ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR: Wahid’s selection exposes rifts

Umno, too, was caught by surprise as they had anticipated either Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi, the Batu Buruk assemblyman and former Kuala Terengganu MP, who represents the Erdogan group or Wan Mutalib from the other faction. 

ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR, New Straits times

If this was a football match, the ulama faction in Pas would be leading "the Erdogans" by a goal.

But this is a game of democracy where the Islamist party is battling to wrest control of a parliamentary seat in the oil-rich Terengganu from the ruling Barisan Nasional. And this alone makes it a different ball game.

Two weeks after intense speculation within and outside the party, Pas named controversy-free Wakaf Mempelam assemblyman Abdul Wahid Endut, 52, as the man who is to take on BN's Datuk Wan Farid Wan Salleh, 46, in the Jan 17 Kuala Terengganu by-election.

Wahid, since 1990 when he was elected the wakil rakyat for Wakaf Mempelam, has never been booted out by voters even when almost all Pas leaders — MPs and state assemblymen — stumbled in 2004. He had established himself in Kuala Terengganu, where Wakaf Mempelam is one of the four state seats under the constituency. Two other seats — Batu Buruk and Ladang — are also under Pas while Bandar is being held by BN through the MCA.

Wahid, known to be Terengganu Pas commissioner Mustaffa Ali's protege, is a surprise candidate indeed, including to those in the Pas circle. Thay had anticipated that party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who had been given the mandate by the party's central committee to select the candidate, would select from only among those who had been shortlisted during the party's central committee meeting on Dec 21.

It is a surprise since the state Pas treasurer's name was not in the list — not even proposed by the Terengganu faction which had so much wanted a local to stand. The faction's choice was between Mustaffa Ali and his deputy Datuk Wan Abdul Mutalib Embong.

Umno, too, was caught by surprise as they had anticipated either Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi, the Batu Buruk assemblyman and former Kuala Terengganu MP, who represents the Erdogan group or Wan Mutalib from the other faction.

Several Pakatan Rakyat leaders who have been on the scene since the Kuala Terengganu seat fell vacant have not had the slightest inclination that Wahid was being considered. They had had their eyes set on Syed Azman, being the most popular candidate of three opinion polls, including one conducted on 130 voters over two days from Dec 29.

The last poll showed that 72 per cent of respondents had wanted Syed Azman, who is also linked to the Erdogan group.

Many were puzzled when news that Wahid was to be named as candidate leaked out soon after Hadi held a meeting with Terengganu Pas warlords — Mustaffa, Wan Mutalib, Datuk Harun Taib and Datuk Abu Bakar Chik, at his house in Rusila less than 10 hours before the official announcement was made at a large gathering at Stadium Negeri. By doing what he did and not sticking to the shortlist, was Hadi showing he was still very much in control of the party amid rifts between the conservatives and progressives?

There are such whispers. Outside the party, observers think the front runners were ditched in the shadow fight of the pro-Anwar Erdogan group and the ulama-backed Terengganu faction.

Yet, there is an interesting story related by a reliable source as to how Hadi had decided on Wahid even before his meeting with the state leaders.

Hadi reportedly had a long discussion over a strange dream he had after performing the Istigharah (special prayers) several times to seek God's guidance that Muslims would resort to when faced with a conflict to make a decision (on an important matter) with a senior member of the party's Majlis Syura Ulama.

It was told that in his dream, Hadi faced difficulty in performing ablution and later performed his prayer against the Qiblat.

"Then Wahid is God's choice," a colleague chuckles.

Jokes aside, Hadi did fulfil the criteria he had set for the selection of candidate, which he related to the New Straits Times recently.

Wahid fits the bill.

The candidate according to Hadi has to be:

– one who people are comfortable with, someone who is not only capable but also not a stranger to them; and

– has the least number of issues that can be capitalised on by the enemy and adversely affect voters.

Hadi had also had a four-eyed meeting with party spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who backs the Erdogan faction led by his protege, party vice-president Datuk Husam Musa, at the latter's office in Kota Baru on Wednesday over the candidacy.

Amid all these chaos, BN should not think the conflict over Pas' candidacy will keep supporters of the "warring factions" away from campaigning in the by-election to ensure a win for the party's candidate.