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Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Kelantan, coming polls a referendum on Nik Aziz, Mustapa


October 30, 2011

Umno is banking on Mustapa’s untainted image to win over Kelantan voters. — File pic
KOTA BARU, Oct 30 — The fight for Kelantan in the upcoming national polls will see PAS and Umno pit Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and federal minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed against each other to see who is the more popular choice for the state’s mentri besar post.

The Malaysian Insider understands both parties have embarked on aggressive campaigns to promote their respective candidates for the state’s top spot ahead of the general election that is expected to be called by early next year.

The Kelantan Umno leadership is banking on Mustapa to again lead the coalition in the next election as its mentri besar-designate despite the Umno leader not being as popular as Nik Aziz.

“Although we know that Nik Aziz is popular as a state leader, you see his pictures everywhere, but the fact remains is that he is old; he is not going to lead the state forever.

“What we are telling people on the ground is that who in PAS will take over after Nik Aziz? Datuk Husam Musa? There is no clear succession plan in PAS, but Umno, we have Tok Pa (Mustapa) and no arguments there, he is our choice for MB,” Pengkalan Chepa Umno Youth division chief Che Othman Che Wil told The Malaysian Insider in an interview last week.

Che Othman and many other state Umno leaders believe Mustapa’s “squeaky-clean” and “scandal-free” image will help shore up voter support, and have made it a point to burnish the minister’s credentials “every chance” they get in forums and even public events.

“Tok Pa is a trade minister; he has the know-how to bring development to Kelantan, better than a so-called Tok Guru. He (Nik Aziz) is not even scandal-free,” said Che Othman, referring to nepotism allegations involving the Kelantan MB and his son-in-law, former Kelantan Mentri Besar Incorporated (PMBK) chief executive officer, Abdul Ariffahmi Ab. Rahman.

Nik Aziz’s popularity is well-established both in Kelantan and nationally. — File pic
Mustapa, who is the international trade and industry minister as well as Jeli MP, has been working with Umno officials on its “Gelombang Merah” campaign to take back the state lost two decades ago. He is an economist, holding a first class honours degree in Economics from University of Melbourne, Australia and a Masters in Economic Development from the Boston University.

It is understood that even PAS officials are worried about succession in the state, pointing out that Nik Aziz turns 80 this year without a successor in sight. There have been hints of a power struggle but the Islamist party has shown enough discipline to keep the issue under wraps.

State government leaders have been on the defensive, insisting that the issue of succession is “not as important as some people would make it out to be.”

“In politics it is about uncertainty, we may plan for a person to take over, but when the time comes, things can change.

“Umno may have one good leader, Tok Pa (Mustapa), but the rest are rotten apples, all contractors wanting a cut from the state if they take over,” state executive councillor Datuk Anuar Tan Abdullah told The Malaysian Insider in an interview recently.

Anuar, who holds the portfolio for entrepreneurial, trade and people’s development said that a number of candidates are already being considered, including the state deputy MB, Datuk Ahmad Yaakob.

“Umno only has one choice candidate. We have several and this will eventually be decided by the PAS leadership,” said Anuar.

But Umno’s plans to unseat Nik Aziz may not be so easy, as the PAS spiritual leader still commands respect and support from majority of Kelantan folk.

“When you talk about winning Kelantan, it has to be about personalities... party is not enough,” says Kelantan opposition leader Datuk Che Alwi Ahmad.

“For instance, I can bring up many issues on mismanagement by the state government, but at the end of the day, what people will see is me attacking an old man wearing a jubah in the Dewan Negeri (state assembly),” he told The Malaysian Insider, referring to Nik Aziz.

For the people in Kelantan, especially in rural areas, Nik Aziz remains a symbol of PAS’s brand of Islam- religiosity and moderation in governance.

“Under Tok Guru’s (Nik Aziz) leadership, there is fairness. Dia orang alim (He is religious) unlike Umno leaders, he has brought good to Kelantan, we are a state which adheres to the tenets of Islam... is that not enough? People in Kelantan are simple folk,” businesswoman Sharifah Noraini, 47 said during a recent interview near her home in Lubok Setol, Rantau Panjang.

Sharifah said that various restrictions on entertainment in the state by Nik Aziz’s administration was “good” as it prevented youths from getting into trouble.

“Umno already had their chance years back... and nothing changed back then, so the time for giving them a chance is over.”

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