Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan is poised to grab the national limelight in the coming days as another political episode will likely shape up in this largely rural constituency.
“Kubor” in the national language literally means tomb or a graveyard, or a gentler definition - a burial ground or site.
In two weeks or so, Malaysians would probably know if the political impasse in Pakatan Rakyat will blow up into a full scale dispute.
The Pengkalan Kubor by-election is called after the unexpected demise of its Barisan Nasional incumbent Datuk Noor Zahidi Omar.
Noor Zahidi, seen as one of the new generation of leaders in Kelantan Umno, passed away suddenly at a relatively young age of 57 from liver cancer.
He discovered it late and frantic attempts to treat the cancer in China failed, as he passed away there while undergoing treatment.
The Election Commission has fixed nomination on Sept 13 with polling on Sept 25 – over two weeks of what observers expect to be tough campaigning, new strategies and cross-accusations.
But this time in Kelantan, it will be a different by-election altogether due to the rapidly changing political climate.
The politics there has gravitated into something of an embarrassment of sorts lately, as based on news reports and interviews, a three-cornered fight may ensue.
In Pakatan, allies PAS and PKR are claiming the seat while Umno, as the incumbent is the logical choice to defend the constituency, which is located next to the Thai riverfront border.
Pengkalan Kubor is one of the nine border crossing townships along the dense Malaysia-southern Thai boundaries.
The electorate also comprises of a strong number of Malaysians of Thai descent community.
Politics is an art of perception as the saying goes, but for most observers out there, it is more of a deception.
But let us focus on the facts rather than anything of a spin.
Realistically, PKR does not have a credible presence in Kelantan based on the last election results where it contested five state seats and only won one in Guchil.
Pengkalan Kubor is a seat under the Tumpat parliamentary area where the Member of Parliament is the three-term ex-academician Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar, a former PAS secretary general.
It holds the remaining three state seats under the Tumpat parliamentary constituency (Kelaboran, Pasir Pekan and Wakaf Bahru).
The assemblyman for Pasir Pekan is none other than the new Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob who succeeded Datuk NIk Abdul Aziz Nik Mat – the iconic PAS spiritual adviser.
Pengkalan Kubor is the only seat under Barisan in Tumpat and the fact that the late Noor Zahidi retained it, not once but twice, is a testimony of his splendid track record in the constituency.
The voters in Pengkalan Kubor valued him more for his contributions rather than the party he represented – Umno, said Mohd Sayuti Ismail, one of the many pundits there.
It also shows the savviness of Kelantan voters who are often critical of their assemblymen and expect them to perform.
Therefore, it makes sense for Kelantan Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah to mention that PAS was keen to contest the seat due to its winnability factors.
Kelantan PKR, just like in Selangor, must accept that it has lost some strength as history would keep on repeating if people cannot accept the fact that “infighting will render one weak.”
So for Pakatan’s sake, it makes sense for PAS to contest.
However if PAS does contest, it may not be fiery as before since both PAS and Umno, or rather the PAS ulama leadership and the nationalistic party seem to be on the same page on a few issues.
When Kelantan PAS proposed the adoption of “hudud” into the state legislative laws and amending the Penal Code for it, Umno in Kelantan supported it to a degree.
Party strongman Datuk Seri Annuar Musa concluded that Umno people, as Muslims, have to accept hudud, but its implementation needs further study.
Ahmad was among the first few PAS ulama to support the party’s earlier decision to stand by the embattled Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim in his quest to remain as Selangor Mentri Besar.
Since last year, the state legislative assembly proceedings in Kelantan seemed subdued compared to previous encounters as both PAS and Umno lowered down their volume of discontent.
Ahmad was even present at the international airport in Pengkalan Chepa when the aircraft brought home the casket of Noor Zahidi. He told journalists that his presence was a mark of respect for the deceased and his family.
So how would the parties campaign next month in light of the present climate where PAS seems to be fighting PKR more than their traditional foe – Umno.
Would PAS and PKR contest for the seat separately?
Nothing is impossible in politics as it is the art of making something unmanageable, possible.
It would be quiet affair though, Sayuti predicts, saying the real battle would be a proxy one happening on the side-lines.
In PAS, it would be a contest where the ulama leadership of Ahmad and NIk Amar wants to consolidate their hold in Kelantan versus the moderate elements in the Islamist party.
In PKR, its state leaders would want to ensure that the party remains relevant despite the bruises from the infighting and the consequences of seeking to oust Khalid in Selangor.
And for Umno, it is on whether its state leadership can capitalise since PAS’s strongest arsenal, the much revered Tok Guru Nik Abdul Aziz, had opted to retire.
In a nutshell, the Pengkalan Kubor by-election is more of Pakatan fighting its demons inside, rather than the devil outside.
This is likely to raise the level of interest and excitement in the by-election. -TAD