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Farish Noor reports on what people at the grassroots are saying in Kelantan and Trengganu ahead of the polls. It reveals a different outlook from the discourse of democracy, human rights and accountability found along the west coast.

For more than a week now, Danny Lim of
www.Malaysiavotes.com and I have been in Kelantan and Trengganu
observing the goings-on during the election campaign. The mood in
Kelantan and Trengganu is reminiscent of the days of the 1999
election, with the banner and poster war being fought in earnest. Our
observations and analyses have been posted on www.othermalaysia.org
and www.malaysiavotes.com; but below are some random samples of
quotes and statements taken during the course of my fieldwork here:
They point to an election campaign that has been fought out on a
local terrain adopting local idioms that are attuned to local
sensibilities; and they reinforce the impression that Kelantan and
Trengganu are indeed states that are unique with a political culture
of their own. This has been quite a different election campaign up
north, folks…


Faith, politics and promises 

The resounding theme of both Umno and
Pas in Kelantan and Trengganu has been Islam and the role that Islam
plays in the politics of the respective parties. Contrary to the
concerns regarding human rights, transparency, accountability and the
rule of law that have prevailed in the west coast, the tone and tenor
of Malay-Muslim politics in Kelantan and Trengganu have been defined
by Islam and the claim to be holier-than-thou.

Ya Allah, ya Allah, ya Allah ya
Tuhan kami! Lingungi kito di Kelante, kita dikepung musuh yang

(Prayer of the head Imam at the
pre-dawn prayers (sembahyang hajat) at the Muhammad IV
Stadium, Kota Bharu)


Orgrae Kelante tok sir terima
demo puak yang saman hukum Tuhe”

(Pas banner in Kota Bharu, reminding
Kelantanese voters to reject Umno on the grounds that the latter have
prevented the enforcement of Islamic law)


Hei… Pak Loh nok date Kelante
nak tegokkan hukum Isle… Ni ambo nampak tange dia kot tepi Michelle
Yeoh pula! Imam Hadari mano tu?”

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(Pas supporter criticising Prime
Minister Abdullah Badawi after his photo with the actress Michelle
Yeoh was circulated around the state; PCB (Pantai Cahaya Bulan, Kota



Ambo raso maso tibo nok ikut BN
pulak deh – Tok Guru meme orghe yang baik, tapi ambo dok sembahyang
hajat dah berkali-kali, duit pitih tak dok jatoh dari langit deh!”

(Umno supporter lamenting the lack of
wealth in Kelantan despite years of ulama rule under Nik Aziz,


62 Masjid dibina dalam masa 2

(Umno banner claiming that more
mosques have been built in Trengganu over the past four years, and
that this is a new Malaysian record.)

Bina masjid 250 RM juta untuk
pelancung sahaja. Inilah Islam Hadari… Tolak BN!”

(Pas poster in front of the Islamic
Civilisation theme park, Kuala Trengganu criticising the construction
of the crystal mosque which was touted as one of the latest tourist
attractions in Trengganu)



Loyalties, local and regional 

Politics in Kelantan and Trengganu has
been fought by both Umno and Pas on the basis of local regional and
state loyalties. Both parties attempted to field locally-born
candidates to secure greater local support, and both Pas and Umno
appealed to the local sensibilities of the Kelantanese and Trengganu
to bolster their respective positions:

Kito di Kelante ni dah tingge
sorang. Di seluroh Malaysia ni Kelante lah sajo yang bertahe. Demo
nak ambik semua, nak ambik semua negeri di semenanjung ni. Kelante
lah benteng terakhir. Kita tak nok seroh pada demo! Kalau Umno nak
jaga Isle, nak jaga Melayu, noh, pi jaga Melayu di Trengganu, di
Kedah, di Johor dulu! Nak date ke Kelante nok buat apo?”


(Pas parliamentary candidate for Kota
Bharu Cikgu Rahim, appealing to the loyalties of the Kelantanese to
defend Kelantan from Umno at all costs; speech at Dataran Stadium
Sultan Muhammad IV, Kota Bharu)

Ambo anak jati Bachok”

(Slogan of Awang Adek, Umno candidate
for the constituency of Bachok, who played up his identity as a local

Hoi! Calon import buat ape? Tak

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(Umno banner denouncing Pas candidate
Mat Sabu who is running for the seat of Kuala Trengganu, on the
grounds that he was born in Kedah, not Trengganu)

“Pade doh! Ambo nak BN”

(Umno-Barisan youth slogan calling on
young voters in Kelantan to vote for change and accept Umno around

Dah 18 tahun… Come molek doh!”

(Pas banner in Kota Bharu celebrating
18 years of Pas rule)


Personalities, old and new 


This General Election will see a number
of younger contenders and fresh new faces come to the fore. Kelantan
and Trengganu were visited by practically all the leaders of Umno,
who stood by their local counterparts to give them support. The visit
of Khairy Jamaluddin, however, sparked off the most interest and
reaction, and in almost every conversation I had with the folk of
Kelantan and Trengganu, Khairy was brought up.

Khairy Jamaluddin tu hengsem
belako. Kalau mak chik muda lagi… eeeeeiiish!”

(Toothless granny in Kampung Slow,
Kuala Krai)

Pak Loh nok date ke Kelante nok
tadbir kito? Ni deh, cubo tadbir anak mentua Khairy dia tu dulu deh!
Kalau tok dape kontrol anak mertua dio sendiri nak date sini buat
cerita kontrol Kelante lagu apa?”

(Mat Speda, Jalan PCB, Kota Bharu)

Khairy date sini nak kecek orgre
Kelante ni miskin tak terdayo… Nu orgre Trengganu yang miskin dio
nak buat ape?”

(Local villager in Pasir Puteh, angered
by the statement that the people in Kelantan need more development
aid from the Umno-led government. Pas has widely disseminated
information about the higher rates of absolute poverty in Trengganu
next door which has been under Umno rule the past four years.)

Awang Adek tepuk dado tunjuk jari
kato dio nak jadi bake Menteri Beso. Wuuh! Angkuh beno dio tu! Nak
lawe Tok Guru? Kalau dah depe muka nak buko mulut pun tak soh deh!”

(Pas supporter from Bachok, where Umno
candidate Awang Adek is running. Awang Adek has declared that should
he win he will take over the post of Chief Minister of Kelantan. This
remarked caused visible outrage among many Pas supporters I met.)

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Doktor Hatta jange lupo deh?
Kalau mene nanti mesti date balik ke kampung ni, buat klinik

(Ailing retired farmer in Kuala Krai,
replying to Pas parliamentary candidate Hatta Ramli’s promise to
improve health services in his prospective constituency should he win
the seat)

Yang kito nak kat Malaysia ni
pemimpin yang bermutu, buke pemimpin yang penipu! Kok Amerika tu ado
Barack Obama, yang Negro tu. Hei, baik pun Negro dio tu, dio tu orgre
bermutu, bukan mace Bush yang buat cerito gilo di Irak. Nah, pemimpin
begitu loh yang kito nak di Malaysia ni”

(Rice stall owner, in front of
Muhammadi mosque, Kota Bharu)

Hindraf, race and communitarianism

One important observation was how the
issue of Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) had made an impact in
Kelantan and Trengganu, thanks in part to the local vernacular Malay
press. It was interesting to note that both Pas and Umno supporters
expressed concern about Hindraf, and how many of them believed in the
widely-circulated rumour that the Chinese and Indian communities were
now engaged in a sustained effort to undermine Malay rights in

Takut jugo ambo bilo tengok kat
TV tu, ado cerito orang India di KL buat pasai di kuil demo. Kuil tu
masjid demo buke? Kalau demo doh berani nak buat pase di kuil, nanti
apo pulo kalau jadi huru-hara di Malaysia ni?”

(Nik Di, woodcarver, Pantai Cahaya
Bulan, Kota Bharu)

Orgre Umno bawa kito ke pejabe,
tunjuk gambar demonstrasi di KL. Demo kato kalau orgre Melayu tak
bersatu nanti habih Melayu di Malaysia ni, nanti semuo dape kat hak
Cino dan India”

(School teacher in Bachok who was
asked to attend an official ‘pep-talk’ reminding them to ‘vote
loyally’ and for the ‘greater good of the country’)


Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Senior fellow
at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang
Technological University Singapore and he is one of the founders of
the research site www.othermalaysia.org.


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