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He is not a bomb!

BY JOCELINE TAN (THE STAR)

The looming three-way fight for the No. 2 post in PAS has raised the political temperature in the party and revived the old suspicions between party conservatives and progressives.

NASHARUDIN Mat Isa has become an elusive figure over the last few weeks. The PAS deputy president has been keeping his head so low that he has almost disappeared from the radar screen.

It is rare for him to take calls from the media these days and he has not been seen much on the ceramah circuit. In fact, he has not uttered a single major political statement in months.

“At CWC meetings, he does not say a word. He just sits there,” said a member of the PAS central working committee.

Yet, he is by nature a friendly and chatty person and had once been seen as the new face of PAS, someone contemporary who could speak Malay as fluently as he spoke English or Arabic.

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It is strange behaviour by any standards for someone who is contesting one of the most important posts in the party.

The academic-turned-politician has been under pressure for his role in initiating unity talks with Umno. Many party members are still angry about it.

His strategy, as such, has been to say as little as possible; that way, he does not open himself to further attacks.

And it has worked rather well for him. Nasharudin has managed to duck some of the mud being flung in the run-up to the PAS elections next month.

With Datuk Seri Hadi Awang retaining the president’s post uncontested, the No. 2 is now the highest post being contested. Nasharudin is likely to be challenged by incumbent vice-presidents Datuk Husam Musa and Mohamad Sabu, who is better known as Mat Sabu.

The looming three-way fight is making this year’s campaign hotter than the heat wave in the Klang Valley and all because Husam and Mat Sabu are not ulama figures.

The argument is that the No. 2 has to be ready to take over if anything happens to the No. 1. The thought, however remote, that a non-ulama like Mat Sabu or Husam might become president of PAS is probably giving them nightmares.

It has resulted in the revival of the old uneasiness between the conservatives (who include a large segment of ulama) and the progressives.

The supreme irony is that the conservatives had been dead set against Nasharudin in the party polls of 2005 and 2007 because they regarded him as an ambitious upstart aligned to the progressives.

But he is now being embraced by the conservatives and, as they say, that is politics.

This time around, the ulama camp has mounted a strong campaign to defend their turf and the party policy of “Leadership by the Ulama”.

Friday’s silver jubilee celebration of the Dewan Ulama, that is, the ulama wing of the party, at the old PAS headquarters in Taman Melewar was seen as part of the conservatives’ campaign.

The timing of the celebration, just two weeks before the muktamar, was a deliberate reminder of the role of the ulama in giving the party its unique Islamic personality.

Backing of the ulama

The ulama are a powerful voice and their backing has given Nasharudin the edge.

“The showdown has been caustic the last few weeks. They are feeling very challenged that the second-top post might go to a professional. They are fighting back and doing all they can to make sure their candidate makes it,” said one CWC member.

Husam and Mat Sabu have given a formal confirmation about contesting the No. 2 post.

But Mat Sabu had apparently said there would be no “goestan” (the northern slang for going back) for him.

The popular party veteran and activist had told some people in that inimitable way of his: “It is like I am riding a tractor which is going down the hill and there are no brakes. I cannot stop.”

Both have to decide by tomorrow.

The attack on Husam has been dirty, to say the least. There were aspersions of money politics, which came from no less than the elderly ulama Datuk Mohamad Daud, who is also known as Mat Iraq because he had studied in Baghdad.

Mat Iraq had told an ulama gathering in Kelantan: “Bagi baju, sudah kenyang makan, boleh menanglah calon itu (After people get gifts of clothes and their stomachs are full, the candidate will win).”

Everyone knew it was aimed at Husam because he had said that the candidate was someone “who understood about the economy.”

Husam, whose late father was a respected ulama and who has always been very particular about his reputation, was incensed and has denied it.

Making false allegations in PAS is a big no-no and the party’s powerful Dewan Harian (the equivalent of Umno’s management committee) summoned Mat Iraq to explain.

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Mat Iraq was caught flat-footed. When asked to show proof of his accusations against Husam, he admitted he did not have a shred of evidence nor did he know of anybody who had received gifts or meals in exchange for support.

At one point, Mat Iraq held up both hands as though in surrender and his bushy beard quivered as he told the council repeatedly: “Saya minta maaf (I beg for forgiveness).”

It was a very embarrassing episode for someone of his seniority and religious standing. It has damaged his credibility.

Target of conservatives

But Husam’s troubles are far from over. Some suggest he is the main target of the conservatives because they see him as a credible candidate. Nasharudin can easily beat Mat Sabu but will have to struggle to beat Husam.

The power of envy and jealousy in politics should not be underestimated, and very powerful forces in the party are determined to stop his rise.

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Husam’s political ascent and his closeness to Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat have caused envy among his opponents and even Nik Aziz’s own son Nik Abduh lashed out about it.

Husam had secured the highest number of votes among the three vice-presidents in the 2007 party polls, but this race is different.

People like him and Mat Sabu, in going for the No. 2 post, are also challenging the perception that PAS can only be led by an ulama.

Husam, on his part, may not be able to take the pressure – and the possibility of him backing out is there. Some say he should continue to bide his time as a vice-president and wait for a better time.

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Others have their eye on the general election and are looking to a team which can propel the party to Putrajaya, so to speak. The launch of a proposed RM27mil new party complex in Putrajaya was a declaration of the party’s federal ambitions.

To get there, they will need all-round support, especially from the non-Malays; hence the urgency among some party members about electing a top line-up that can take them to the next level.

In the meantime, the storm over the No. 2 post will continue to whip up opinions and feelings.

MTA0067Solo TripHusam was handed the honour at the Majlis Tafsir Al Quran in Surakarta