KOTA BHARU: Mohd Hafeez rarely has a reason to smile.
The rice farmer from Pasir Mas in Kelantan works 12 hours a day and earns RM50 (US$12.60) a week ploughing padi fields under the scorching sun to feed his family.
But on the early hours of Thursday (May 10) morning, the diehard Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) supporter wore a wide grin on his face, after it was announced that PAS had seized control of Terengganu and retained Kelantan in Malaysia’s 14th general election.
“God is great, the people have spoken,” said the 42-year-old, as he kissed the ground after the Election Commission officially made the announcement.
When he learnt that former prime minister Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition only managed eight state seats in Kelantan, Mohd Hafeez punched the air in delight.
“They thought they could wrest Kelantan from us? No way - PAS has won here for six consecutive elections,” he said.
In the months leading up to Malaysia’s general election, many observers warned that PAS could be sidelined as BN and Pakatan Harapan tussled for supremacy.
Some predicted that PAS would lose Kelantan and be left without control of any state government.
However, the polls saw PAS not only extend its 28-year grip on Kelantan, but also recapture Terengganu for the first time since 2004.
On the west coast, Kedah is a hung state assembly after PAS clinched 15 out of 36 state seats, five times the number BN won there.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan coalition (PH), which formed the simple majority in federal parliament, won the remaining 18 seats in Kedah’s state assembly but was one seat short of forming a majority.
Research fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute Norshahril Saat told Channel NewsAsia that PAS’s significant performance at the polls, particularly in Kelantan and Terengganu “defied all predictions”.
He pointed to BN cabinet minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek losing his Kemaman seat in Terengganu to PAS candidate Alias Abdul Hamid as a prime example of how the Islamic party beat the odds to win.
Ahmad Saifuddin, a voter from Kelantan’s capital Kota Bharu, told Channel NewsAsia that he voted for PAS because it was his responsibility to do so as a Muslim.
“My family have been PAS supporters for generations. We were brought up with PAS muslim values. I was never tempted by BN’s promises of so called economic development,” said the undergraduate who returned home from KL to cast his vote.
Dr Norshahril explained that loyalty to the Islamic party remains strong, especially in urban areas in Kelantan such as Kota Bharu.
But he stressed that some rural Malay voters might have voted PAS due to anger with BN.
Nur Fatimah, who voted in Kuala Kerai, told Channel NewsAsia that its was the rising cost of living over the last few years that prompted her to change her mind.
“Milk powder for my children has doubled in the countryside. I have to work doubly hard so that we can pay our rent. I’m just sick of it,” said the rice farmer, wiping beads of sweat from her forehead.
Her neighbour Hamidah pointed to corruption allegations on BN’s leadership as key reason why she too switched parties.
“We read about Najib’s spending online. All those things about the 1MDB scandal ... We can't have prime ministers like that,” she said. Dr Noshahril also explained that voters in Kelantan and Terengganu were strategic in voting for PAS instead of newcomers Parti Amanah Negara.
“In order to demonstrate their protest to the BN government, their votes should go the PAS rather than PH.
"Historically, the two states have been governed by the Islamic party. Voters there also sensed that protest votes in other states will likely go to PH."
Looking forward for Kelantan and Terengganu, Dr Norshahril expects PAS to “definitely revive the Islamic agenda in these two states”, similar to when it controlled both states concurrently in 1999.
He added that PAS's strong position in Kedah will allow it to play a kingmaker role in the state assembly.
“PAS will now be in a better position to negotiate with the PH federal government,” he said.