Allegations and counter allegations of sexual misdemeanours and extortion rocked the politics of Kelantan last week, threatening to erode the gains that Kelantan Umno made in the general election, writes JOCELINE TAN.
DATUK Seri Annuar Musa must have felt like he was perched on a hot seat over the last few weeks. The Kelantan Umno leader has had to deal with one crisis-of-sorts after another in his party.
He was just about settled down to his usual routine after the hurly-burly of the Pengkalan Pasir by-election when one of his division heads was charged in court for money laundering.
This was the case of Kubang Krian chief Mohd Fauzi Ismail who is defending two charges under the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
It had never happened before in Umno and Annuar had a trying time doing damage control.
This was, after all, a state where Umno's arch rival PAS held the reins of power and it was terribly embarrassing for the party.
He had to put a spin on it and told people it also meant that “Umno is transparent and that we will not sweep things under the carpet.”
But even before he was through tackling that, he found himself with another crisis on his hands.
He received an SOS from Kuala Krai which sent his head spinning.
The Kuala Krai MP Datuk Razali Che Mamat and his neighbour Zulkarnain Mohamed, a businessman and part-time journalist, were embroiled in allegations and counter-allegations of sexual misdemeanour and extortion.
“The family invited me to the house to meet them. This was before things came out in the newspapers,” said Annuar.
Annuar was also brought to meet one of the women allegedly implicated in the sexual allegations.
“I just listened to what they had to say. The accusations were very complicated and I did not talk to anyone about it then, not even to my wife.
“I felt quite sympathetic after listening to what they went through. I have also experienced people accusing me of things,” he said.
Annuar was the target of a smear campaign during the Pengkalan Pasir by-election last December when flyers linking him to a local Pasir Mas beauty appeared on the last day of campaigning.
As such, he was supportive of Razali taking the matter to the police.
“There is no need to explain it to the top leadership yet. Things are still very hazy.
“Let the police go to the root of the problem, then whoever commits wrong will just have to face the music,” he said.
Annuar has been rather fortunate in the sense that PAS has not jumped in to exploit the issue – so far, that is.
The PAS side has been surprisingly silent despite the issue being a talking point, with people asking around for the VCDs of interviews that were allegedly done with the parties involved.
Kelantan PAS leaders also instructed their web portal Harakahdaily not to touch on the issue.
“Let them fight it out among themselves,” was the instruction from a PAS politician in Kelantan.
Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat apparently told those around him: “It's a personal matter but if it goes to court, then we'll see.”
Some think PAS has not capitalised on the situation because the party is still trying to find its footing after losing Pengkalan Pasir to the Barisan Nasional.
The party, which is holding on to power by a one-seat majority, has not been this weak since winning the state in 1990.
Others in PAS claimed the party is merely being consistent. Party leaders had insisted that sex allegations should bear at least four eye witnesses at the height of the sex trial against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and they feel the same should apply for others.
Besides, finger-pointing can sometimes backfire as in the case of the attempts to smear Annuar during the by-election.
Although PAS denied that it was behind the smear campaign, the family of the lady with whom Annuar was allegedly linked blamed PAS and they decided to throw their support behind Umno.
But some said the real reason for PAS' silence is probably because “women woes” have not been exclusive to any one party in Kelantan.
“We also know of PAS politicians having affairs with women but we don't go to the newspapers about it,” said Annuar.
Politicians, especially those of position, often come across as larger than life but they are just as prone to human frailties as the next person.
For instance, there have been cases of PAS and Umno politicians being penalised by the Syariah Court for remarrying outside the country.
One of them was no less than Kelantan Legislative Assembly Speaker Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah.
Two others were from Umno –Datuk Ismail Mamat (Machang division head) and Tuan Hashim Tuan Yaakob (former Kubang Krian head).
As Kelantan Umno information chief Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad put it: “Nobody is perfect and it is easy to accuse others.”
In 1995, the PAS administration was badly shaken by the khalwat trial of former MP and top party orator Mohamed Sabu and a married lady friend.
But the syariah court found the couple innocent and cleared them of the charges without calling for their defence.
The concern of many Umno members in Kelantan is how the situation in Kuala Krai will affect the party’s standing.
Umno has never been this close to regaining control of Kelantan and the allegations could not have come at a worse time.
“It’s not good for Umno. There will be some damage,” said a former Umno state assemblyman.
Alwi added: “It is just a hiccup but PAS can use it against us.”
The problem with allegations like these is that they never really wash away even if the person turns out to be blameless.
But it does not necessarily spell the end of a political career.
Mohamed Sabu or Mat Sabu, as he is known to all and sundry, remained hugely popular on the PAS ceramah circuit following his trial and he is a PAS vice-president today.
But his political longevity is also partly due to his own personal charm and charisma.
Even the politicians who had been penalised by the courts for not observing the state religious laws in their remarriages suffered only briefly before making a comeback.
PAS’ Wan Rahim is still a highly capable Speaker of the Kelantan legislative Assembly whereas Umno's Ismail is still head of Machang division.
Tuan Hashim's court trouble cost him the Kubang Krian Umno division post but he stayed staunchly loyal to Umno and was recently appointed the party's election director in the state.
Still, Annuar has been under pressure.
“People expect me to go on the offensive against the PAS government, to be aggressive. But my concern is that if we push too hard, the reverse may happen. I want to focus on the positive rather than the provocative.
“Our main focus is to help the state develop, to make sure that Kelantan figures well in the 9th Malaysia Plan and to reorganise the party,” he said.
In a state where Umno and PAS are so evenly matched, one cannot be too over-zealous.
And if there is a moral to be learnt from all this, it is that public figures have to lead exemplary lives because they are subjected to greater expectations and scrutiny.
Or as they say, people who live in glasshouses should not only not throw stones, they should also wear clothes.