Azizan is not ready to let go yet

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak‘s fragile health and the rifts in his party are two key reasons why Kedah is likely to go along with the general election.

Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Azizan Abdul Razak has been faithfully chairing the weekly state exco meetings since his discharge from the hospital a fortnight ago.

The Kedah Mentri Besar is also quite amused to find that the media entourage waiting for him after each Wednesday’s meeting has been bigger than usual. He knows they are there not to ask about current issues but to have a close-up look at him and to assess his health situation.

His health is still a matter of much speculation mainly because there has been few details from his office.

Reporters have noticed that he is still on what looks like an “invalid’s diet”. While the other exco members at the meeting ate nasi lemak and kuih, Azizan had rice porridge with bits of fish, a sprinkling of chives and a dash of soya source.

The other thing was that whereas the post-exco press conferences used to be quickie affairs held in the lobby area, reporters are now ushered into the meeting room. Azizan said it would be more comfortable for the reporters to take down notes sitting down. But reporters suspect it is because the Mentri Besar’s aides think he is not strong enough to stand and they prefer him seated.

Yesterday, Azizan had his most gruelling assignment. He spent three hours at Kolej Universiti Insaniah in Kuala Ketil where he also delivered a speech. But he did not really mind because the tertiary institution is his pet project. It was quite a grand affair, attended by the leading members of the Kedah royalty, including the King who is also the Sultan of Kedah.

Azizan is on the road to recovery. The concern of PAS leaders is whether he will recover in time for the general election.

The party has resigned itself to the fact that they will have to go with Azizan regardless of the state of his health. He had made it very plain that he does not intend to step aside nor is he keen to give way to an acting mentri besar. He saw how Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid took over from Datuk Seri Syed Razak Syed Zain after only three months as the acting mentri besar.

Azizan intends to go the full term. This is now the scenario in Kedah.

Azizan’s administration, unlike his counterpart in Kelantan, has been non-committal about whether the state will go along with the general election or go solo like Selangor. He said he was still mulling about the option and would decide depending on when the election is called.

But few expect Kedah to go it alone, particularly not with the question mark over Azizan’s health and given the rifts in the party caused by a botched attempt to oust him last year.

Moreover, the battle in Kedah will be largely a Malay fight. Malays make up 71% of the population in Kedah and PAS knows better than to take on the Umno machinery in a stand-alone election.

His aides have been rather touchy about photographers taking pictures of their boss. Shortly after Azizan reported for work, he was a little unsteady on his feet and had to be helped around. Press photographers were not allowed to take pictures of him holding on to his aides as he moved around.

One photographer who had waited outside the Mentri Besar’s house, hoping for a picture of him leaving for the office after his hospital stay, was shooed away by a young bodyguard.

Azizan is a quick-witted man and has quite a sharp tongue but he has been in a more mellow mood following his illness. At the end of his first exco meeting, the first question was about his health. He flashed his laconic smile and told everyone they had eyes and they could see for themselves whether he looked well or otherwise.

Then, in his usual wit, he added: “I can still marry another one, don’t put anyone eligible in front of me.”

He was also aware that the pressure to appoint an acting mentri besar was now coming from outside the party, from people hoping to capitalise on his state of health. He told one reporter that these people should not “press their nose on other people’s window”; it was his way of saying that they should mind their own business.

Besides, he added, Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat has had a history of poor health and is often in and out of hospital, yet there is no pressure for him to step aside.

Anyway, speculation has now shifted to who will succeed him as Mentri Besar after the general election.

The money is on state exco member Datuk Amiruddin Hamzah, a handsome engineer who has become Azizan’s staunchest ally in the wake of last year’s attempted coup. Although Datuk Taulan Mat Rasul is the second most senior state exco member after Azizan, he is older than Azizan and appointing him would not be seen as a succession.

Datuk Phahrolrazi Mohd Zawawi had been the early front-runner but his role in the failed coup had put him in Azizan’s black books. Some are not sure whether Azizan will even retain him as a candidate.

People noticed that at the luncheon in conjunction with Kolej Universiti Insaniah convocation, Phahrolrazi was not at the VVIP table with the King who is said to enjoy playing golf with Phahrolrazi.

Azizan has said several times that he will lead the state as well as defend his Sungai Limau seat in the general election. But insiders say he is aware that he cannot go on as Mentri Besar after the polls and already has a candidate in mind.

Many people think it is Amiruddin but Kedah politics is very fluid at the moment and nothing is for sure including whether PAS will be returned to power in the state.