Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s age and health have become the elephant in the room for PAS in its campaign to hold on to Kelantan.
THERE had been a downpour earlier in the afternoon and the field in Machang was soggy with puddles of water everywhere.
But it was the night for unveiling of the Kelantan PAS election candidates and the party faithful had turned up in droves.
The who’s who of Kelantan PAS was up on the brightly-lit stage which was decorated by election banners.
The message of change or ubah becomes rather awkward in Pakatan Rakyat-ruled states.
In Kelantan, they have adjusted it to Kekal Kelantan, Tukar Putrajaya (maintain Kelantan, change Putrajaya).
Almost everyone on the stage was in a jubah or the standard evening wear of baju Melayu top over a checked sarung.
Datuk Nassaruddin Daud, the Kelantan Assembly Speaker was the star speaker.
Actually he was shouting rather than speaking. He is very short, his head could hardly be seen above the rostrum but he has an extremely big voice for a small man.
But the crowd seemed to love him, especially when he accused Barisan Nasional as being behind a sex video allegedly of a PAS leader.
“Why are you laughing? It means all of you have seen it,” he said to more laughter.
Even those on the stage were shaking with laughter – except for Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
The Kelantan Mentri Besar sat, almost curled up on the sofa, his eyes closed, resting his chin in his hand like he was deep in thought.
He looked frail and tired and when it was his turn to speak, he spoke for barely five minutes, appealing to party members to be of “one heart” on the choice of candidates, before shuffling back to his seat.
It was left to state exco member Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah to announce the names of the candidates for the 45 state seats while Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yaakob read out the names for the parliamentary seats.
It was a hint of the changing of the guard that lies ahead after the general election.
Ahmad and Nik Amar are poised to take over as the next Mentri Besar and Deputy Mentri Besar.
There was a lot of cheering as the names were read out.
Some names were better received than others but Nik Aziz’s son Nik Abduh who is contesting in the Pasir Mas parliamentary seat got the loudest cheer of all.
He is the new face to watch in the years ahead given that this will be his father’s swan song election.
By now, it is an open secret that Nik Aziz is unlikely to go on for a full term if PAS wins.
The PAS team is loath to admit it but his age and state of health is a big issue in GE13.
It is an elephant in the room kind of issue – it is in full sight of everyone but they pretend not to see it.
PAS members feel they cannot win the election without him and they will not let him retire.
His face is everywhere in Kelantan, smiling sweetly from billboards, banners and posters.
But he has been unable to move around to campaign.
He tires easily and pictures of an exhausted Nik Aziz being carried by an aide and lying down to rest inside a mosque during a hectic schedule in Johor is still the talk of the town.
Insiders said he was ready to step aside but he has told reporters that he will go on even if he has to use a wheelchair.
At the Machang event, he left the moment the candidates’ names were announced, walking rather unsteadily with the aide of a cane.
It was clear he wanted to go home and rest.
“If he was my father. I would not allow him to go on like this but when I tell my friends in PAS, they scold me,” said a businessman who is voting in Pengkalan Chepa.
Kelantanese still respect him as a Tok Guru but, at 82, Nik Aziz has overstayed as a Mentri Besar.
To compound matters, Dato Seri Mustapa Mohamed has emerged as a credible Mentri Besar candidate.
His main drawback is that he is not an ulama.
But other than that, the Umno side said he can give PAS a run for their money – he has no airs and no baggage, he is experienced and healthy and he has the energy to do a full day’s job and more.
“Apart from the ulama factor, Mustapa has more of everything,” said an aide.
Mustapa has become a big threat to PAS judging by the way they run him down at their ceramah.
They have criticised him for going for two seats even though several of their own top leaders are also contesting dual seats.
Mustapa is contesting in Jeli for Parliament and Air Lanas for state.
Speaker after speaker at PAS ceramah have vowed to work to defeat Mustapa.
But people have eyes and they can see that Mustapa is a rare breed in Umno. He is to Umno what Nik Aziz is to PAS.
The biggest selling factor in PAS the last 23 years has been Nik Aziz.
Many Kelantan voters especially the fencesitters voted for PAS because of him. But this time around, they know that he will likely step aside mid-term.
This issue is playing on the minds of voters.
Kelantanese scrutinise their politicians inside out and they are particular about candidates.
But this time around, the fencesitters will also be voting for who they think will be the more capable Mentri Besar.
■ For more election stories, please visit The Star’s GE13 site
Did you find this article insightful?