Umno's fortunes and misfortunes in Terengganu's Kemaman

18 Nov 2023 07:00am
Pas candidate for the Dec 2 Kemaman by-election, Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar who is also the current Terengganu Menteri Besar.
Pas candidate for the Dec 2 Kemaman by-election, Datuk Seri Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar who is also the current Terengganu Menteri Besar.

SHAH ALAM - While it might have appeared tone-deaf, if not somewhat oblivious to the current political climate, there is some truth to Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's assertion that the Kemaman parliamentary seat is a stronghold for Umno.

His confidence, despite the electoral trouncing that Umno was dealt with at Terengganu on the Aug 12 polls where the Malay-party won zilch there, was likely backed by Umno’s historical reign over the Kemaman seat.

To the unfamiliar, the Kemaman seat had its first electoral debut in the 1959 General Election (GE1959) in which Umno had it under the banner of the Alliance coalition -- what Barisan Nasional (BN) was called back then before its rebranding in 1973.

Prior to GE1959, Kemaman was part of the Terengganu Selatan federal constituency, when Malaya had its first general election in 1955, was also won by Umno via Alliance.

Similar to its east coast state neighbour of Kelantan, Umno’s only rival in Terengganu has always been Pas but where the Islamist party had put up a tough fight in Kelantan, the same did not happen in Terengganu.

In fact, the political landscape in Terengganu was the complete opposite. Umno’s reign there was never under serious threat.

And in Kemaman, Umno has had back-to-back victories against Pas, besting the latter’s bid for the seat in not just GE1959 but also GE1964, GE1971, GE1974, GE1978, GE1982, GE1986, GE1990, GE1995.

But the maiden blot that marred Umno’s stellar report card in Kemaman happened in GE1999, where the party lost the seat to PKR -- which was back then known as Keadilan.

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PKR’s Abd Rahman Yusof won Kemaman with a thin majority of 1,535 votes against Umno’s Wan Zaki Wan Muda.

Umno’s defeat however, was not just in Kemaman.

In that particular general election, Umno lost all eight parliamentary seats in Terengganu that it previously held.

Interestingly, the loss in 1999 occurred on the heels of the Reformasi Movement that ensued after the controversial sacking of the then Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a groundswell which many attributed as the cause of Umno’s trouncing there.

That being said, there is also another school of thought which argued that the defeat was due to the local’s disenchanment with the leadership of the then-Menteri Besar Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar Wan Ahmad.

Being the longest serving MB in Terengganu -- who stayed in office for a whopping 25 years from Sept 1, 1974 to Dec 2, 1999 -- Wan Mokhtar was said to have pretty much overstayed his welcome.

However, Pas’ victory in Kemaman was short lived as the Islamist party was voted out in the following GE2004, where incumbent Abd Rahman was bested by Umno’s Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek with a whopping majority of 15,882.

The swing was not just confined to Kemaman as at the state level, the Malay-party had regained all the 28 state seats it had lost to Pas in GE1999, ultimately denying the Islamist party any form of electoral representation.

While Umno continued to retain Kemaman in GE2008 and GE2013, its winning majority dwindled. From the 15,882 in GE2004, it was reduced to 12,683 in GE2008 and was again dropped to 12,306 in GE2013.

The scale was eventually tipped, with Pas’ Che Alias Hamid winning Kemaman in GE2018 with a small majority of 2,163 against Umno’s Ahmad Shabery.

In fact, in GE2018, Umno only won two of the eight parliamentary seats in Terengganu, namely, Besut and Hulu Terengganu.

Che Alias’ modest winning majority in GE2018 however, ballooned to an imposing figure of 27,179 in GE2022 which was eventually annulled by the Election Court following a verdict of electoral bribery.

Against such historical backdrop of the locals’ experimentative inclination, it was perhaps a no-brainer why Zahid was confident of BN’s odds in the coming Dec 2 Kemaman by-election.

In fact, this is one state where the unpredictable tends to happen.

Heck, even Pas president Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang had suffered defeat at his own parliamentary turf of Marang, twice to boot, in GE1986 and GE2004.

Sandwiched between Kelantan and Pahang, the people of Terengganu saw and acknowledged the perks of being affiliated with the ruling party.

It was clear that Zahid is anticipating for the pendulum to swing; for lady luck to be on his side but unfortunately for him, there seems to be no signs hinting that this will be so.

In spite of that, Pas doesn’t seem to be taking the coming electoral bout lightly too, so much so, that it fielded the current Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar as candidate for the Kemaman by-election.

But then again this is just a by-election.

And when it comes to by-elections, any journalist who has been on the ground covering it would attest that in a by-election, the incumbent typically has the advantage.