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PAS duel: Kelantan vs Terengganu

 | June 2, 2011

The media claims it is a contest between the clerics and professionals. But party insiders say the real battle is between Kelantan and Terengganu PAS.

KOTA BARU: The upcoming PAS election is not a battle royale between the clerics (ulama) and professionals, says former Perak PAS commissioner Awang Ahmad.

Rather, he said, the contest was about competency, where the 1,500-plus delegates would choose leaders capable of moving the party forward.

“It is not that the current leaders are not good. It’s just that the members want those who can perform better.”

Awang said that within the party ranks, no such camps representing the ulama and the professionals existed.

“All are the same,” he said.

“The party has become appealing to all, hence the slogan ‘PAS for all’, but most importantly, the party needed a healthy blend of clerics and professionals.”

Awang said party president Abdul Hadi Awang constantly advocated that both sides needed each other and could learn from each other.

He claimed that it was demeaning to PAS if the media continued to portray the party election as a contest between the ulama and the profressionals.

PAS supporters club council adviser Hu Phang Chaw said the description came about probably to make it easier for the delegates to differentiate between senior and junior members.

“The clerics are the veterans while the juniors are the professionals,” he said.

Kelantan versus Terengganu

According to some party insiders, who did not want to be named, the real contest is between the Terengganu and Kelantan factions.

They said that the race is between Hadi and PAS spiritual adviser Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who is also the long-serving Kelantan menteri besar.

On June 11, Kelantan would play Terengganu in the FA Cup football final, and this will surely be a hot topic when the Kelantan and Terengganu football supporters in PAS gather for their muktamar tomorrow.

Historically, Kelantan and Terengganu never liked each other. Their mutual dislike had its root in a brief territorial dispute in the 1800s over the district of Besut, which both rulers laid claim.

A local myth has it that the Kelantan royalty lost the district as a result of cock-fighting competition. It was also generally perceived that many people in Besut spoke the Kelantanese dialect.

A popular political humour making the rounds was that former Terengganu menteri besar Idris Jusoh was a Kelantanese, as he was the Besut MP.

Against this historical background, the PAS election will take place as the muktamar (assembly) gets underway tomorrow. Observers see it as a proxy fight between the Kelantan and Terengganu PAS.

In one corner is Hadi whose faction preferred a cautious form of politics to ensure the party does not lose its stake in the country’s political future. In the other corner is Nik Aziz, who tends to emulate Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s style of a no-holds-barred campaign to dislodge the Barisan Nasional (BN).

PAS is now engaged in a “shadow play” (wayang kulit) where all its dealings will be conducted beyond the prying eyes of the media and even its Pakatan Rakyat partners DAP and PKR, insiders here said.

The candidates vying for party posts are expected to wage a personal campaign where SMS will be their tool to canvass for votes from the more than 1,500 delegates. They will also rely on private lobbying, feasts, and informal meetings in car rides.

Awang pointed out that the looming national election would have a bearing on who wins in the PAS contest as the party seeks to consolidate itself to prepare for a bruising battle ahead with BN.

“No delegate would want to vote along a pattern which will split PAS,” he said.

PAS observer Mohd Sayuthi Omar, a veteran blogger who writes about Malay politics, said that the differences in style between Hadi and Nik Aziz could be traced back to the 1980s when both were upstarts under the former president, the late Fadzil Noor.

Then, Hadi was the aggressor and a hardliner; he was issuing controversial edicts (fatwa) against Umno, calling it an apostate at one time. Nik Aziz, as the Kelantan menteri besar, was preoccupied with defending the state from Umno’s forays to overthrow PAS.

There is somewhat of a role reversal now: Hadi seems to be more tactful than Nik Aziz, who, like Anwar, is seen to be aggressive towards Umno, Sayuthi said.

Observers believe that Hadi changed tack when he became PAS president. He decided to be diplomatic, fatherly and cautious on the political front.

In contrast, Nik Aziz felt that PAS should go for the jugular by dismantling Umno when the latter suffered a drubbing in the 2008 general election.

Sayuthi also said that Nik Aziz nursed a grudge against Umno because the Umno-led government had imprisoned his son Nik Adli under the Internal Security Act in the early 2000s. His son was released two years later.

Unity goverment talks

The cracks in PAS surfaced weeks after the 2008 election when leaders in the Terengganu faction began to counsel Hadi about the new political shifts in the country.

A radicalised Umno has now emerged while its partners, MCA and Gerakan, went into decline when their political bases were hijacked by PKR and DAP.

They feared that if PAS did not adapt, it might either be trampled by BN or be sidelined in Pakatan.

The Terengganu-based advisers told Hadi to be on guard and not to place “all the eggs in one basket”.

PAS was then positioned in the far centre rather than the left or right in the political equation, the insiders claimed.

PAS deputy president Nasharudin Mat Isa was appointed as an emissary to hold informal meetings with Umno to try to get the best for the party in the much-altered political scene.

But when news emerged about Hadi’s sudden change in stance and that Nasharudin, the former golden boy of Kelantan PAS, had informal meetings with Umno, all hell broke loose in Kelantan.

The insiders said Nik Aziz was mad that he was not consulted about the informal chats with Umno and recently revealed that the latter continued to court him by promising PAS three ministerial posts in a unity government.

For the record, the unity government concept was first mooted by Kelantan prince, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, in 2008, as he had forseen that the Malaysian politics was full of uncertainty and needed a new approach.

But the idea was shot down by most parties.

In 2009, Nik Aziz immediately snuffed out all prospects of a strategic alliance with Umno while his proteges such as Husam Musa went on a nationwide roadshow to explain his mentor’s contention.

The climax was the 2009 party election where Kelantan PAS was confident of doing well, especially its man, Husam, who contested against Nasharudin for the deputy president’s post. But the latter prevailed against all odds to beat back the challenge and retain his post.

However, it was a hollow victory as Nasharudin was “chased” out of Kelantan when the state PAS made public about his role in the proposed Malay unity government talks with Umno.

Although Nasharudin is the Bachok MP, he was seldom seen in the corridors of Wisma Darul Naim, Kelantan’s administrative seat.

Today, the Negri Sembilan-born Nasharudin is again fighting the odds – he is challenged in a three-cornered contest.

Pahang PAS commissioner, the pious and soft-spoken Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Mat, is vying for the number two spot and is seen as a leader capable of placating both Terengganu and Kelantan PAS.

The fact that he did not have any “political baggage” was a plus point and Sayuthi predicted that Tuan Ibrahim would have an edge based on the “mood” on the ground.

However, Nasharudin had proven that he cannot be discounted but one wonders whether the Terengganu faction was solidly behind him now.

Mohamed Sabu, the dark horse?

Sayuthi said that if Tuan Ibrahim and Nasharudin’s camps cancelled each other out, then long- serving PAS activist Mohamed Sabu, who is contesting the deputy president’s post for the second time, might win.

However, Sabu’s past – his “khalwat” (close proximity) case – and lack of academic clout might come back to haunt him.

For the vice-presidents’ post, incumbents Sallehuddin Ayub and Mahfuz Omar are facing off Kelantan PAS deputy commissioner II Nik Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, Husam, PAS information chief Idris Ahmad and dark horse Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin. The battle is intense but all eyes are on Husam.

The delegates might feel that Husam, at the age of 53, should be given a chance after he lost his bid for the deputy president’s post in 2009 but his style, which some called aloofness, could work against him.

Mahfuz said that it was hard to predict the outcome of the race as all the candidates are “heavyweights” whereas Sayuthi said it was too early to forecast.

Other insiders said with Hadi unchallenged, and with his protege – PAS Youth head Nasharudin Hassan Tantawi, a hardline cleric – set to retain his post, the Terengganu faction might have a slight edge.

But the insiders claimed that a compromise of sorts would see proxies linked to the two states winning, thus ensuring a balanced composition of young and old leaders to face the next general election.

“If the results are fair, the PAS grassroots members will be contented. If not, any calls for the closing of ranks will be superficial,” they said.

A less than satisfactory outcome would see PAS winning the national polls on the strength of DAP or PKR but not on its own – something which the advisers around Hadi were totally against.

By Sunday, the delegates would have decided the outcome and by next Saturday, one would also know the result of the Kelantan versus Terengganu football match.

Bets on the table, anyone?


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