There will not be another Nik Aziz

Nik Aziz Nik Mat

Tay Tian Yan, My Sinchew

I met Nik Aziz on several occasions, but one particular occasion stays firmly in my head even until this day.

During the Bukit Gantang by-election in Perak in 2009, one of the ballot districts was Kuala Sepetang, a Chinese fishing village.

Pakatan Rakyat’s campaign dinner at a local temple was met with overwhelming response from the local residents.

The atmosphere was more and more intense as Pakatan leaders arrived one by one. Pakatan’s candidate Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin’s arrival was greeted with thunderous cheers from the participants, showing that indeed he won the sympathy vote of the constituents, having just lost his menteri besar office. The applause following Lim Kit Siang’s arrival was even more encouraging. So was Anwar Ibrahim. The local fishermen never concealed their political inclination and their strong passion, but everything was in a very orderly manner.

When the MC announced the arrival of Nik Aziz, the speech that was being delivered had to be halted abruptly, and people started cheering loudly while others flocking to the stage in hope of seeing Nik Aziz at the closest possible distance.

The physically frail Nik Aziz was helped by the staff on duty, and it took him a tremendous amount of effort to pass through the cheering crowd to the stage.

Before long the stage was surrendered to him. Even with the microphone, Nik Aziz’s voice was still feeble. This, coupled with his unmistakable Kelantanese accent, almost made his speech unintelligible.

But, whatever he said was not the most important, as the audience continued to shower him with thunderous applause. Right then it was not the person standing on the stage cheering up the audience, but the audience cheering up the speaker on the stage.

Nik Aziz became the superstar of the evening, his popularity far exceeding that of Nizar, Lim Kit Siang and Anwar.

I was observing all this at a corner, feeling skeptical and unbelievable.

How could all these people crowding the temple in a typical Chinese fishing village would ever become so passionate with a PAS leader that many Chinese Malaysians had chosen to reject and whom they knew very little of? What a dramatic change!

Nik Aziz was put high on the political pedestal probably arising from the need of the big political environment and public expectations towards him, especially the role he played during this time of political transformation.

Whatever it is, Nik Aziz’s moral stature indeed demands some admiration.

There were few such politicians before him, and not going to be many after him as well.

He lacked the personal charisma of Hadi Awang, nor the eloquence essential for Malay politicians. But, he won the support of the people in a most approachable manner.

To reign in the Malay political world one needs to go through the aggressive struggle. The same does not apply to Nik Aziz. He became the most convincing and revered leader in his most unpretentious way.

The Muslim community particularly requires religious guidance and clerics who will serve as role models. The emergence of Nik Aziz fills that very vacuum.

His devout beliefs and most incorrupt way of running his administration set him apart from the rest of the pack. He managed to garner widespread support through his characters and not the power in hand.

While Nik Aziz appeared commonplace, many have overlooked the fact that he possessed very astute political competency and some degree of farsightedness.

He could play a guiding and mediating role in the midst of conflicts between the clerics and professionals within his party. He could lay down short-term political interests to reject a cooperation with Umno, and can set aside the hudud law and Islamic state issues for the sake of Pakatan’s election needs..

PAS was at its strongest when Nik Aziz was in the prime of his political career, and Pakatan Rakyat at its most united.

His demise will leave behind an irreparable vacuum for both PAS and Pakatan Rakyat.

Nik Aziz’s incorruption, thriftiness, self-discipline and to a certain extent his openness and pragmatism have all won him genuine respect from the public and leaders on both sides of the political divide.

That said, he never backed down on his aspiration to run the country on religious lines. He never compromised in pushing ahead his hudud law agenda, Islamisation of public policies, and his requirement for the public to adhere to religious teachings in day-to-day life.

His simplistic religious background was somewhat a barrier that stood between him and the country’s modern economic development, the need to preserve our secular state diversity as well as connection with the outside world. Perhaps he never saw this as a barrier in the name of religion.

His lofty personal moral values made it justifiable for the party to push ahead Islamisation policies.

And his departure will continue to have a bearing on the country’s political environment in the years to come.