Foes unite over hudud issue

Umno MPs do not oppose Kelantan’s bid to table two private Bills to pave the way for hudud law in Kelantan. But can PAS secure the support of component partners DAP and PKR?

Joceline Tan, The Star

KOTA Baru is not a big town, and when Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat broke down in tears during an early morning lecture last week, the news was all over town by midday.

The frail and elderly PAS leader was speaking at his “kuliah subuh”, a sort of religious class after the dawn prayers, when he asked for forgiveness for all the wrongs done during his time as Kelantan Mentri Besar.

“This illness of mine, maybe it is retribution from the Almighty for the wrongs I did when I was the leader in Kelantan,” he said, his voice quavering as his eyes welled up with tears.

He then covered his face with one hand and it was a few minutes before he recovered his composure.

The small audience gathered in the mosque beside his house in Kampung Pulau Melaka looked on, silent and solemn. Among them was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who had joined the former Mentri Besar for dawn prayers. Anwar had been in Kota Baru the day before to speak at a political gathering.

Some have attributed his tears to the advance of age, that he is wearing his emotions on his sleeve in his golden years.

Others saw it as the action of a humble and God-fearing man seeking atonement as he prepares to meet his maker.

Life-long dream

Religion has been central to Nik Aziz’s life and politics and, in hindsight, the emotions may also have to do with the state government’s plans for hudud laws in Kelantan.

He had been informed that the PAS-led state government was planning to table two private Bills in Parliament that would pave the way for Kelantan to enforce hudud by early 2015.

The implementation of hudud has been Nik Aziz’s life-long dream. His government had passed the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code Enactment II in 1993 and even Umno assemblymen had joined their PAS counterparts to vote for it. But the pious dream became entangled with political expediency and the matter stopped there.

In that sense, the tears at dawn could also be out of regret that he had not been able to realise the hudud dream during his 23 years in power.

“It is the dream of every Muslim, we have been waiting for a long time. We discussed it during Tok Guru’s (Nik Aziz) time but we felt the federal government would not cooperate. The traffic light has changed from red to yellow, we pray it will turn green,” said Deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah.

Nik Mohd Amar said the state was encouraged after Minister for Religion Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom told Parliament that the federal government was prepared to cooperate with any state government, including Kelantan, to enforce hudud laws.

“Kelantan will be the model to show the goodness of Islamic criminal law. If people accept it, we can promote it all over the country,” said Nik Mohd Amar.

There are a few ways to read this. PAS wants to test Umno’s sincerity on Islam. Any Muslim MP who does not come along will be deemed as less than Islamic. PAS also needs to recover lost ground. Its Kelantan leaders are essentially thinking of their survival beyond the next general election. They have everything to gain and little to lose.

Datuk Ahmad Yakob, the new Mentri Besar, had reportedly said he is prepared to resign if hudud laws are not implemented by next year. That is how serious he is about the whole thing.

The PAS move will spook non-Malay voters and the fallout will be on their Pakatan Rakyat partners especially DAP. But that is probably not the concern of PAS at the moment. The name of the game is political survival.

Will PAS’ hudud move have the support of Umno?

“We’ve never been against hudud, we were merely against PAS playing politics with hudud laws. But if it’s a sincere move, then it is our responsibility as Muslims to support the motion. Let them do it in Kelantan and let the people be the judge,” said Umno supreme council member and former deputy minister Dr Puad Zarkashi.

However, Titiwangsa MP Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani prefers to wait and see before deciding.

The suspicion among some Umno politicians is that PAS is once again using hudud to divide the hearts and minds of the Malays.

“When Barisan Nasional initiates a Bill, we would have secured the support of our coalition MPs. If PAS is really committed, they should show that they have the support of their own Pakatan Rakyat MPs. When that happens, I will tell whether they have my support,” Johari said.

Johari, who is also Titiwangsa Umno chief, said that implementing hudud must be about “doing the right thing” for the brethren and not about scoring political points.

The PAS-Umno rivalry over the Malay hearts and minds will always be there but everyone has noticed that ties between them in Kelantan is not as frosty as before.

Some think it is because of the advice from the Sultan of Kelantan who has indicated that he wants to see a better working relationship between the state and federal governments. The Sultan is one of the youngest sovereigns in the country but he is extremely astute and he knows that Kelantan cannot move forward if both levels of government are in conflict.

“This state government is friendlier, less quarrelsome and there are also less harsh words that hurt our feelings,” said Kok Lanas assemblyman Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.

The new Mentri Besar is not a confrontational politician. Ahmad and his deputy Nik Mohd Amar belong to the ulama class. But they are not trapped in that post-Cold War mentality of Nik Aziz and they carry less ideological baggage.

Unlike some PAS politicians who court controversy and who do not mind making fools of themselves, Ahmad does not open his mouth unnecessarily, so much so that the local media complain they cannot get anything newsy out of him.

He is a dignified, soft-spoken man and quite handsome with a bashful smile. Some ulama figures refuse to wear suits because suits represent Western culture but Ahmad will put on a suit when the occasion demands it, although he stops short of wearing a tie, preferring shirts with a cleric collar.

Ahmad has made a seamless transition into the hot seat largely because of his excellent ties with the Palace. But Nik Mohd Amar is the man to watch in Kelantan. He speaks good English and represents the new era of ulama leaders in PAS.

Kelantanese have been promised all manner of grandiose projects by the PAS government – from a stadium exclusively for women to a fantastical bullet train project that would take only an hour-and-a-half to go from Kota Baru to Kuala Lumpur. All of them are still at the dream stage.

But one dream is taking shape. Earlier last week, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was in Kelantan for the ground-breaking of the much-awaited highway project linking Kota Baru and Kuala Krai.

The 73km highway was one of the seven projects that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak promised Kelantanese during the general election. The federal government will construct the stretch from Kota Baru to Machang, while the state government will handle the Machang-Kuala Krai stretch.

“When the two stretches of the highway meet, hopefully it will symbolise the unity of the ummah,” said Alwi.

Last month, a PAS delegation led by state executive councillor for agriculture Datuk Che Abdullah Mat Nawi were guests of Alwi in a site visit to a mini dam project in the Kada agricultural development scheme.

“I have no problems with the new leadership. I wanted to share with them what we are doing to bring irrigation to padi farmers in Kelantan,” said Alwi who is Kada chairman.

In another unprecedented gesture of state-federal cooperation, the Rural and Regional Development Ministry appointed a PAS politician to the board of Kesedar, a regional development scheme in Kelantan.

Health issues

Mingguan Malaysia had an exclusive interview with Nik Aziz where he opened up for the first time about his health. The article was headlined “Bersama ‘beg plastik’, 60 cucu (With a plastic bag and 60 grandchildren).”

The elderly man spoke of his prostrate cancer, which was a carefully guarded state secret when he was Mentri Besar. He said he now goes around with a “plastic bag” for his bodily functions and that his battery-aided heart is in good shape.

He has a craving for tapioca, which was a staple when he was young, and he needs to drink lots of water although he sometimes sneaks in some tea or coffee.

But the political animal in him was still very much alive because he deftly side-stepped the kalimah Allah issue and also claimed that he could not comment on the seizure of Bibles in Selangor because it was a state matter.

Nik Aziz’s political exit marked the end of an era in Kelantan but it has broken down the barriers to a more professional working relationship between PAS and Umno.

But the real test of Muslim unity will come when PAS pushes for support to implement hudud in Kelantan.