Friday, December 19, 2008




The Kuala Terengganu January 17 By-election

While the Barisan Nasional will have against her the stubborn inflation resulting from the fuel price-hike that was clearly a bad boob, for the Pas it is a challenge against Terengganu’s parochial thickness if the party chooses again to field Mohammad (Mat) Sabu for the January 17 by-election.

Unlike in Kelantan where many “outsiders” have won in elections running as Pas’ candidates, the same does not hold true in Terengganu. Even the brand new Pas Secretary-General failed in his bid to breach the difficulty in the 8 March polls. He contested in Besut.

Mat Sabu lost on 8 March 2008 by 628 votes in Kuala Terengganu because he was not a domicile. There’s no other reason that can explain why the “imported candidate” had lost as narrowly as he did.

Kuala Terengganu is a hard place for the BN to win too. Voters gave three from four state seats within the federal constituency to Pas, with the total votes exceeding the BN take by 2,283, meaning Mat Sabu ought to have won.

But if the Pas were to opt for Wan Muttalib Embong instead, or Dr. Syed Azman Syed Ahmad who won in Batu Burok (Kuala Terengganu), the BN, which is likely to choose the educationist, Zuber Embong, or the CEO of the Religious Council, Alwi Mohamad, will have to fight tooth-and-nail to keep the parliamentary seat in this by-election.

Kuala Terengganu passed from the BN to Semangat 46 in 1990 and then to Pas in 1999.

It can go either way once again, the BN being sadly depressed by the general disenchantment arising from the out-of-control prices of goods and mainly of foodstuff.

Prices of foodstuff kept going up in Malaysia after the prices of fuel at the stands were reduced since the price of oil had gone down from the record of USD 147 to below USD 36.

There’s no way for the government to explain this sad failure without making voters cry foul louder than otherwise.

On the brighter side in Kuala Terengganu are the facts the present state government was chosen by the palace and the sultan will be chairman of the Terengganu Investment Authority where RM 10 billion of the state’s sovereign fund shall be deposited.

Sultan Mizan, who is presently the Yang Dipertuan Agong (Malaysia’s King) is highly respected in the state for himself and not merely as a constitutional ruler. He and his household have conducted themselves beyond a mist of reproach.

The sultan is above party politics, of course, but the gist of the fact he chose the present state government against the wishes of the Prime Minister is a big plus for the BN.

The previous Terengganu state government had been cruelly mangled by federal intrusions that introduced the jinxed “Typhoon Cup”, said businessman, Syed Muhammad, a grandson of the famous savant, Tok Ku Paloh.

Like the cherry on the cake, this year’s Typhoon Cup was held while Kuala Terengganu was flooded.

In a recent move the state government was seen to have weeded out the poorer performers in the state capital, paving a path for a more efficient team to finally commercialize and industrialize oil-laden Terengganu instead of being dependent on tourism.

The tourism binge had been a follow-through of the Monsoon Cup. It gave Kuala Trengganu a classy fa├žade of a crystal mosque and a miniature Taj Mahal, some jobs and a face-lift.

Those artifacts on Pulau Wan Man off Kuala Terengganu did draw more than 1.5 million sightseers this year.

But how all that would improve the state’s human resources and lead into a sustainable economy after the oil and gas are gone, is beyond easy reach of sensible minds.

Is Terengganu too primitive to be thinking half as loud as Dubai?
Is it true Terengganu’s ship-building industry is quite recent and found only on Pulau Duyung opposite Kuala Terengganu?

Ocean-going ships of three to five masts were built in various locations of Terengganu from as early as the 14th century according to available records and chances are, the ship-building had been there several centuries earlier.

Terengganu was the second Malay kingdom on the Peninsula after Patani and it was already a Muslim country long before Islam reached Malacca with the conversion of Parameswara in 1411.

Trengganu was ahead in this maritime region with a strong ship-building industry, gold mining and metallurgy, silk and fabrics that still survive as batik and songket, and agriculture and fisheries.

Terengganu was an industrial leader in the region, and probably the leading ship-builder in the whole of Nusantara even after Aceh began building her large ships of war in the 16th century under IskandarMuda and Iskandar Thani, and then when the woman, Malayahati, was Laksamana (Admiral).

Hence people in the coastal state have asked where has the will puffed to deter setting sail for the gone-glory?

The Malay Archipelago (The Spice Islands) remained the largest contributor to the world GDP even during the initial encounter with the Occident before widespread colonization was forged by the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.

Kuala Terengganu was a ship-building and industrial port that was looking eastwards during those times when China was a big maritime power.

Now, after decades of oil-wealth, it does sound ludicrous to be busily gearing Kuala Terengganu into a tourism hub, spending billions on glassy enchantments in the murk of the muara (river mouth) while the people are left without understanding even how a tungsten-bulb is made.

It is certainly time to change the direction of government in Terengganu and this is what is being accomplished, beginning with the sultan’s intervention following the 8 March elections.

There’s an air of expectation in Terengganu. Will that translate into a larger-than-normal winning number of votes for the BN on January 17 is what’s left to be seen. ---a. ghani ismail, 19 December, 2008

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