The knives are out for Hadi’s inner circle

By Joceline Tan, The Star

DATUK Seri Hadi Awang has often been deemed too naive and utopian for the cut-throat world of politics, with critics thinking that he is more suitable for life as a preacher than a political leader.

Well, his critics have been proven wrong. Hadi is the most successful leader PAS has ever had, having brought the party all the way to Putrajaya.

The party which used to be synonymous with the sekolah pondok (village religious schools) and the rural poor in padi-growing districts is now part of the axis of power.

It has three mentri besar, three ministers, five deputy ministers and the icing on the cake, said its Selangor election director Roslan Shahir, is “the religious affairs portfolio we have always wanted”.

In that sense, the party’s muktamar (annual convention) next month ought to be about celebrating how far the party has come.

This is also an election year for the party with an intense contest expected for the three vice-presidents.

The muktamar scheduled for Nov 6-7 will be in Kuala Terengganu to accommodate Hadi who has been home-based in Rusila where he is battling diabetes as well as heart and kidney issues.

But politically, Hadi is at the pinnacle.

“Don’t listen to rumours. Nobody is telling him to “berehat” (take a break) or step aside. He is at his peak, he has taken us so far. We still need him to lead,” said Roslan who was Hadi’s press secretary when the latter was the Terengganu Mentri Besar.

If that is so, why are there rumblings concerning his leadership?

Apparently, the rumblings are less about Hadi than about a handful of top leaders around him.

These leaders include secretary-general Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan, vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar and Youth chief Khairil Nizam Khirudin.

This circle of influence around Hadi was instrumental in getting Hadi to join Perikatan Nasional instead of committing to Muafakat Nasional.

Hadi trusts Takiyuddin implicitly and had fought off pressure to drop Takiyuddin from Cabinet following the latter’s mishandling of the end of emergency rule, which resulted in a Royal rebuke.

Dr Samsuri, who is also Terengganu Mentri Besar, is part of the loop because he has unlimited access to Hadi, having been Hadi’s political secretary for many years.

Khairil, an engineer by training, is more of a mouthpiece for the group and he may pay the price for it in the election. He will likely face stiff challenge from Pasir Mas MP Ahmad Fadhli Shaari.

The trio are also part of what is known as the “Publika gang”- a group associated with the powerful Bersatu secretary-general Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin, who runs his political affairs from an office at the Publika complex in Kuala Lumpur.

For instance, Takiyuddin and Samsuri were also present when several top Bersatu leaders including Hamzah and deputy president Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu visited Hadi in Rusila on Friday (Oct 15).

Outwardly it was to “menziarahi Hadi” or a social visit. But their aim was to discuss the impending Melaka election, and it appears that Hadi has reaffirmed his commitment to Bersatu.

However, the mainstay of PAS prefers Umno whom they regard as an equal partner with a formidable election machinery. To them, Bersatu is a shell with generals but no soldiers or machinery.

“I think our members want PAS to be the peacemaker rather than take sides,” said Roslan, who is also the Subang division chief.

According to incumbent vice-president Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, ties between the Malay parties will be a key topic of debate at the muktamar.

“Every party has its own strength and weakness. We need to work together, pool our strengths and help each other overcome our weaknesses,” said Mohd Amar who is also the Kelantan Deputy Mentri Besar.

The top leaders and central committee members will convene in Kuala Terengganu while the delegates will participate via video conferencing from their respective states.

Despite the rumblings, this is expected to be a relatively calm muktamar because there is no fight for the top two posts.

The big fight will be for the vice-presidency. Only Idris Ahmad, who was recently appointed as Religious Affairs Minister, is assured of retaining his seat.

The other two incumbents, Mohd Amar and Samsuri, will have to work hard to fend off the challenge.
There will be a few challengers but the strongest to date is former minister Dato Dr Khairuddin Razali who is better known as Khairuddin at-Takiri.

Khairuddin made news for the wrong reasons when he was a minister but he has a big following in his home state of Terengganu. He is also secretary of the syura council, the highest decision-making body of PAS.

He will pose a threat to Samsuri because delegates may not want two people from Terengganu as vice-presidents.

Khairuddin is said to be the PAS leader in a controversial audio that has been the talk of the party. The person in the audio was critical of Hadi’s decision to side with Bersatu.

However, PAS members seem to agree with Khairuddin’s claim that Takiyuddin is influencing the party president.

The battles lines are clearly drawn. Hadi is likely to reappoint Takiyuddin as secretary-general after the muktamar. But can Hadi save Samsuri and Khairul given the mood on the ground?

The focus of the muktamar will be on how to get the three Malay parties to unite ahead of the general election.

However, arrows are already flying towards Hadi’s inner circle.