In Kelantan, coming polls a referendum on Nik Aziz, Mustapa

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, The Malaysian Insider

KOTA BARU, Oct 30 — The fight for Kelantan in the upcoming national polls will see PAS and Umno pit Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and federal minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed against each other to see who is the more popular choice for the state’s mentri besar post.

The Malaysian Insider understands both parties have embarked on aggressive campaigns to promote their respective candidates for the state’s top spot ahead of the general election that is expected to be called by early next year.

The Kelantan Umno leadership is banking on Mustapa to again lead the coalition in the next election as its mentri besar-designate despite the Umno leader not being as popular as Nik Aziz.

“Although we know that Nik Aziz is popular as a state leader, you see his pictures everywhere, but the fact remains is that he is old; he is not going to lead the state forever.

“What we are telling people on the ground is that who in PAS will take over after Nik Aziz? Datuk Husam Musa? There is no clear succession plan in PAS, but Umno, we have Tok Pa (Mustapa) and no arguments there, he is our choice for MB,” Pengkalan Chepa Umno Youth division chief Che Othman Che Wil told The Malaysian Insider in an interview last week.

Che Othman and many other state Umno leaders believe Mustapa’s “squeaky-clean” and “scandal-free” image will help shore up voter support, and have made it a point to burnish the minister’s credentials “every chance” they get in forums and even public events.

“Tok Pa is a trade minister; he has the know-how to bring development to Kelantan, better than a so-called Tok Guru. He (Nik Aziz) is not even scandal-free,” said Che Othman, referring to nepotism allegations involving the Kelantan MB and his son-in-law, former Kelantan Mentri Besar Incorporated (PMBK) chief executive officer, Abdul Ariffahmi Ab. Rahman.

Nik Aziz’s popularity is well-established both in Kelantan and nationally. — File pic
Mustapa, who is the international trade and industry minister as well as Jeli MP, has been working with Umno officials on its “Gelombang Merah” campaign to take back the state lost two decades ago. He is an economist, holding a first class honours degree in Economics from University of Melbourne, Australia and a Masters in Economic Development from the Boston University.

It is understood that even PAS officials are worried about succession in the state, pointing out that Nik Aziz turns 80 this year without a successor in sight. There have been hints of a power struggle but the Islamist party has shown enough discipline to keep the issue under wraps.

State government leaders have been on the defensive, insisting that the issue of succession is “not as important as some people would make it out to be.”

“In politics it is about uncertainty, we may plan for a person to take over, but when the time comes, things can change.