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Mind games by an old master

At 78 and now suffering heart problems, Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat is the subject of widespread speculation as to when he will step down as menteri besar, as well as the identity of his successor. While he has remained vague over both, his son Nik Abdul broached one subject in a blog-entry, in which he urged certain quarters not to stop his father from leaving office. Interviewed recently at his office in Kota Bharu, Nik Aziz said he is still capable of fulfilling his duties and that there is no need as yet for him to name a successor.

“(My health) is all right. If I stand for too long, I get tired. Doctors have told me not to (go on the ground) if I am tired. I’m old, and the ‘battery’ in my heart is weakening. “Other than taking medicine, I pray (for good health). Even the Chinese are praying for me. When they see me, they tell me Jangan mati lagi, (don’t die yet), Tok Guru,” he said with a laugh. “Even the Chinese are forbidding me from dying. They are more willing to listen to me than to the people from Umno.” Asked how his successor will be chosen, he said that one of the three deputy PAS state commissioners are likely to succeed him based on the hierarchy in the state and the party.

“It is ‘automatic’ according to party methodology. It is a form of preparation. We must have an umbrella ready before it rains,” said Nik Aziz, who has headed the Kelantan administration since 1990. Pressed further, he revealed that state executive councillor Ahmad Yakob is the front runner, by virtue of being the most senior of the trio. “Ahmad is the first layer. Whether or not he is accepted by the people, that is up to God. But he is deputy menteri besar. A lot of my duties have been delegated to him.” The other two are Nik Amar Abdullah and Husam Musa. The latter is widely deemed to be Nik Aziz’s protégé, although he has not received such endorsement.

Little is known about Ahmad, who like many Kelantan assemblypersons, shies away from the national political limelight. A religious scholar and long-serving state lawmaker, he is the Pekan Pasir state assemblyperson. However, Nik Amar has publicly endorsed Ahmad, as he wants Nik Aziz to name a successor quickly to prevent the likelihood of a power struggle in PAS.

Whatever the murmurings among the grassroots, the question as to whether Nik Aziz should stay or go may be overtaken by another development. PKR politician Zaid Ibrahim, who is spearheading a move to register Pakatan Rakyat as a coalition, has suggested that it be chaired by Nik Aziz. Nik Aziz said he is open to the idea, when asked if he would accept such an appointment. “I am the spiritual leader elected by the PAS central committee. What is wrong with being the spiritual leader of Pakatan? If you want to listen to me, thank you. If not, then I’m sorry.

“It is not a burden. It will increase my following. I would be happier leading open-minded Chinese than narrow-minded Malays,” he said with a smile. However, he instantly brushed aside any idea that PAS would compromise on its goals, such as the implementation of hudud law and establishing an Islamic state. These policies have been formulated on PAS’ religious obligations, he said, and therefore cannot be compromised. He also insisted that these policies have been generally misunderstood, and invited his Pakatan colleagues to clarify the matter with PAS. “There is no need (to quarrel). Say what you want, but listen to our reply. Don’t make accusations and (then) when I reply, you don’t listen. Tak boleh! (This won’t do). Islam means you should ask questions. If you don’t understand (our policies), ask,” he added. Pakatan will hold its first national convention this weekend in Shah Alam, where thorny issues such as PAS’ goal of a theocratic state are expected to be thrashed out.



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