KOTA BARU, Nov 17 — The gloves have come off in the tussle for Kelantan with Pakatan Rakyat (PR) trumpeting to voters last night a promise to return the state’s oil royalty rights should it wrest federal power next, an emotive issue expected to take centrestage in the general election within six months.
The romantic promise of black gold, made by PR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at a star-studded event here, was not lost on the crowd of tens of thousands who had gathered at the Sultan Mohammad IV Stadium last night for the Kelantan instalment of PR’s Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat rally.
“If today we form a government, tomorrow we will reduce the price of petrol,” the prime minister-hopeful pitched.
“Then we will return the oil royalty to Kelantan citizens.
“We will not even need a committee,” he said, referring to the special committee set up in August to look into a “fair” distribution of cash payments from petroleum revenue to Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu.
When he later took to the stage, PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu agreed with his political ally.
“This government is the worst at respecting agreements,” he pointed out. “We need to change the government to get the royalty.”
Mohamad also expressed his outrage over the offer of oil royalty to Pahang with news of a discovery far from its shores.
“This shows how this government has no dignity. They’re offering royalty to Pahang ... they haven’t even found oil there yet,” he said.
Pahang was expected to receive a special payment of RM100 million a year from the third quarter of 2014 once Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd and Lundin Oil begin production to extract the liquid gold at Block PM 307 of the Bertam oilfield located some 160km offshore.
The issue of oil royalty is a long-drawn out dispute in Kelantan, the only state that has escaped the clutches of Barisan Nasional (BN) for more than two decades now.
The state government has continued to lock horns with the federal administration over its rights to oil royalty payments, with the PAS-led government claiming that Petronas owes it RM800 million annually since 2005.
Last night’s rally is seen as a crucial opportunity for the Islamist party to measure up its support in the months heading towards the coming polls.
Political observers and internal surveys have found that PAS’s support in Kelantan may be slipping due to reports of strife within the party’s upper echelons over disputes on religious matters.
BN leaders have also talked up their chances in Kelantan, claiming of a shift in the state’s Malay vote bank.
But interviews with many among the crowd at last night’s rally appeared to suggest a different trend.
Most of those who turned up last night were Malay locals, which may signal the unwavering support for PAS in the state despite accusations that it is becoming more liberal and moving away from its Islamist roots.
The crowd also comprised PAS delegates who are in town for their annual muktamar, or national conference, over the weekend, and representatives from the Royalti movement, anti-Lynas NGOs, Bersih and National Felda Settlers’ Children’s Association (ANAK).
The crowd, with women making a significant part of it, waved red, green, yellow and orange flags, which represented each of the four movements.
With their giant red flag, red balloons, and a remote-controlled plane bearing their banner, Royalti members cut a flamboyant figure which captured the crowd’s attention.
Wan Mohamad, 60, a farmer from Kadok, told The Malaysian Insider that he never thought that the royalty issue would be solved in his lifetime.
“It is good that young people and politicians are talking more about it ... it is our right as Kelantanese,” he said.
“Looking at things, PAS losing is just a rumour,” Mohd Zaim Abd Aziz, 25, from Ketereh said.
“I don’t agree with the word liberal ... but PAS is more open, all walks of people are comfortable with PAS.”
Kelantan is a relatively conservative Malay heartland, and has been ruled by PAS since 1990. In the last general election in 2008, PAS won nine of the 14 parliamentary seats and 38 of the 45 state seats.