A LOUD roar of approval erupted from the packed hall when it was announced that Nasharudin Mat Isa was the new deputy president of PAS.
The 42-year-old rising star had defeated two of the most established faces in PAS. But for the PAS faithful present, it was more than just a contest for a top party post.
Nasharudin’s win signified the most dramatic leadership change that the party had seen in decades.
It also signalled the party’s intention to introduce urgent reform in the party.
Nasharuddin polled 536 votes against the hardline incumbent Senator Hassan Shukri and former Kelantan deputy mentri besar Datuk Halim Abdul Rahman.
The three men stayed glued to their seats as the standard salutation of Takbir! and “Allah!” rose from the floor.
Hassan, ousted after only one term, was a dogmatic figure whom many saw as a liability to president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang. Hadi sat expressionless through the announcement. He had remained above the fray throughout the election campaign.
But his long-time friend and party colleague Datuk Mustafa Ali said: “Hadi may not show it but he is for the change. He really welcomes it.”
Party members would be loath to admit it but Hadi has struggled to fill the shoes of his late predecessor, Datuk Fadzil Mohd Noor, who was respected for his Islamic rigour as well as his political dexterity.
Hadi’s Islamic credentials are quite unchallenged but he has none of the political savvy and charm of Fadzil.
It is obvious that members think that Nasharudin, with his relative youth, education, broad worldview and people skills, will be able to complement Hadi.
The vice-presidents’ contest also ushered Kelantan top favourite Husam Musa, 46, into the top placing.
Kedah orator Mohamad Sabu, 50, came in second. His win is seen as the delegates’ way of keeping the geographical balance of power in the party.
Incumbent Datuk Dr Hassan Ali, who is also Selangor PAS chief, retained his seat but the wind of change blew him down to third place.
The fact that delegates were prepared to accept an all non-ulama team of vice-presidents also surprised onlookers.
Members insist the trio make a good team – Husam as a thinking politician, Mat Sabu as grassroots leader and Dr Hassan as the link to the middle-of-the-road Malays.
Woman vice-president candidate Dr Siti Mariah Mahmood failed to make it despite staunch support from Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
The dominantly male delegates were obviously not ready for a woman.
Husam, 46, had been the favourite from the beginning. His efforts at turning around Kelantan’s financial crisis had won him admirers in the party and accolades from his Mentri Besar boss.
Nik Aziz, who had turned up only after lunch, after complaining of a headache earlier in the morning, tried not to smile too broadly at his young protégé’s victory.
Out-going vice-president Mustafa probably felt the greatest sense of satisfaction. He had sent out a strong signal when he stepped aside to make way for new blood.
Some said the party agenda Hadi spelt out in his presidential speech on Friday was seen by delegates as a signal for a new and more energetic team to carry out the onerous challenge.
The central committee saw about 30% new faces.
PAS is not a party that accepts change easily or readily. It must have taken a great deal of courage for members to go for such dramatic change.
The expectations of the new team will be sky-high and the new line-up will have to perform and deliver.