Choosing No. 2 will be tough

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 04 Jun 2009

All eyes are on the big showdown for the PAS deputy president’s post in Shah Alam tomorrow. The three-way fight for the No. 2 post has narrowed down to a choice between ulama Nasharudin Mat Isa and economist Datuk Husam Musa.

INTEREST in who will become the next deputy president of PAS has never been this great.

The fight has reached feverish levels now that it has filtered down to a face-off between the Jordan-schooled ulama Nasharudin Mat Isa and Universiti Malaya-trained economist Datuk Husam Musa.

It has become too close to call.

The other candidate Mohamad Sabu or Mat Sabu is said to be trailing in third place.

The political wind is also said to be shifting now that delegates have moved past the earlier debate that this contest is about defending the party policy of “leadership by the ulama”.

Even the previous argument about Nasharudin being pro-Umno and Husam being against any co-operation with Umno has grown rather blase.

The focus of delegates the last few days has been on assessing the strengths and shortcomings of the candidates.

They are looking at the role each of the candidates can play in the next two years which will be a crucial period for PAS, and what they can contribute to the party.

PAS is the second biggest political party in the country after Umno and its sights are set on federal power. It is no longer just another opposition party but a party that believes it is on the way to Putrajaya.

As such, the next No. 2 must have real leadership qualities and be able to complement president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang whom, as everyone knows, is an unrivalled ulama but a limited politician.

The contest has boiled down to not only what the candidates stand for but their individual worth as party leaders.

Mat Sabu, as most would agree, is a party stalwart, always dependable and loyal to the core. But the point is, he is not quite No. 2 material.

Nasharudin, 47, and Husam, 50, are defined by their education background, their intellect and the way they carry themselves.

Nasharudin’s education credentials are impressive – Islamic studies in Jordan, Masters degree in Britain and then an academic stint in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Husam went into politics after graduating in economics from Universiti Malaya. He spent time in Rusila studying religion under Hadi before moving on to work as an aide to Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat after PAS captured Kelantan.

Nasharudin’s edge over Husam is his status as an ulama who has been able to project a modern and moderate image of PAS to the outside world.

Husam, on the other hand, has an impressive track record. He has built up a reputation as a thinking politician and technocrat in the Kelantan Government. He is credited with putting the state finances into shape and is pivotal to the state government.

He was the brains behind PAS establishing its headquarters in downtown Kuala Lumpur and also the proposed party centre in Putrajaya. His argument is that if PAS wants to convince people that it is a national party, it has to project a national image.

Nasharudin is very likeable and has been a fairly competent No. 2.

But the political landscape has changed and as Wangsa Maju PAS chief Dr Rayney Ali put it: “He does not shine as a deputy president.”

But Nasharudin has the support from some of PAS’ top ulama such as Datuk Dr Haron Din who has declared that only an ulama can lead the party.

According to Dr Rayney, who is a doctor at the National Heart Institute, some interpret the “leadership by the ulama” policy as the Majlis Syura (the top consultative council headed by Nik Aziz) having the final say on all party matters.

“The Majlis Syura represents the real ulama leadership. As long as that is the case, it is acceptable for the deputy president to be a non-ulama. Others believe that both the president and deputy must come from the ulama,” he said.

Underlying these arguments is the festering issue that Husam is dead against any ties with Umno whereas Nasharudin supports the idea of a unity government with Umno.

Nasharudin and Husam are said to be running neck and neck in the final lap.

The tide is said to be turning but can it turn enough to push the challenger ahead of the incumbent?

Delegates are torn between heeding the plea to vote in an ulama and the need to retain one of the most promising leaders they have ever had.

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