Sunday October 9, 2011
Wake-up call for PAS and DAP
By Joceline Tan
The Pakatan Rakyat hype about the road to Putrajaya has subsided to background noise as DAP and PAS start to focus on holding on to their jewels, namely Penang and Kelantan.
THERE are few rivals to PAS when it comes to pulling in the crowds.
This was the case when the party staged its 60th anniversary do in Kepala Batas and members and supporters flooded the constituency of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Kepala Batas is the birthplace of PAS and Abdullah’s grandfather was a founding member but political onlookers were nevertheless puzzled about the choice of the venue. They thought an event like this would have had greater significance in a PAS frontline state like Perlis or Terengganu.
“Who really cares where it began? We are more interested to know where PAS is headed,” said a senior DAP figure.
But as some suggested, the choice of venue was also to shore up Pakatan Rakyat’s sliding image among the Malays in Penang. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s approval rating among non-Malays is still up in the stratosphere but Malay approval of him is flailing at around 30%.
PKR has been unable take on Umno in Penang and DAP is hoping that PAS will be better at it. The DAP is preparing to field its own Malay candidates in the general election and PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu will be the Malay lead actor, so to speak.
PAS is spreading its wings in Penang and may contest as many as five state and three parliamentary seats. A special committee in PAS looking at election strategies has asked DAP to assign a winnable seat to the Penang-born Mat Sabu.
Nik Amar: Has a famous family name and is a frontrunner to succeed Nik Aziz.
PAS’ anniversary do in Kepala Batas was also a signal that things in the constituency are about to change now that the Member of Parliament is no longer the prime minister.
The Pakatan hype about the road to Putrajaya has subsided to background noise as DAP and PAS focus on holding on to their jewels, namely Penang and Kelantan.
PAS would be seriously diminished without Kelantan and party members feel the party should be putting more effort into defending the state rather than trying to reach for the moon. Unlike Penang, Kelantan is not looking as secure as it used to be for PAS and there are several reasons why it will have to go the extra mile to hold on to the state.
First of all, PAS almost lost Kelantan in 2004. The pendulum almost swung back to the Umno quarter and PAS was only able to hold on with a two-seat majority.
But the 2008 tsunami saw the party recover lost ground with 38 seats against the six won by Umno. Of the 38 seats, 17 were won quite narrowly, with 55% or less of the vote.
These marginal seats are now quite vulnerable going by the 5% to 8% Malay vote swing back to Umno. Some of these seats were won with majorities of as little as 300-plus votes. It would take just a few hundred votes to change the equation for many of them.
Anual: ‘Nik Aziz’s slumber style goes down well with many in Kelantan
There were two by-elections in Kelantan – Manik Urai in 2009 and Galas in 2010 – where PAS was the incumbent. PAS retained Manik Urai with a reduced majority in 2009 whereas Umno took Galas with a decisive majority. The two by-elections were important wake-up calls for PAS – rural Kelantanese, especially the younger group, are thirsting for jobs, opportunities and development.
This is also PAS’ 21st year in power in Kelantan or, as UCSI public policy don Dr Ong Kian Ming put it, Kelantan has “the longest serving opposition government.”
Good, bad and the ugly
“One of the reasons why PAS has been accepted elsewhere is because of Kelantan. Previously, people did not believe an ulama could be a leader in a modern state or that Islam could be the policy. We have shown it is possible, that is our biggest achievement. We do not go on economic development alone, that is the normal responsibility of any government,” said Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah.
But there has been the good, the bad and the ugly in the course of 21 years of power. During the last State Legislative Assembly sitting, Kelantan opposition leader Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad criticised the state’s policy of awarding large tracts of land for plantations or mining which, he claimed, were little more than logging permits. He said some of these companies had joint-ventures with state bodies, cleared the land of forests, made profits from the logging, but did not go further from there.
Dr Ong: ‘Islamic and ulama leadership matter a lot to the Kelantan voters’
Some time ago, 12 penghulu or headmen were dismissed for picking their relatives and supporters as recipients of the Ladang Rakyat (people’s plantation) scheme, a state programme aimed at uplifting the lives of rural folk.
Last year, Alwi claimed, a PAS assemblyman was the talk of the town when he could not pay up some RM900,000 in income tax. The huge tax suggested that his income ran into millions of ringgit and many wondered how he had amassed so much wealth in so short a time.
“The party was said to have rallied to help him for fear that the court case could cost him the seat. This was following the Galas by-election and they could not risk another defeat,” said Alwi.
“Any government that has been in power this long would run into problems of energy and vision to develop the state. But if development issues matter a lot, they would have voted PAS out. Islamic leadership is more important and as long as Nik Aziz is the MB, it will be hard for Umno,” said Dr Ong.
By next year, Mentri Besar Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat would have been in power for 22 years, as long as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure as Prime Minister, although Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud holds the record for longest-serving state leader.
Nik Aziz turned 80 on Jan 10 and he will probably be the oldest candidate in the country come the next general election. To be alive, respected and in power at 80 is truly remarkable – except that very few democracies have leaders that old.
Some in DAP even want him to contest in a state as well as parliamentary seat so that he can be their fall-back candidate for Prime Minister in the event of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim being indisposed.
Kelantanese are known to be aggressive go-getters with an acute sense of doing business. Yet, they have no problem with Nik Aziz’s down-to-earth style or what his former press secretary Annual Bakhri Harun calls “slumber style”.
“He fits the bill as a political and religious leader,” said Annual who now runs a home-stay business.
However, Nik Aziz’s age may be one of those double-edged swords. He has become such a fixture that many Kelantanese cannot envisage PAS without him. At the same time, they admit that his age and frail health is not helping Kelantan to realise its potential.
Many thought the hudud issue was a deliberate ploy raised to strengthen PAS’ hold on Kelantan and Alwi had even criticised PAS for treating religion as a “political commodity.”
According to Dr Ong, Nik Aziz probably said it without realising the national impact.
“A large number of Muslims would support its implementation but it is not a core voting issue. I don’t think PAS really benefited from it but it caught DAP on the back foot and Anwar himself was caught off-guard,” said Dr Ong.
The issue has been a big talking point and although the three parties agreed to disagree on the matter, it was a stark reminder of PAS’ non-negotiable stand on syariah and the Islamic state.
The coalition held mass prayers in the Kota Baru stadium on Thursday night. It was dubbed a Thanksgiving Gathering to Reaffirm Hudud and drew a huge crowd with speakers who included Nik Aziz, Anwar, PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and UIA law expert Prof Aziz Bari.
Like it or not, Nik Aziz’s continued leadership will be an issue in the election. He is a respected ulama and much loved by the people. He is also the shrewdest and most savvy politician among the ulama in PAS. But there is such a thing as overstaying in politics especially when one is 80, wearing a pace-maker and in delicate health. It is an open secret that he will lead the party in the election and retire after that.
“There will be a succession in the state after the election but we will cross the bridge when we come to it,” said former assemblyman Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah.
There are several potential successors but senior exco member Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah is a forerunner. He is an ulama whose father was a big name in Kelantan PAS and acceptable to the palace and national PAS leadership.
However, Umno has also built up a credible Mentri Besar candidate in Datuk Mustapa Mohamad. He is the state Umno chief and International Trade and Industry Minister. Mustapa is still the same unpretentious and soft-spoken man he was when thrown into the deep end of Kelantan politics back in the 1990s.
The Jeli MP is not an ulama but he is as straight as a die and the fact that he has little baggage after this many years in politics says a lot about his character. Kelantanese have been watching him all these years and they should be ready to make a decision about him by now.
DAP’s Lim is under pressure to win another term with a big majority as well as an ethnically-mixed team. He rose on the strength of his reputation as a Chinese champion and he is struggling to widen his image to stay in power. On the other side of the peninsula, PAS will face a big fight to hold on to power.
Some say the pendulum is about to swing in a big way but the pint-sized Nik Aziz is still the biggest obstacle standing in the way.