In Manek Urai, a battle for the Malay heartland

By Shannon Teoh (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA KRAI, July 6 — Both Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) enter the Manek Urai campaign today knowing full well that it will test their credentials with perhaps the most important demographic group in the country.

Rural Malays make up over 99 per cent of the 12,300 registered voters in the state seat and as fate would have it, Ismail Yaacob’s death on May 22 came at an awkward time for both coalitions.
The assemblyman’s demise has sparked a by-election that will take place against a backdrop of months of mutual mudslinging over alleged betrayal of Malay-Muslim interests.
Umno had taken advantage of the crisis triggered by its Feb 5 power grab in Perak to accuse the ousted PAS-led government of “derhaka,” or treason, against the decision of the Sultan in appointing a new mentri besar.
It also accused Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin of being a puppet MB to the Chinese-majority DAP in the state, a strategy that appeared to win back some Malay support in the Bukit Gantang by-election there, although BN was beaten as non-Malays backed Nizar strongly.
In recent months, PAS’s internal battle over proposed unity government talks with Umno has also led to Umno insinuating that PAS was not serious about Malay-Muslim issues.
That Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat was the strongest critic within PAS of any talks, which may have led to his recent attempts to hit back at Umno over Malay issues.
The PAS spiritual adviser likened the secular Malay party to communists and accused them of rejecting Islam.
Nik Aziz has also challenged Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak to a debate on why Umno has “rejected Islam and embraced nationalism, and what is wrong with the policy implemented by PAS, especially in Kelantan.”
PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang too has recently criticised Prime Minister Najib’s decision to take away Bumiputera quotas in the capital market, and argued that Malays were still weak and needed help.
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim also sowed seeds of doubt among the Malays when he claimed that Najib was implementing measures that had caused him to be labelled a traitor to Malays and a Chinese agent when PR had first proposed similar economic liberalisation.
These policies and Najib’s still vague 1 Malaysia concept have led to anxiety within Umno that in trying to win back non-Malay support, it has inadvertently offended its traditional support base of rural Malays.