The era of Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat is over, the next echelon has moved to centrestage in Kelantan politics, and Umno is looking forward to closer ties with PAS leaders.
IT was hard to read what was going through Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat’s mind when the PAS side tabled a motion of thanks to him for his role at the helm of the Kelantan government.
The former Mentri Besar looked impassive, his chin resting lightly on his hand, as he listened to Kadok assemblyman Azami Mohd Noor offer “thousands of thanks” for his leadership at the first session of the new Kelantan Legislative Assembly earlier last week.
Nik Aziz’s decision not to continue as Mentri Besar took his party, including the top leaders, by surprise because everyone thought he would only go in mid-term.
A party insider confided that a few days after the general election, Nik Aziz had written to party president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang saying that he did not wish to continue as Mentri Besar.
Nik Aziz is from the old world. He is not into the Internet or email and the hand-written letter was delivered by hand to Hadi. The letter contained a single request – that the incumbent deputy Datuk Ahmad Yakob be moved up to the top post.
The 82-year-old leader had delivered the state and it was time to go, something he had been looking forward to.
The political transition has been quite smooth. Ahmad and the new Deputy Mentri Besar, Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah, hail from the ulama class of PAS. Both men are sons of famous Tok Gurus and that is the way the PAS grassroots like it.
Ahmad, or Datuk Mat as he is known, is somewhat of a mystery despite his years in politics. He kept a low profile throughout his time as Nik Aziz’s No. 2 and some said it was because Nik Aziz is such a big star that he eclipses everyone else.
Ahmad has a serious demeanour but is not unfriendly. He is also quite good-looking except one can never be sure whether he is looking at you because his right eye always seems to be going sideways.
However, reporters in Kelantan have found him to be a bit of a nightmare when it comes to news gathering. Like many ulama, he is not comfortable with the media. No one is quite sure about his political views or what he thinks about issues like the economy, the environment or even his party’s direction.
On Wednesday, a team from Harakah was on the way to Kota Baru to do an extensive interview with Ahmad. Many in his own party are keen to know more about the new man in charge of their flagship state.
He is also said to be a reluctant politician. He once said he did not aspire to be Mentri Besar because he did not wish to “commit sin”. The implication was that being in power requires one to make decisions that may hurt people and lead to adverse consequences.
But he has found himself in the seat of power and having to fill the big shoes left behind by Nik Aziz.
As Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad pointed out: “Nik Aziz is a Tok Guru and it was tough to take him on. Datuk Mat is an ustaz and that makes it easier for us.”
Ahmad received a warm reception from the Umno side during the Assembly sitting. His stern face dissolved into broad smiles several times during the debate especially when the Umno side congratulated him for making history in Kelantan.
Apparently, he is the first Deputy Mentri Besar in Kelantan’s history to succeed in becoming Mentri Besar. There have been a total of six deputies from both sides in the past and all of them, as they say, have only been the bridesmaid but never the bride.
The Umno side joked that the jinx had been lifted. They told Ahmad that if his PAS colleagues tried to bully him, the 12 Umno assemblymen on the opposition bench would rush to his aid.
The whole House erupted into laughter when they playfully warned him that because he had set the precedent for the Deputy Mentri Besar to move up to the top post, he would have to keep a close eye on his current deputy Nik Amar.
But there was also a tense moment when Zaki Ibrahim, the Kelaboran assemblyman from PAS, claimed that Barisan Nasional had distributed “pil kuda” (syabu) and ketum leaf beverages to secure the young votes. It was the type of outrageous nonsense that one hears at political ceramah.
Zaki, despite his baby-face looks, is famous for his “mulut tak ada insurans,” meaning that he is prone to making outlandish statements. He is also best remembered for a near fist-fight with Umno’s Paloh assemblyman Datuk Nozula Mat Diah inside the House a few years ago.
Old feelings die hard and Nozula, who is now the state Opposition Leader, jumped up to tell off Zaki.
“It looks like your heart is not pure. You say you fight for Islam but when you stand up, you only accuse and condemn others,” Nozula said.
Nozula is very popular in Paloh because he is one of the few assemblymen who would call up both his own Umno supporters as well as representatives from PAS to ask them what they needed for their kampung and try to find the allocation for them. As a result, his majority of win shot from 2,833 in 2008 to 3,937 in the recent polls.
Umno was deeply disappointed that it failed to get back Kelantan and it does look like state Umno chief Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed has missed another chance to be Mentri Besar. He will be 67 by the time the next election rolls around and that will be rather old even if Nik Aziz broke the national record for oldest Mentri Besar.
However, Umno has accepted the election result in Kelantan with an open heart and is hoping for a warmer and more cooperative relationship with PAS under the new Mentri Besar. With Nik Aziz out of the picture, they see greater prospects for cordial ties between the state and federal governments.
“People have asked whether the federal government wants to help Kelantan. I said yes, 100 times yes. We open our arms to them as fellow Muslims. We want to see good water supply in the state. Every year, there are floods, people see water everywhere but they still suffer from water cuts.
“We also want to solve the oil royalty issue in an amicable way, according to the law and what was agreed, without playing politics. We are looking forward to working with a Mentri Besar who does not utter curses against us,” said Alwi.
However, many were curious as to what has happened to Nik Aziz’s blue-eyed boy Datuk Husam Musa who was once seen as a future Mentri Besar. Husam rose to prominence when Nik Aziz was up there but his stars have dimmed and he is not even in the state exco.
Husam, who is Salor assemblyman, caused a stir when he sent word that he could not attend the swearing-in and asked to be excused from the Assembly proceedings.
But the night before the swearing-in, he was at the Kelantan 505 rally, breathing fire and brimstone alongside Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. They are kindred spirits in the sense that both are frustrated that they have not got what they wanted.
“I don’t know what is going on with Husam. Even Tok Guru came with his tongkat to be sworn in,” said Alwi.
Husam’s Facebook indicated that he was somewhere at the Syrian border, visiting a refugee camp. He posted a picture of himself with a handkerchief tied over his nose and mouth with the posting: “Hot weather, dry wind, dust blowing.”
Many in PAS are also disturbed at the way he has lashed out at his colleagues in Kelantan for not supporting the 505 rally in a bigger way. They said he should know that party leaders have accepted the overall election outcome.
A number of PAS leaders have privately indicated that they are suspicious of Anwar’s motives in holding street protests in the name of election fraud. They think it is Anwar’s way of destabilising the government with a view to toppling it.
Moreover, as the ruling party in Kelantan, PAS is acutely aware that it cannot be part of any move to topple an elected government through street politics. If they do that to others, the same could happen to them when the tide shifts.
PAS leaders are also concerned that Husam is behaving like he is in the opposition. He had made veiled attacks against Nik Abduh who is now Pasir Mas MP.
Nik Abduh, whose political views are quite independent of his father Nik Aziz, had urged PAS members to accept the general election result and said that it was God’s will. He said he is not against demonstrations but it should not be used to bring down a government.
Nik Abduh is the man to watch in PAS. He has the steely resolve of his father, he is not a yes-man and he wants to see PAS return to its original roadmap.
The above party insider said Husam was well aware that the Kelantan Palace has issues with him. The party had tried to help him get out of state politics by offering him Kubang Krian, a sure-win parliamentary seat. But he insisted on defending the Salor state seat and also lobbied to contest Putrajaya. He lost in Putrajaya and he is in a sort of political limbo.
Some leaders had appealed to Nik Aziz to speak to Husam but the elderly man had said: “Let him be.”
“He is attacking our own family in PAS and that is not good. He should be a team player,” said Nik Amar.
A few days ago, former Umno/PKR politician Datuk Zaid Ibrahim tweeted: “The future of Pakatan depends on where Husam is placed. PAS has to be led by Husam for there to be progress. Without progress in PAS, Pakatan will reach a dead end.”
The tweet was widely seen as encouragement for Husam to go for the PAS presidency at the party election in November and it gave Husam a much-needed morale boost.
The Nik Aziz era has finally come to an end and the next echelon has moved up. A new chapter lies ahead although no one can quite tell whether life without Nik Aziz up there will be better, worse or the same old story. But it will be interesting to watch.