Insight: By JOCELINE TAN.(Sunday Star, 2nd dec 2007)

A near brawl and the suspension of two Umno assemblymen marked the intense politicking at the recent Kelantan Legislative Assembly. It was a sign of how both sides are itching to face off in the next general election.

IT is the No 1 video in Kelantan at the moment. For the past week, every PAS ceramah has started with the screening of the video and, no, it is not the one of V.K. Lingam, which the average Kelantanese has little inkling of.

The video that has been the talk of Kota Baru is of course footage of the “fight scene” from the recent sitting of the Kelantan Legislative Assembly.

It showed an enraged Umno assemblyman charging behind the seats of six others towards his PAS counterpart. He then attempted to knee the latter in the groin as another assemblyman stood in between like a human shield. He almost resorted to using a chair but it was apparently too heavy to lift.

There were a total of five kneeing attempts – four by Umno’s Datuk Nozula Mat Diah and one by PAS’ Zaki Ibrahim, all shown with special sound effects in the video.

The human shield, Abdul Halim Abdul Rahman, assemblyman for Chetok, somehow escaped injury probably because he was too tall for Nozula to reach his, well, family jewels.

Kelantan blogger Syed Azidi Syed Aziz, better known by his blogging name Kickdefella, described it as the “dogil kick”, dogil being a Kelantan slang for a twisted side-kick that some attempt when playing football.

But Syed Azidi said somewhat tongue-in-cheek that he had “seen it only in Kelantan and never in English Premier League football”.

It was true Kelantan machismo – or gedebei behaviour, as they say in the state – on display.

It did not help that Nozula has one of those megaphone voices while his target, Zaki, who is the Kelantan PAS Youth chief, is just as loud. Moreover, Zaki has a very aggressive style and it is said his role in the assembly is to needle and aggravate the opposition bench.

As such, it was just a matter of time before the two megaphone personalities would clash.

Thus, even with their microphones switched off, the pair quite easily drowned out Speaker Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah who was desperately trying to bring order to the house.

For a while last week, the Kelantan Legislative Assembly went the way of Taiwan where shouting matches and brawls are not unusual.

The sitting has been more politicised than usual because many assemblymen think this will be the final meeting before elections are called.

“They are thinking it’s so close to the finishing line, so why bother to comply with the rules? Then things get out of control,” said PAS think-tank head Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad.

It is also the last chance for them to make an impression in the assembly.

“Don’t blame us. There was no decorum in the House, it was like a kedai kopi with people all talking at the same time. This was an important session to debate the state Budget but almost every day there were heated exchanges of words and shouting,” said Umno assemblyman for Semerak Datuk Kamaruddin Mohd Noor.

Strangely enough, both sides think they will get the people’s sympathy and support for what has happened.

PAS politicians were in euphoric mood after the sitting. They believed the incident had guaranteed their control over the state after the elections, hence the way they went to town with the video recording.

It was on YouTube two hours after the incident and the video was screened at a ceramah in the Kota Baru stadium the same night.

PAS may claim to be a kampung-style party but it has been very savvy about the new media.

But their traditional methods of information are still as strong as ever because they have been going around saying that Nozula has not been himself since a car crash along a treacherous stretch near Gua Musang.

On the Umno side, state party chief Datuk Seri Annuar Musa said it was premature to claim victory. He insisted that people would understand that Nozula was provoked into losing his temper.

“He had been trying for two days to get the chance to speak. The Speaker ignored him every time he stood up to speak but those seated were invited to speak. Things erupted because the Speaker did not reprimand those using unparliamentary language and basic debate rules were not observed,” he said.

In defending Nozula, who is Paloh assemblyman, Annuar said the Speaker had forced Nozula into a “suicide bomber situation” by frustrating him into an extreme action.

The PAS side had played the delay game with Nozula because they suspected he was planning to talk on corruption allegations against the state government.

“They talk about fairness but look at what happened. As I said in my speech, the Speaker was playing politics because he is hoping to contest the Kota Baru seat in the elections. Even the Deputy Speaker took part in the debate,” Annuar said.

But Annuar, some said, was privately upset that Nozula, the longest serving assemblyman in the Umno team, should have exploded this way. It could not have come at a worst time with elections expected within months.

The PAS-controlled assembly suspended Nozula and another assemblyman, Mohd Adhan Kechik, at the end of the sitting for showing disrespect to the Speaker.

It was the first time such a thing had happened in the State Assembly. It was also ironic that the Speaker used the same grounds that Parliament had used to suspend Fong Po Kuan, the DAP MP for Batu Gajah, several years ago because back then, the opposition had cried foul over the decision.

But Rahim said: “Umno is not used to being the opposition or a level playing ground. They don’t have a sense of fair play or sportsmanship.”

Umno information chief Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad, who was in Egypt this week, had met up with pro-PAS students in Cairo to speak on the Government’s Islam Hadhari approach.

During question time, a student who had seen the video on the Internet asked: “So the behaviour of YB Nozula in Kelantan is according to Islam Hadhari?”

For a moment, the younger man had Alwi in a spot.

Fair enough that Nozula was incited by the provocative Zaki, but Umno will still have a lot of explaining to do regarding the incident. Such aggression is just not on for a legislator.

But Alwi insisted that Nozula would win by an even bigger majority in Paloh after this.

“In an issue like this, Umno supporters will go with our argument and PAS supporters will go with PAS’. What matters is how we explain it to those in the middle the next few months,” said Alwi.

But fighting and shouting aside, the recent assembly sent a few signals that its players should take note of.

One is that Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat seems set to stay on.

Last year, he had let Datuk Husam Musa, his then intended successor, table the Budget in the Assembly. This year, he resumed the task, steadily reading the text for 30 minutes.

He has probably heard the rumblings regarding Husam, who is not an ulama, taking over and has acted to reassure the PAS grassroots.

The performance of a number of the younger PAS assemblymen also shows that their grooming process is well in place whereas the second echelon from the Umno side is less clear.

Both sides are ready for elections but is Umno ready to take over?