Nik Aziz may not be good enough to win it for Zaid

By Baradan Kuppusamy (Malaysian Insider)
HULU SELANGOR, April 22 — One of the things that is immediately noticeable in the Hulu Selangor by-election is the near absence of campaigners from PAS, the party that usually forms the meat and bones of previous Pakatan Rakyat (PR) campaigns.
After a noisy presence during nomination day, the imported PAS bandwagon moved on and has not returned, leaving the local campaigners from the Islamist party overwhelmed with the task of mobilising hardcore Malay support for PR’s Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
Zaid is not an easy candidate to sell by PAS leaders to its hardcore supporters, especially with his admission of past transgressions over his drinking and love for race horses.
Hardcore PAS supporters in Hulu Selangor, estimated at about 7,000-strong, have flinched at having to shoulder Zaid.
That is why PAS spiritual leader Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik Mat is rushing from Mecca to hit the hustings in Hulu Selangor this week to help clean up Zaid’s image and lend his credibility to persuade Malay voters to back PR.
But can the venerated Tok Guru, who left on April 5 for Mecca to perform the umrah, turn the tide for Zaid, especially with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also entering the fray for Barisan Nasional (BN)?
Najib’s presence last night in Hulu Selangor has added momentum to Umno’s campaign among the Malays and given new impetus to BN’s flagging campaign for support from Chinese and Indian voters.
Historical reasons are also working against the Tok Guru.
PAS’s presence in Hulu Selangor had always been thin because the state seats in the parliamentary constituency had been held by Umno giants like Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib and the late Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, who was an Umno state executive councillor for 14 years before switching over to PKR in 2006.
They had made sure PAS did not grow in Hulu Selangor although it had a big-time preacher in Datuk Ismail Kamus, a local, who fought the BN’s Datuk G. Palanivel in 2004 but lost heavily by 14,483 votes.
But then the majority was not surprising and had nothing to do with Palanivel personally but had everything to do with the departure of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister and the arrival then of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who promised major reforms that never took shape.
After that loss Ismail went on to become a national figure on the Islamic lecture circuit but PAS failed to put roots in Hulu Selangor which continued as an Umno bastion.
It is largely because of these historical reasons that PAS is weak in Hulu Selangor, except for a minimal presence in Malay villages and Felda settlements in Malay-majority-Hulu Bernam.
Ironically, PAS now has strong support from among the Chinese in the urban centres in Hulu Selangor because of national issues and this was one reason why local PAS leaders wanted to field Ismail again but PKR leaders were quick to announce that the seat would be defended by PKR with PAS assisting.
Importing PAS supporters in the last leg of the by-election to shore up Malay support for Zaid may not work because Umno had already penetrated the villages months earlier and reconnected with the voters there.
The message from many of the voters in these Malay villages to Umno was that they would consider voting BN if Palanivel was dropped.
Although Zaid’s capital among Chinese and Indian voters, who together make up about 45 per cent of the voters, remains intact but among the majority Malays who make up about 55 per cent, his standing has eroded largely because of the “non-Islamic” character issue.
According to Tay Tian Yan, Sin Chew deputy editor in chief, in a recent commentary titled “Counter-Marketing Politics”, “many non-Muslims do not seem to understand it and ask if drinking is really that serious at all? And can this thing decide everything?”
He said Muslims can also ask: Isn’t drinking serious enough? Couldn’t it decide everything?
He went on to say that “this is Malaysia, a country where different ethnic communities and religions have completely different views on the same issue.”
In trying to help Zaid, Nik Aziz will be battling strong prejudice against liberals like Zaid.
But PAS insiders say the presence and support from Nik Aziz could convince the PAS hardcore to stay with Zaid but might not move the fence-sitters who, they say, are already convinced that Zaid is not their man.
“The Malay villagers here are hardworking peasants… they slog for a living. They are not just against alcohol. Their friends, Chinese, Indians and Orang Asli, all drink,” said a PAS member when met in Kalumpang.
“They are put off by the image of a man of ease with unlimited wealth and expensive habits,” the member said.
That’s the image Nik Aziz has to clean up and even he may not be able to do it in one or two ceramahs on the last leg of the Hulu Selangor campaign.