Terengganu Menteri Besar seen as PM contender for Malaysian opposition after poll win

Ahead of the polls, opposition leaders such as former premier Mahathir Mohamad and PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin had indicated that Dr Samsuri has the potential to lead the country.

Hazlin Hassan

Hazlin Hassan

The Straits Times


Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar successfully defended the Kemaman federal parliamentary seat for Parti Islam SeMalaysia. PHOTO: BERNAMA/ THE STRAITS TIMES

December 4, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – A by-election in Malaysia’s east coast state Terengganu has cast the spotlight on fast-rising opposition star Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, 53, who won by a landslide margin on Dec 2.

Having successfully defended the Kemaman federal parliamentary seat for Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), Datuk Seri Samsuri is now eligible to become a candidate for prime minister – should his party and its Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition come to federal power.

Dr Samsuri is currently the Terengganu Menteri Besar, after leading PN to a thumping victory in the August state election, where it swept all 32 seats in the state government.

He won by a landslide majority of 37,220 votes in a straight fight against Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate and former army chief Raja Mohamed Affandi, who received 27,778 votes.

The by-election was called after a court annulled the victory of PAS candidate Che Alias Hamid, ruling that the distribution of aid to voters by the PAS-led state government during the campaign period before the November 2022 General Election constituted election bribery.

Ahead of the polls, opposition leaders such as former premier Mahathir Mohamad and PN chairman Muhyiddin Yassin had indicated that Dr Samsuri has the potential to lead the country.

On Dec 2, Dr Samsuri told reporters: “When I joined politics, it was never my objective to hold such a high position (prime minister), but maybe in the future, if given the mandate by the party and people… I will consider the matter.”

Get exclusive insights into Malaysia in weekly round-up

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy and T&Cs.

A non-cleric in an Islamist party, Dr Sam, as he is popularly known, is one of the party’s three vice-presidents. He holds a PhD in aeroengine ignition and combustion from Leeds University in Britain and was a lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia before becoming political secretary to PAS president Hadi Awang in 2008.

The calm and soft-spoken technocrat is seen as being able to attract support from the broader public compared with other leaders from the religiously conservative PAS.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin said that by fielding Dr Samsuri in the by-election on Dec 2, “the public will see that we have many wise, capable, tested and moderate leaders”.

“There will be a time when PN will form the government,” Mr Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by the Malay-language Sinar Daily news site.

Tun Dr Mahathir, who began backing the opposition front ahead of the August 2023 state elections, said on Dec 1 that Dr Samsuri has proven his capabilities in governing Terengganu effectively.

“In Kemaman, we have a candidate who is truly qualified to be the prime minister,” Dr Mahathir was quoted as saying by the Malaysiakini online news site.

Former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin turned political commentator said on his podcast: “We can see in Kemaman the chess move by PAS to put up Dr Samsuri in Parliament. That move is not to win the parliamentary seat of Kemaman – that is a chess move to place a prime minister from PAS.”

Asian Studies professor James Chin from the University of Tasmania noted that Dr Samsuri is neither controversial like PAS’ Kedah chief minister Sanusi Md Nor nor known as a hardline Islamist.

“Dr Sam is somebody who is more acceptable to the wider population, not only to the non-Malays but more importantly to Malays or Muslims who are afraid of PAS,” Prof Chin told The Straits Times.

Dr Mazlan Ali, senior lecturer at the Razak Faculty of Technology and Informatics at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, said: “Dr Sam is also on good terms with the federal government and the Prime Minister. He is mature, and a suitable candidate for a future prime minister.”

By retaining Kemaman, PAS has 43 MPs in Malaysia’s 222-seat federal Parliament, the most for any single party.

Formerly limited to the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, the party expanded its reach in the November 2022 General Election.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s so-called unity government, formed with former foe BN and political parties from Borneo, holds 151 parliamentary seats.

PAS has over the years pivoted to attract more professionals, including doctors, lawyers and lecturers, to shed its rural religious state government image and rebrand itself as a capable party that can administer at the federal level.

In the interview posted on social media, Dr Samsuri said PAS wants to be “an extremely dominant party” in the next 10 years.

“We’re not talking about just Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis anymore, but we’re talking about our country, where the people are diverse and there are various ethnicities and religions,” he said, referring to the four state legislative assemblies controlled by PN.

“PAS is not just for Malays and Muslims but it must be for every citizen regardless of race or religion. This requires effort and planning.”

He added: “If we want PAS to progress in the next 10 years, we can’t just appeal to the Malays but also many groups in Malaysia. Only then can PAS become strong and relevant in Malaysia.”

scroll to top