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Published: Sunday July 14, 2013 MYT 7:28:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 14, 2013 MYT 7:31:37 AM

Ulama hope to regain lost ground

Datuk Seri Hadi Awang is assured of staying on as PAS president in the PAS election this year but all other positions will see keen contest as the ulama group move to reclaim their dominance in the party.

THE affable PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu was all over the place shortly after the general election, speaking at one 505 rally after another.

Mat Sabu, as he is known, was the supporting actor to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at these rallies where the crowds cheered at everything they said.

Both men are superb orators but not even the biggest of crowds could mask the fact that they are among the two biggest losers in the general election.

Mat Sabu suffered a humiliating defeat in the PAS stronghold of Pendang in Kedah, whereas Anwar failed once again in his bid to be Prime Minister.

The man known as “Raja Lawak” or “king of laughs” is not feeling so happy these days. Some have noticed that Mohamed Sabu has not been the man he was before the general election. His electoral loss seems to have knocked some of the oomph out of him.

The Pendang parliamentary seat carries a lot of symbolism for PAS. It used to belong to their beloved president Datuk Fadzil Mohd Noor who died during heart surgery in 2002. The seat has since been solidly with PAS.

Some PAS members have blamed Mat Sabu for failing to defend the party’s “political legacy”. He and his Pakatan friends have been going around the country blaming phantom voters from Bangladesh but the reality is that he lost Pendang through internal sabotage.

Mat Sabu had parachuted into Pendang to replace the three-term MP Dr Hayati Othman. It was evident from day one that it was not a popular decision. The local party structure did not agree with his candidacy and he had to stumble along with a limited campaign team.

The Erdogans, as the non-ulama faction in PAS are known, had lobbied hard for him to contest in Pendang. Their plan was that if he won in Pendang, it would be read as him being worthy of inheriting the mantle of the late president.

It would enhance his status and help him retain his deputy president post in the party election later this year and, who knows, he may even have made a bid for the presidency.

Their ambitious plan flopped and Mat Sabu is now in limbo. He has told friends in the party that he intends to defend his post.

“What else can he do? You can’t expect him to take a step down and contest for vice-president,” said a top PAS figure.

PAS, like Umno, will be holding its party polls in November. The branch meetings are taking place now and the nomination of names for party posts will begin in September when the division meetings convene.

Those aligned to Mat Sabu claimed that they sense powerful moves from behind the scenes to oust him as the deputy president. These unseen forces are using religious arguments against him and it is said that the allegations have been raised at the Syura Council, the highest decision making body of the party.

It is no secret that the ulama faction in PAS want him replaced by one of their own.

When Mat Sabu won the No 2 post in 2011, he broke the glass ceiling because the party’s No 1 and No 2 posts used to be held only by the ulama. The ulama group was not pleased but they kept their peace because they thought they were on the way to Putrajaya.

But they lost the general election and a showdown is in the cards between the pro-ulama and the pro-Erdogan supporters.

Party insiders say the election will likely see a resurgence of the ulama presence at the top levels.

The leading ulama candidate for the No 2 post is Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man, a well-known figure from Pahang who lost to Mat Sabu in the last party polls. But Tuan Ibrahim, like Mat Sabu, also lost in the general election and is apparently “very unwilling” to contest again.

He had also been an unwilling contestant in the last polls but there was a clamour for him to contest and he caved in. He is quite typical of the conservative ulama who see this sort of contest as a form of greed for power and that is not so good for the soul.

But the ulama group intends to get Tuan Ibrahim to try again because the thought that Mat Sabu may become the president if anything untoward happened to Datuk Seri Hadi Awang is a recurring nightmare for them.

The ulama will also be making a strong bid for the three vice-president (VP) posts. Salahuddin Ayub, Datuk Husam Musa and Datuk Mahfuz Omar who won in 2011 are all non-ulama.

Two ulama figures have emerged as serious VP contenders. One of them is Bukit Gantang MP Idris Ahmad and the other is Temerloh MP Nasrudin Hassan.

Idris is an Islamic hardliner with a fierce speaking style that gets his supporters all fired up but frightens his critics. He had contested but lost in the last VP race but he is a strong contender this time, having won in the general election. Moreover, he has emerged in recent years as a bold ulama voice.

Nasrudin is also an ultra conservative. He is known as “Nasrudin Tantawi” in the party but outside the party, he is better known for his opposition to Muslims celebrating Valentine’s Day.

Apart from his periodic opposition to what he sees as the “liberal lifestyle” among Muslims, he has not been outstanding as the party’s Youth chief.

But his status was enhanced after he defeated the high-profile Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah for the Temerloh parliamentary seat. That will be a stepping stone for him to move up in the party.

But the one to watch among the younger ulama is Nik Abduh Nik Aziz who defeated Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali in Pasir Mas. He is being heralded as the next head of the Youth wing.

Nik Abduh comes across as rather introverted and bashful, but reporters in Parliament have noticed that he has real opinions and treats people respectfully.

Within the party, he is known as someone who does not ride on the popularity of his father Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat. He is not afraid to voice views that are contrary to that of his father. For instance, he supports unity talks with Umno whereas Nik Aziz is dead set against it.

PAS actually did quite well in the general election but their elation was dampened by the loss of Kedah to Barisan Nasional. It was a bitter blow and DAP’s Aspan Alias, who was campaigning for PAS in Kedah, said the party should send its younger leaders for management courses so that when they come to power they will not fail like in Kedah.

Some PAS politicians have taken their losses badly but the average PAS leader is not like those in other Opposition parties.

There are upright people with professional attitudes towards election and politics among them. This was evident from the way they handled their defeat in Kedah where they acknowledged that the PAS administration failed to meet the expectations of Kedah voters.

But they have not gone into a frenzy of blame and recrimination and most have taken their disappointment like Muslim gentlemen. They do not bad-mouth former Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak. Instead, PAS members have been sending good wishes and prayers for his recovery after a double amputation of his legs.

In fact, many PAS leaders seemed more upset about the way their Islamic Brotherhood friend President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in Egypt. They see the conflict as an unholy bid for power by the secularists. Many of them took to Facebook to express their misgivings that a democratically elected leader had been overthrown by street demonstrations.

PAS secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali was anxious to downplay perception of a power play between the ulama and the Erdogans at the muktamar.

“Everything is normal, no temperatures rising. People are interested in posts but they are not clamouring to win at all costs,” he said.

Nevertheless, there is a lot at stake for the ulama in PAS. If the deputy president post goes to a non-ulama again, the day when a non-ulama can be president of PAS will not be far ahead.

Harakahdaily editor Zulkifli Sulung resigned from his post earlier this month to join an established news portal. Zulkifli has been with the party’s media arm for as long as anyone can remember and his resignation came as a bit of a shock.

His friends joked that he made history as the first “pre-election casualty” of PAS.

PAS elections have grown more competitive over the years and Zulkifli has often come under pressure regarding Harakah’s coverage of party affairs and personalities. After each election, there would be criticism that Harakah did not give sufficient coverage to one side or another.

For instance, in 2004, Zulkifli was axed as editor-in-chief of Harakah and reassigned to the then fledglingHarakahdaily because the ulama were unhappy with Harakah’s editorial content.

He has made a success of Harakahdaily but the pressure on him has not gone away especially before and after each party poll. It is a dilemma that all media people know too well – you can never please everyone.

Mustafa, who is Harakah board chairman, has had to defend Zulkifli and the party’s publications at a number of PAS muktamar. The most recent was during the muktamar in Kota Baru last year and it was not even an election year.

Despite Mustafa’s assurance of “no temperatures rising,” this election is bound to be just as intense and Zulkifli is probably getting out of the kitchen before the heat goes up again.

Tags / Keywords: Politics, kelantan, muktamar, nik aziz, pas election, pas, ulama

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