Some see the paper-thin majority with which PAS is holding on to Kelantan as a wake-up call for the party, others view it as a harbinger of a state re-election, writes JOCELINE TAN.
WHEN Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat emerged from chairing the first meeting of his new state executive committee last week, reporters waiting outside milled around him.
The Kelantan Mentri Besar has always been a fertile source of comment for the media but he declined to take any questions that morning.
Instead, he waved a hand towards the other exco members streaming out of the room behind him.
“I have nothing to say. Speak to the younger people,” he said, pointing specifically to Husam Musa, the former MP for Kubang Krian and now assemblyman for Kijang.
Husam occupies the most powerful post in the exco after the Mentri Besar, namely the portfolio known as Finance, Planning, Administration and Welfare.
Some in PAS have dubbed the 46-year-old politician the “Robin Hood of Kelantan” for he is supposed to source for revenue to distribute to priority sectors.
It would have been a coveted post during the glory years of PAS in Kelantan but with the party administration now in crisis and at its most unstable ever, the job is more bane than boon.
Husam, who shone in Parliament when it came to complex economic issues, is still getting used to being part of the state government.
During his first week in office, he forgot he had an official car and driver and, instead, hailed a taxi to go home after work.
He is under a great deal of pressure to accomplish in the next few years what the PAS government ought to have done during its three terms in power. His priorities are to reorganise state agencies, enhance the administration of government and generate economic growth
“It's not just about creating jobs, we have to create income opportunities and we have to deliver it in the next few months,” he said.
But his intentions may be a case of too little too late. The people's expectations are now even higher while their patience with excuses has worn thin.
PAS ought to have aimed for these objectives at the height of its strength but Nik Aziz's concerns were skewed to the afterlife.
That would have been fine were he only a preacher but, as a political leader, he has evidently let his party down by not fulfilling the needs and expectations of the people.
As one professional affiliated to PAS put it: “Muslim wives are told it is obligatory to obey their husbands but husbands are not always told of their responsibility as the male spouse.
“Likewise, in Kelantan, we are told it is obligatory to support PAS but the wakil rakyat do not understand their responsibility to the people.”
Kelantan continues to buzz with talk of crossovers, of Umno forming the next state government and even of a re-election in the state.
Politicians in the state, whether from Umno or PAS, have been bombarded with queries about how long the PAS government will last with its majority of three seats.
PAS legal advisor Takiyuddin Hassan reported to the ACA earlier this week that attempts had been made to induce Kemuning assemblyman Zakaria Yaacob to jump ship.
PAS won the seat by only two votes.
The gist of Zakaria's allegation: if he chose to be an independent assemblyman, he would have unlimited funds for his area, the election petition against him would be withdrawn and he would receive remuneration of “up to seven digits”.
“I'm confident none of us will cross over,” said Takiyuddin, who is also Bunut Payong assemblyman.
Yet, PAS has been fearful of its assemblymen quitting the party from the night the votes came in. It is understood that all of its assemblyman have been made to sign open-dated letters requiring them to resign their seats if they quit the party.
They have also taken an oath of loyalty or baiah which, among other things, states that there would be “serious religious repercussions” if they broke their vow.
“It was never a strong government. Now, it is weak in every sense of the word,” said state Umno information head and Ketereh MP Alwi Che Ahmad.
Umno politicians insist they are quite happy to be a strong opposition.
State Umno chief Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, according to his top aide Juhaidi Yean Abdullah, is already planning to train the assemblymen on the procedures of the State Legislative Assembly.
“He also wants them to deliver what we can and to pressure the ruling party to deliver what they have promised,” Juhaidi added.
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s unequivocal stand on the matter when he flew into Kota Baru last Monday brought some relief to PAS politicians.
The Prime Minister made it clear that he did not believe in buying power, saying that he would rather use the money to develop the state.
Not many know this, but as the votes in Kelantan were still being counted on the night after polling, an Umno leader telephoned Abdullah to ask whether they could persuade PAS assemblymen to join them.
Abdullah who was monitoring the results at the penthouse of the PWTC straightaway told the Umno leader: “No! No buying over!”
According to Alwi: “Pak Lah’s stand from day one has been that if they come, they come of their own free will, because they want to struggle for the people or because they believe in the party, but no money business. That is Pak Lah for you.”
Back to the six million dollar question: Will the PAS government last its full term?
The possibility of a new state government is very real. All Umno needs is just two more assemblymen.
“We expect something to happen,” Kelantan Umno veteran Datuk Hassan Harun had said rather enigmatically during a dinner talk.
But the Umno side is aware that even if some PAS assemblymen crossed over, the government it will form will only be as vulnerable as the current one.
The move may not sit well with ordinary Kelantanese. There is no doubt that many Kelantanese had hoped that Umno would form the state government but will they approve of Umno slipping in through the back door and on a trail of money?
“We are not that power-crazy. It’s fine if they come across. If not, that’s also fine by us. All that talk about buying people is PAS’ way of deflecting criticism of their poor performance,” said Juhaidi.
There has also been a great deal of speculation regarding the health of PAS assemblymen, Datuk Omar Mohamed (Perupok) and Mohamed Daud (Demit), who is known locally as Mat Iraq. Omar is suffering from a spinal problem and Mat Iraq is still recovering his strength after a stroke.
They are not on the deathbed as some of their adversaries have alleged but they are definitely lame-duck assemblymen because they are definitely not healthy enough to cope with their duties.
There is also apprehension about the election petitions that Umno is now preparing to file.
Finally, as Umno would well know, it is the incumbent who holds the trump card.
The PAS side has made no bones about its intention to dissolve the State Legislative Assembly in the event of its assemblymen bolting to the other side.
The outcome of such a re-election in the state is still debatable at this point, although both sides insist that they will have the upper hand. PAS politicians are already planning to change some of their assemblymen with players “who can run faster and score goals” if they have to go back to the people.
Moreover, a re-election also means spending taxpayers’ money, which, as the Prime Minister pointed out, could be put to better use.
Husam will be the lynchpin in the PAS government’s attempt to survive a full term.
He got his first break in politics from Nik Aziz who picked him as his press secretary way back in 1990 and then as his political secretary.
In one of those classic twists of irony, the Tok Guru's own political survival now hinges on the ability of Husam and his team to perform and deliver.
Nik Aziz was often held up as a living saint by PAS supporters. When PAS limped past the victory post several days after polling, he apologised to those present for “mistakes made”.
The human frailties of this 74-year-old ulama has never been more apparent and his adamant refusal to speak to the media since the polls has been attributed to deep remorse as well as an admission of sorts that many of his public utterances in the past had not gone down well with the middle-of-the-road Malays.
The next six months will be crucial in gauging the lifespan of the PAS administration as well as that of their revered Tok Guru.