Commentary: A Malay tsunami may benefit Barisan Nasional - in Kelantan

Commentary: A Malay tsunami may benefit Barisan Nasional - in Kelantan

The Barisan Nasional is fielding strong candidates in Kelantan for the upcoming Malaysia general election, unafraid of the risk of losing a minister, says one observer from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Najib Budget 2018
Will Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 2018 budget goodies be enough to sweeten voters? (Photo: REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin)

SINGAPORE: On Monday (Apr 23), the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition revealed its candidates for the state of Kelantan for the Malaysian general election. 

This northern Malaysian state has 14 parliament seats and 45 state legislative assembly seats.

Since 1990, BN has been the opposition to PAS (Islamic Party of Malaysia) in the Kelantan State Legislative Assembly (SLA). Analysts argue that this coming election will be BN’s best chance to recapture the state after PAS’ internal split  - which led to the formation of Amanah, the National Trust Party.

PAS also lost its spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat in 2015, who was Kelantan Chief Minister between 1990 and 2013. 

The possibility of three-cornered fights between BN, PAS and Pakatan Harapan  would not be helpful to PAS’ cause to retain control of the state as Pakatan is expected to gain some of PAS’ supporters.

BN’s candidate list reflects its desire to win back Kelantan. Chairman of BN Kelantan Mustapa Mohamed said BN’s list is inclusive. It incorporates different aspects of political leadership: women, youths, and women’s youth; officers from the private and government sector; religious elites and NGOs.

He indicated that 62 per cent of the candidates are new faces, including eight youth candidates. Four of the five women contesting under the BN banner are also fresh faces.

BN retains all five incumbent MPs for the parliament seats, and majority of the 12 incumbents for the state legislative assembly seats. Their fresh faces will contest in the existing seats currently held by PAS.

READ: A commentary on the mid-week polling and its impact on a few states including Kelantan.

Nik Aziz house
News of Nik Aziz's death spread quickly and many visited his residence to pay their last respects. (Photo: Nik Aziz's Facebook page)


BN has invested heavily on mega projects to win over the hearts and minds of Kelantanese, the biggest being the East Coast Rail Link railway linking Port Klang to Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan.

Another promise includes a new stadium in Kota Bharu if BN wins. Beyond these grand promises, the BN’s candidate list shows its seriousness in recapturing the state from PAS.

First, it has named heavyweights including cabinet members, to contest for not only the “safe” parliament seats, but “marginal” ones too.

As expected, Mustapa Mohamed, will be contesting in the safe seat of Jeli. The Minister of International Trade and Industry, known as Tok Pa, will also be contesting for the state legislative assembly seat of Air Lanas, which means that he can qualify for the chief minister post if he wins.

However, in 2013, Mustapa won Air Lanas by a meagre 47 votes, obtaining 49.6 per cent of votes over his opponent from PAS, who garnered 49.2 per cent.

File photo shows Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed
File photo shows Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed on Oct 5, 2013. (Photo: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka)


Surprisingly, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah will be contesting again. Despite the rumours that he may be retiring, he is running again in Gua Musang, a BN stronghold. This will be Ku Li’s (as he is affectionately known) 12th general election.

BN will also be fielding heavyweights Awang Adek Hussin and Annuar Musa at the marginal parliament seats of Bachok and Ketereh.

In the 2013 election, Bachok saw PAS candidate Ahmad Marzuk Shaary defeated Awang Adek by 0.3 per cent with a majority of 201 votes.

In Ketereh, Annuar defeated PAS Abdul Aziz Abdul Kadir by 1.8 per cent with a slim winning majority of 974 votes. 

Awang Adek was Malaysian Ambassador to the US and member of parliament for Bachok between 2004 and 2008. Annuar Musa had been a former minister for rural development.


BN’s rising star Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, a deputy minister in Prime Minister’s department, and currently a senator, will be contesting for the seat of Pasir Puteh. Dr Asyraf will be the Islamic face for BN in Kelantan, which is essential to compete with PAS.

Another BN heavyweight to be fielded in Kelantan is Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub, who will be contesting the seat of Machang. Ahmad Jazlan is the incumbent member of parliament for Machang and deputy minister for Rural and Regional Development. In the 2013 elections, Ahmad Jazlan won by a meagre 1.6 per cent majority votes and only 805 votes.

The placement of BN heavyweights in marginal seats in Kelantan shows the coalition’s desire to recapture the state from PAS.

It is confident that it can do better in these marginal seats, even if this means risking the loss of a minister at the federal level. Kelantan will be a testing ground for the opposition’s claim of a national Malay tsunami against BN will take place in the upcoming general election.

Kelantan has its own dynamics, and a Malay tsunami may benefit BN and not vice versa.

Dr Norshahril Saat is fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He is Co-coordinator of the Indonesian Studies Programme. This commentary first appeared ISEAS commentaries.

Read other commentaries on Malaysia’s general election:

1. The deep ironies within the Malaysian opposition.

2. The advantages of incumbency.

3. The royal family's influence over how Johor will vote.

4. The younger array of leaders presented by the opposition.

5. Why Mahathir's leadership of the opposition confuses Kedah voters.

6. The unpredictability in swing state Johor.

7. Why Mahathir’s prime minister candidacy moves the opposition one step closer to toppling the Barisan Nasional.

8. Why UMNO and PAS have become complicit partners.

9. Why the Malaysia general election is an uphill battle for the opposition.

Source: CNA/sl