Nik Aziz, the small man who slayed three giants

Timmy Say | .

Giant slayer' is the badge of honour given to a candidate whose victory ended the political career of a hitherto influential incumbent.

In recent times, many Pakatan Rakyat politicians have earned the badge, most notably Nurul Izzah Anwar for defeating Wanita UMNO chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil in Lembah Pantai in 2008 and Federal Territories minister Raja Nong Chik last weekend. Many other examples abound, and not limited to opposition candidates alone.

But there is one person who has quietly warded off bigger giants, three to be exact, all of whom had full control of Barisan Nasional's well-oiled machinery.

Indeed, he has kept at bay three UMNO presidents and prime ministers: Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and more recently Najib Razak.

The man is none other than Tuan Guru Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who recently announced his retirement from the Kelantan state government which he helmed for 23 years since taking over in 1990.

Living legend

Friends and foes will agree that Nik Aziz is a living legend in Malaysian politics.

After all, ensuring Kelantan stayed under PAS rule long before the political tsunamis after the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 - and long before Malaysians had any access to news other than those dished out on UMNO media - is in itself a record of sorts. And this is made more difficult because Kelantan is not as rich as Selangor or Penang. With limited resources and access to media over the past 23 years, the average Malaysian wonders, how did Nik Aziz make it this far?

Against Dr Mahathir from 1990 to 1999, Nik Aziz survived without the new media, presently enemy number one to BN's traditional propaganda tool in the form of TV channels and daily newspapers. One can also call him lucky for he received help from UMNO’s splinter party Semangat 46 led by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in 1990 and 1995, before the reformasi era sparked by the events of September 1998.

In the 23 years since 1990, Nik Aziz and his aura politically transformed Kelantan. With 95 percent of its population Malays - the same community who UMNO now claims to have solid support from - Nik Aziz's leadership became the iron wall that kept UMNO's dominance at bay, in fact, effectively making a mockery of all succeeding UMNO leaders' goal to make a comeback in Kelantan.
Even Abdullah's image as 'Mr Clean' and as a pious Muslim could not work magic to bring down PAS’s reign in Kelantan.

In 1990, Nik Aziz who led PAS joined hands with Tengku Razaleigh to make a clean sweep against BN, 39-0. In 1995, PAS retained Kelantan government with 36 state seats against 7 for BN.

In 1999, it was almost another clean sweep for Kelantan, losing only two out of the 43 state seats contested, this time without help from Semangat 46 which was on its death bed.

One-seat majority, only in Kelantan

Then in 2004, the opposition's darkest period in recent electoral history, BN managed to snatch a whopping 21 seats in Kelantan against PAS's 24. BN’s subsequent victory in Pengkalan Pasir by-election further reduced PAS's majority to one seat. But despite hanging on to one-seat majority, the PAS administration continued. A rare feat, especially when seen in the context of Malaysia's money-ridden politics where it is normal for elected representatives to jump ship (and jump again) for obvious reasons.

Under Nik Aziz’s leadership, the Kelantan state government survived and managed to regain two-third majority in 2008.

In the just concluded 13th general election, Nik Aziz delivered his parting slap to BN, winning two-third majority for his administration.

But many are not aware that three days before polling day on May 5, Nik Aziz, 82, now faced with frequent health issues, had already made up his mind to give up the post which was almost synonym to him.

True, his most talked about trait is his simple lifestyle - something which earned him respect from Malaysians transcending religious and racial boundaries. But beyond such cliches, his contribution to Malaysian politics has been profound. Truly, his is a tough act to follow.

He might have led the state of Kelantan, but his message is for all of Malaysia.

And this message, to put it simply, could be this: “Moderation is the most potent weapon against your political foes. And BN is not as mighty as many perceive.”

This article was originally published on Harakahdaily on May 2013

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