR to be at loggerheads with each other.

For PAS and PKR however, since neither at the moment has any issue on which to attack BN, the partnership is expected to launch personal attacks on Wan Ahmad Farid and his family.

PR will use the fact that Wan Ahmad Farid is the brother of former state Exco Wan Hisham who was said to have been involved with Idris Jusoh in several wasteful, extravagant projects - among which are the Monsoon Cup, Crystal Mosque, and Islamic Civilisation Centre – all in Terengganu.

Other than that, Wan Ahmad Farid is also seen to be a choice made by Pak Lah, not the choice of Terengganu MB Datuk Ahmad Said. In fact, Wan Ahmad Farid had also once been the political secretary to the PM. Furthermore, Ahmad Said is also seen to be not among the ‘flock of feathers’ of Wan Ahmad Farid and Pak Lah. And to top it up, photos of Wan Ahmad Farid’s karaoke session circulating on the internet could provide PR the ‘icing’ to round up their character assassination campaign.

Ahmad Said will not be spared by PR either. Negative episodes during his former Kijal ADUN era will be dug out. His suggestion to build Pulau Duyong marina and apartments, and not forgetting the issue of poverty in Terengganu will also be exaggerated to the hilt.

The Kuala Terengganu BE is expected to be more heatedly contested in than what had been witnessed in the last GE. Therefore both parties should take greater, serious efforts to reduce the number of damaged votes. Not only that, they should also focus on preventing any possibility of postal vote manipulation.

BN, which had realised the significance of damaged votes, has already taken early steps by campaigning house-to-house to educate voters on the correct way of marking the ballot paper and casting the vote.

Postal voters will vote earlier, therefore both parties must ensure there are no ‘masterminds’ who may sabotage these postal votes.

Other than that, both parties should also take into account the indepedent “spoiler” candidate (calon pengacau). Although the charismatic Angkatan Parti Keadilan Insan Malaysia (AKIM)’s Harun @ Abdul Rahman Muhamad isn’t that fascinating, his influence over a small % of his members or followers – could easily upset votes for PAS or UMNO candidates. Take note that this organisation has 3,000 members, so do your maths for a ‘mere’ 10%. These members are in 20 branches of the state assembly (DUN). To illustrate the effect, just look at Makcik Maimon who has not failed to return with empty hands!

The effect of voters from outsiders – students or those who reside or have moved to Terengganu – should also not be ignored totally. Today’s students are unlike what they were before to be easily led by the nose. This ‘small’ group who usually sit on the fence can potentially decide who wins, who loses. So take it to heart that one miserable vote can make a difference!

The outcome of the Kuala Trengganu BE is extremely important for both parties.

For BN, the election means securing the trust back from the people after the loss of its Permatang Pauh seat last August to PKR. If the outcome is negative, a worse scenario could start to brew.

For PAS and PR, on the other hand, the results would be the yardstick of their chance to wrench back the state to them in the next GE.

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