A dark horse in the form of Datuk Dr Hayati Othman has emerged as PAS’ contender for the Mentri Besar post in Kedah while Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir is the runaway choice if the Barisan Nasional makes it.
DATUK Seri Azizan Abdul Razak had not met Tan Keng Liang although the latter has been a persistent irritant from the day he became Mentri Besar of Kedah.
Tan is the spunky-looking state Gerakan Youth chief and a leading critic of the PAS-led government in Kedah. Rarely a week passes without something stinging from Tan via Twitter or to the media.
At the State Legislative Assembly building last month, the Gerakan politician flashed his toothy smile as he approached the Mentri Besar to introduce himself and say hello. It was the first time they were meeting and those around the table braced themselves for a potential situation. But Azizan is a classy gentleman; he smiled and gestured for Tan to join him at the lunch table.
“Tan is always raising issues,” Azizan said, as photographers began clicking away at the two adversaries seated side-by-side.
Past and present: Azizan (left) is still a well-liked figure in Kedah although his government is struggling with a host of political and development issues. He is seen here in a discussion with his predecessor Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid at the Kedah Legislative Assembly.
“I’m only the opposition,” Tan replied, at which Azizan gave the younger man a quizzical look and said ever so casually, “I was 16 years in the opposition.”
It was a classic “don’t try to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs” moment. That is Azizan for you; he can put you in your place without seeming to.
Tan left shortly after and as he made his way out, he saw a stunning beauty sitting under the porch – a brand new silver Mercedes Benz S350 with a stylish number plate, KCX8. A few quick taps on his smartphone camera and the picture of what he claimed to be the Mentri Besar’s new official car was up in cyberspace with the inscription: Kedahans should be proud, the MB travels in style.
And that is what makes Tan the top opposition trooper in Kedah. He has been telling friends that the last sitting of the Kedah Legislative Assembly was so brief that “when I came back from the toilet, it was over.” The sitting, which started at 9am, was over by 10.30am and only five out of the 61 questions submitted were allowed.
One of those who had a chance to speak was Belantek assemblyman Tajudin Abdullah who had the House smiling when he congratulated the stern-faced state exco member Siti Aishah Ghazali on her marriage. The 50-year-old ustazah from PAS had married again after losing her husband last November.
Pakatan politicians are starting to realise that the Internet can bite both ways because the ustazah’s new marriage was a heated topic among Kedah bloggers. The chatrooms claimed she had married her official driver and one account even had her marrying a fellow state exco member. That’s the trouble with a lot of blogs; the juiciest bits are often quite nonsensical because Siti Aishah married a PAS man and municipal councillor from Kulim. She is his second wife.
But everyone, including the Mentri Besar, was happy for her.
Dr Hayati: The medical doctor is to move to a state seat.
However, Azizan was less than happy about a recent survey indicating that Barisan Nasional would regain powerin Kedah and that many voters were looking at Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir as a potential Mentri Besar. He did not dispute the results of the Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) survey but brushed it off, saying that the researchers should focus on issues like clean elections and development in the state.
The Kedah study, headed by Assoc Prof Rohana Yusof, caused ripples when it was presented at a political forum two weeks ago. It was significant because it involved face-to-face interviews with some 10,800 Kedah respondents, a much larger sample base than most other surveys including that of the Merdeka Centre. For instance, the Merdeka Centre’s national survey on the Prime Minister’s popularity rating was based on telephone interviews with only 1,019 voters who are then presented as the views of 27 million Malaysians.
Anyway, the UUM survey suggested that 54% of Kedahans preferred Barisan to lead in Kedah, 59% said that election promises made by PAS had not been fulfilled and 52% expressed some sort of dissatisfaction with the state government. It is not hard to see why Azizan was rattled by the study.
But another Kedah survey by Universiti Malaya, also done this year, produced contrasting results. The survey headed by the Centre for Democracy and Election director Prof Redzuan Othman indicated that Kedah is likely to stay in PAS hands.
Redzuan’s sample size is only about 200 respondents but he rightly pointed out that the general election in Kedah will be decided by the Malays who make up 80% of the state’s population. His survey showed that 43% of Malays preferred Pakatan, 33% wanted Barisan while 24% were undecided.
Among the Chinese, 50% sided with Pakatan, 38% with Barisan and only 12% were still undecided. An overwhelming 65% of Indians are going with the Barisan while only 10% said they would support PAS.
More mature electorate
Redzuan’s survey also showed that while national issues dominate among Klang Valley voters, issues such as Lynas, NFCorp and Bersih had minimal impact in Kedah. But a new maturity is emerging among Kedah voters; while 52% said they would vote based on the party, 48% said they would also look at the candidate.
The contrasting outcomes by the two academic surveys suggest that the political ground in Kedah is much more uncertain than most players think.
Mukhriz: Front-runner for mentri besar post if Barisan wins.
“It can still go either way. The final campaign, last minute issues, candidates, all these will decide the outcome. It will boil down to the final 10m,” said a Kuala Lumpur-based analyst.
Some think it will also be about the choice of candidate for mentri besar. Both surveys showed that while Azizan was still the top choice for PAS, Mukhriz was Kedahans’ pick if the Barisan wins. It could be the magic of the Mahathir name but Mukhriz has managed to capture the imagination of Kedahans.
The Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister has played it cool. All he has said is that he is prepared to move to play a more local role if asked to. But he has begun to talk about how Kedahans deserve a brighter future. Recently, he said Kedah has a high-tech park in Kulim and it would be timely to have an industrial park in Kedah’s north so that the state can tap on activity in South Thailand.
More recently, he spoke about Kedah’s role as the country’s rice bowl and said it was time to upgrade the irrigation system and to increase padi yields. Since the start of Ramadan, he has been breaking fast with factory workers and spending sahur with hospital staff.
Mukhriz has pressed the right buttons and Rohana’s survey showed that 60% of those interviewed named Mukhriz as Barisan’s Mentri Besar, followed by Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom (13%), Datuk Paduka Ahmad Bashah Hanipah (12%) and Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid (5%).
Even PAS is taking notice: its vice-president Datuk Mahfuz Omar recently claimed in a pro-Pakatan news portal that Umno warlords in Kedah are out to back-stab Mukhriz. He is quite right, there is resentment among several Umno division chiefs about Mukhriz’s rising profile. They see him as an upstart and are not ready to cooperate.
But Mahfuz neglected to mention the rumblings over the political development in his own party. The move to put PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu (Mat Sabu) as the next parliamentary candidate for Pendang has generated mixed reaction in Kedah.
While the Pendang PAS division has voiced support for the move, some have said that only a handful of committee members are for it and they are the ones now taking Mat Sabu around for ceramah.
Posturing for state seat
The pro-Mat Sabu group claimed that Datuk Dr Hayati Othman, a third-term MP for Pendang, is ready to move to a state seat. He is diligent but has not shone as an MP. They want to position him as the next Mentri Besar. This group does not see Azizan going on after the general election on account of his health. His would-be successor Phahrolrazi, on the other hand, has been damaged by the power struggle of the last one year although he is on excellent terms with the Agong who is also the Kedah Sultan.
Tan: A persistent irritant to the Kedah government.
The plan is for Dr Hayati to contest in Tokai, a state seat under Pendang that is currently held by Datuk Taulan Mat Rasul. They claimed that Taulan, a state exco member and well-known syariah lawyer, is ready to retire.
But Taulan, when contacted by The Star, suggested otherwise: “I am never the type to push myself up. If the party says to contest, I will follow. I will leave it to the party president. But let me say this, we don’t usually put outsiders in our constituency. The locals prefer an anak tempatan who lives in the area and is there for them every day.”
Moreover, Taulan is the Pendang PAS chief whereas Dr Hayati is his deputy and it is hard to visualise Dr Hayati pushing Taulan off to pasture.
The Penang-born Mat Sabu who is known as the party’s “Raja Lawak” (King of Laughs) has contested in every general election since 1982 and always in a different seat. He won on three out of seven occasions – Nilam Puri in 1990, Kubang Krian in 1995 and Kuala Kedah in 1999.
Pendang is synonymous with PAS’ beloved president Datuk Fadzil Noor, and the Erdogan faction in PAS want to brand Mat Sabu as the next Fadzil. It is quite a bold move because some think that is like trying to rebrand sardines as sashimi.
The conservatives in the party say there is a “hidden hand” at work among the Erdogans to re-engineer the future of PAS. A win in Pendang means he can then set his sight on the very top post in PAS.
But there is a slight problem for Mat Sabu in Kedah. He and Azizan have what PAS folk call a “long history” and they rarely appear at the same event. Azizan is quite aware of the goings-on and his silence speaks volumes.
The battle for Kedah is taking place at several levels. At one level, it is about Pakatan versus Barisan and PAS versus Umno. At another level, the tussle is within the respective parties as factions and personalities push and shove for supremacy,
People imagine that PAS members have not changed since their years in the wilderness, that they will fall into line and work together once the election is called. The attempt to push Azizan out of the Mentri Besar’s chair after he fell ill was a glaring reminder that those halcyon days are history. The party has tasted power, it is intoxicating and the rivalry in PAS is now not very different from that in Umno.
“We should not be over confident. It’s going to be a very tough fight and we have to work very hard,” said Phahrolrazi.