Expected striking similarities in the East Coast Malays

The curtains have drawn on this electoral spectacle, signaling a period of transition, anticipation, and opportunity.


Published by BusinessToday, The Malaysian Insight & AstroAwani, image by AstroAwani.

The recent state elections (PRN 2023) across six states in Peninsular Malaysia – Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, and Penang – have ended. This election marked a pivotal moment in the East Coast region of Malaysia, encompassing Kelantan and Terengganu. While each state is distinct, it portrays a multifaceted sociopolitical terrain.

Although the primary focus is usually on the results of an election, it’s important to acknowledge that recent elections have far-reaching impacts beyond what is immediately visible.

Notably, the projection made by EMIR Research displayed a remarkable alignment with the actual electoral results for PRN 2023. What stands out, even more, is the expected similarities between Kelantan and Terengganu projections.

EMIR Research projected a clean sweep by PN-PAS in Terengganu meanwhile in Kelantan, PN-PAS was expected to secure at least 38 out of 45 seats with 7 seats of close-call projections.

The actual election results corroborated the projections closely, with PN-PAS securing all 32 Terengganu state seats (Figure 1).

Meanwhile, in Kelantan, PN-PAS successfully captured 43 out of the 45 seats, and PH-BN managed to secure only 2 seats (Figure 2), showcasing a stark difference in voter preference.

Terengganu: An unanimous support

In Terengganu’s recent PRN 2023, PN-PAS achieved a clean sweep of 32 state seats, as projected by EMIR Research. This victory not only reflects a clear mandate from the electorate but also solidifies their unwavering support for the coalition. Historically unprecedented, the Terengganu administration now finds itself without opposition, following the sweeping triumph of the coalition.

While PN-PAS is celebrating their substantial win, Terengganu UMNO lost in all 27 seats they contested including the ten seats belonging to them – Kuala Besut, Jerteh, Hulu Besut, Permaisuri, Langkap, Batu Rakit, Seberang Takir, Telemung, Bukit Besi, and Kijal.

Furthermore, the incumbent caretaker’s, Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, political leadership might have been a contributing factor in PN-PAS’s victory. Based on a survey by Merdeka Center from July 3 until August 11, 67 per cent of Malays in Terengganu gave a high approval rating to the incumbent caretaker as they were satisfied with his performance.

Additionally, Terengganu emerged as the state with the highest voter turnout in PRN 2023, registering an impressive rate of 74.79 per cent. Higher voter turnout indicates that the election’s outcome is more representative of the collective will of the people.

Kelantan: Another historic triumph

Kelantan’s state election witnessed the PN-PAS coalition’s landslide victory – an outcome of 43 out of the 45 seats secured. The victory saw seven state seats belonging to BN (Kok Lanas, Gual Ipoh, Bukit Bunga, Ayer Lanas, Kuala Balah, Nenggiri, and Paloh) have now transitioned to the PN-PAS coalition reflecting the magnitude of this triumph.

The remaining two seats were won by the PH-BN coalition, with the Kota Lama state seat being missed by EMIR Research’s projection. Notably, the Kota Lama state seat held by PAS for years was won by PH-BN through Dr. Hafidzah Mustakim of the National Trust Party (Amanah) by a majority of only 202 votes.

BN’s sole win came through incumbent candidate Mohd Syahbuddin Hashim in Galas, despite coalition fielding in total 31 candidates in the state.

In contrast to Terengganu, Kelantan on the other hand experienced the lowest voter turnout rate among the six states, with only 61 per cent participation – a potential outcome of political fatigue. Higher voter turnout might have different results affecting the PN-PAS domination in the state. Moreover, PN-PAS’s consistent Islamic ideologies strengthened PAS’s position as a dominant party.

Similarities between Terengganu and Kelantan

The political landscape of both Terengganu and Kelantan is influenced by their status as “Malay belt” states with 97.3 per cent and 95.5 per cent Malay population respectively, according to the Population and Housing Census of Malaysia 2020 (MyCensus 2020), DOSM, making the states’ politics different from other states.

First, political dynamics based on historical voting patterns and sentiments in Terengganu and Kelantan have played a role in establishing the electoral environment in both states. Both states are known for political rivalry between BN and PAS as supporting a non-dominant party other than these two parties is less enticing for their people.

For Terengganu, the 2013 state election marked a closely contested battle, with PAS obtaining 15 seats and BN clinching 17 seats. This distribution suggested a relatively balanced political landscape at that time. The subsequent 2018 election, however, saw a significant shift as PAS surged forward with 22 seats, while BN dwindled to 10 seats. This shift underscored an initiation of a changing sentiment within the electorate, favoring PAS’s ideology and approach, while the transformation appears to be completed in PRN 2023 – the PN-PAS coalition’s tremendous victory with a clean sweep of all 32 seats indicates an unequivocal endorsement of their leadership. This shift from a balanced distribution to a sweeping triumph reflects the evolution of political sentiments in Terengganu over the years, with a decisive shift toward the coalition’s vision.

Meanwhile in Kelantan the data speaks of a parallel political transformation.

Kelantan has consistently gravitated towards PAS due to the party’s harmonious connection with strong cultural and religious traditions, making them a “safe deposit” for PAS in every election.

The 2013 state election witnessed PAS securing a commanding 31 seats, while BN managed 12 seats. This substantial lead for PAS demonstrated the party’s stronghold in the state during that period. PAS’s dominance was further cemented in the 2018 election with 37 seats, while BN’s representation dropped to a mere 8 seats. This trend indicated a growing resonance of PAS’s message among Kelantan voters.

The most recent PRN 2023 in Kelantan showcased an even more pronounced consolidation of support for the PN-PAS coalition, as they secured an impressive 43 out of 45 seats. The remaining 2 seats, won by PH-BN, represented a limited alternative preference within the electorate.

This landslide victory reaffirmed the coalition’s strong connection with the voters and indicated an enduring trust in their leadership and vision.

Furthermore, voting sentiments in the East Coast region are deeply intertwined with regional particularities, from economic welfare to cultural preservation. Most of the voters are conservative, and less likely to take risks, which means they are more focused on religious issues and less affected by national issues. These sentiments, however nuanced, share common threads that EMIR Research skillfully unraveled to anticipate the closely aligned outcomes seen in PRN 2023.

Lesson, opportunity, and moving forward

A noteworthy lesson emerges for PH-BN from recent PRN 2023 as they gradually lost support from the people of the East Coast, being completely washed out in Terengganu, and barely winning any seats in Kelantan.

The significance of forging meaningful connections cannot be overstated. As both Terengganu and Kelantan lean towards conservative views, it becomes imperative for PH-BN to establish personal touchpoints with the East Coast communities. The strategy should transcend mere policy advocacy while resonating deeply with the people’s values and goals. PH-BN must make an extra effort to go above and beyond to form genuine and meaningful bonds with the people.

Ultimately, the curtains have drawn on this electoral spectacle, signaling a period of transition, anticipation, and opportunity.

Now that the election is over, it is time for the leaders from various political aisles to roll up their sleeves and deliver the best results to the people.

The people have entrusted their chosen representatives to fulfill the pledges laid out in their manifestos. By prioritizing the welfare and progress of their constituents, these leaders should genuinely strive to steer the region toward greater prosperity and harmony.

In the tapestry of our nation’s political landscape, Terengganu and Kelantan stand as vibrant threads, each woven with its unique story and aspirations. It is a great hope that as we move forward, political leaders could seize the lessons learned, address the challenges posed, and weave a future marked by unity, progress, and a commitment to the betterment of our East Coast communities.

Farah Natasya is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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