Starting before the flag-off
By JOCELINE TAN
The general election is still a date in the near future but in Kelantan the battle for control of this highly-political state has begun in earnest.
DATUK Seri Annuar Musa was in his element addressing a close-door meeting of Umno grassroots leaders in Kelantan when he dropped a bombshell.
The Kelantan Umno leader said he was fed up of people thinking he would be the next Mentri Besar of Kelantan.
People say I am here (as Kelantan Umno chief) because I aspire to be Mentri Besar. Let me tell you that I sometimes feel like vomiting when people say I will be the next Mentri Besar,?he said.
Alwi: The Ketereh MP known for his dazzling oratory has been singled out as a potential Mentri Besar in the event of an Umno win.
Then he turned towards those seated on the stage and said that the best person for the job was Ketereh MP Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.
Alwi's jaw visibly dropped, and everyone burst into laughter at his reaction.
But Annuar was dead serious: Why do you laugh? I am the state Umno liaison chief. I won say such things unless I have received the signal.?nbsp;
Alwi, who is also the state Umno information head, has since told people that he is not after the Mentri Besar post. Instead, he claimed that the more suitable candidate was Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussin, the deputy state Umno chief.
As a Kelantanese, I must choose the best for my state. Awang Adek is better than me,?said Alwi.
But Awang Adek, who is also Deputy Finance Minister, said: am happy where I am.?nbsp;
Something strange is going on because Kelantan politicians, especially those from Umno, are rarely shy about claiming top posts.
Their opponents in PAS claim it is because Umno politicians know they are not going to win in Kelantan, hence there is no point jostling for something that will not be theirs.
For most other states, the election is still a date in the near future. But in Kelantan, the battle for control of the state has begun in some earnest. There are political ceramah every night.
Every week I go back to Kelantan I see new posters announcing ceramah here and there,?said an Umno political aide.
Husam: Nik Aziz wants this top-performing assemblyman as his successor but some in PAS are against it.
Kelantan is the most political state in the peninsula and the hot political question is the choice of Mentri Besar for whichever side wins.
However, Umno is not the only one struggling with a succession issue.
Not everyone in PAS shares Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat preference for Datuk Husam Musa, an economist by training, as his successor.
Some believe that Nik Aziz successor should be another true-blue ulama. Others disagree simply because they have their own camps of support.
There are people in PAS who are envious of Husam rapid rise in the party and the special bond he enjoys with the elderly Mursyidul Am or Spiritual Leader. They resent the fact that he wields so much influence over Nik Aziz and has become too powerful.
The anti-Husam faction in PAS is very real and intense. He feels the heat and finds it unbearable at times because it comes from friends in the jemaah (brethren),?said a long-time friend of Husam.
But Husam is clean, daring in his ideas and stands out as a strategist. Moreover, Nik Aziz has been known to refer to him as od gift to Kelantan?
Opposition to Tok Guru choice of successor is not a big thing. We intend to win again and Tok Guru will be the Mentri Besar but for how long, only God knows,?said a senior PAS politician in the state.
Meanwhile, the state government has been on an all-out effort to win hearts, announcing aid for single mothers, giving goats to farmers and constructing a racing circuit in Tanah Merah for motoring sports.
But the big hit has been the recently launched Takaful Kifalah or insurance scheme for senior citizens.
The scheme, open to all Kelantanese regardless of race or religion, has not only struck a chord with ordinary people but also the Palace. The Raja Perempuan has given the scheme her royal stamp of approval by launching it at four districts in the last two weeks.
Not to be outdone, Umno has drawn up a string of socio-economic programmes including a counter-insurance scheme that promises wider coverage and better payments.
Politics, like business, needs some competition for the good of the people.
Umno seems to be still adjusting to being the opposition while PAS seems to be suffering from the party-in-power syndrome.
These days, said a PAS political insider, when people talk about YBs going around in flashy cars and having several marriage certificates, it could mean politicians from either side of the divide.
And just as Umno used to be stuck with ageing wakil rakyat who refused to make way for new blood, PAS is also being dragged down by many ulama figures who do not understand that while religious credentials are important, serving the people is just as necessary.
People in Demit where I live complain that their YB (Datuk Mohamed Daud) is a religious man but does not bother to service his area,?said the political insider.
The elderly Demit assemblyman, better known as Mat Iraq because he studied in Baghdad, prefers to spend his time giving religious lectures and, despite rumblings on the grounds, has no plans to make way for someone more energetic.
Both sides are equally desperate to win Kelantan.
Umno top orator Alwi has told audiences at ceramah that all the factors are there for Umno to come back to power.
Umno, he said, has big development plans for the state, the government servants are happy, commodity prices are good and the palace is with Umno. appeal to you. Think about what we have to offer if you have good sense; look around you if you have eyes and listen closely if you have ears and you will surely support us,?he said.
However, some Umno politicians privately admit that if elections were held today, it would be able to hold on to only 17 of the 22 state seats that it now controls.
Earlier, talk that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah would not be defending his Gua Musang seat in the general election had sent thrills through PAS. If that happened, the seat was as good as theirs.
Tengku Razaleigh is staying on. The PM has no plans to change things in Gua Musang,?said a Kelantan Umno source.
It is no secret that the royal politician and Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have not had a comfortable relationship, and more so after Tengku Razaleigh offered himself to be nominated for the president post in the 2004 party polls.
But in recent months, there has been a go-between who has played a key role in smoothening ties between the two senior figures.
Tengku Razaleigh, said the source, is no longer any threat to the Umno leadership.
Rather, he is an iconic figure with vast experience and, given his standing as uncle to the Raja Perempuan, he is definitely someone Umno would want on its side.
Relations between Abdullah and Tengku Razaleigh have thawed considerably and both men have more in common than most people think. They come from a period when Malay society and politics were more open and share that same easy social grace and sense of style.
During an Umno meeting in Kelantan earlier this month, the Prince approached the Prime Minister and, with a broad smile and outstretched hand, said: believe Ihave yet to congratulate the new bridegroom.?
PAS leaders are very worried about the Eastern Corridor Development Project that the Prime Minister will soon launch.
They are unfazed by political issues and the tactics of local Umno leaders but big-time federal money and schemes are something else. PAS is in trouble if voters buy into this federal trump card.
Some say the social programmes that PAS has begun introducing may be too little too late.
Although Kota Baru is a thriving capital, rural poverty is a still a major problem in the state. Religious piety alone will not be enough for it to secure a strong mandate.
After 17 years, people expect something more concrete and specific. Our feet are not touching the ground nor are we anywhere near the sky. It not a nice feeling,?said an observer.