Nasharudin Mat Isa enters his third term as the PAS No. 2 amid high expectations as well as doubts about whether he is genuinely committed to his Pakatan Rakyat partners.
THE PAS elections are over but the issues that divided the rival camps are still simmering away.
At a packed ceramah on Saturday night, Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, whose frail looks belie his steel will, did not hold back on what he thought of party leaders who insisted on pursuing a unity government with Umno.
He said those who entertained such ideas as “tak masuk akal” (do not make sense) and described their action as “absurd.”
No names were mentioned but everyone in the audience knew the elderly Kelantan leader’s caustic remarks were aimed at president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and his newly re-elected deputy, Nasharudin Mat Isa.
The party’s No. 1 and No. 2 have, over the three-day muktamar, insisted that the unity government idea is still alive.
Apart from an obvious chill between the conservative and moderate forces in the party, the election outcome has pushed Nik Aziz into a lonely corner.
Many of the senior ulama including the famous healer Datuk Dr Haron Din are with Hadi on the unity government issue.
The Mursyidul Am or Spiritual Leader, is the only top ulama in the party who remains dead set against cooperation with Umno.
But some fear the election result, which saw the Kelantan group completely sidelined, also signals a dimming of the stage lights for this grand old man of PAS.
Nik Aziz left early and did not join the other leaders in the winding-up session.
There is definitely some sort of shift in ulama clout to the “Terengganu clique” headed by Hadi, guided by the strategist Datuk Mustafa Ali and of which Nasharudin is a key member.
Nasharudin was the man of the moment at this year’s gathering.
His speech at the close of the muktamar suggested he had been seriously under-estimated as an opponent.
He knows he is coming in with the support of less than half of the party and that some of his worst shortcomings had been the subject of open discussion among members.
In fact, some reporters had noted that his victory had been without glory because of the aspersions cast on his role in unity talks with Umno.
The normally outgoing alim had become a reclusive figure in the last couple of months and had appeared tense throughout the muktamar.
He used the final session of the muktamar to clear the air. He denied that top party leaders wanted to take PAS into Umno.
But party members are still puzzling over his insistence that the door to dialogue with any political party or groups will never be closed. They are worried that one of those groups is none other than Umno.
He criticised the media for describing the new leadership as “conservative ulama” and said he was committed to engaging with all groups and political parties.
Nasharudin, who had been the darling of the alternative media, is probably still grappling with the fact that he is now lumped with the conservative group and not such a darling figure any more.
He said he had not entertained the media during the campaign be- cause he considered the elections an internal affair or what he called “perkara rumahtangga” (our household affair).
Nasharudin, as academic and PAS watcher Bridget Welsh noted, re- mains a hard-to-define political personality.
He became secretary-general of PAS in 2003. By 2005, he was already the deputy president, a position he won largely with the help and planning of the moderates in the party. But he won his third term with the backing of the conservatives.
A great deal of the pressure that Nasharudin had felt during the campaign was due to the fact that after two terms, people are taking a hard look at his tenure and the general conclusion is that he had not really performed or shone as a No. 2.
He has been a faithful No. 2 but members want him to show leadership, speak up and take clear stands on issues.
It is quite ironic that after two terms, he is known as a PAS leader who is too friendly with the enemy.
Any further attempts to engage Umno will not sit well with the party grassroots going by the enthusiastic response for those speakers during the debates who spoke against cooperation with Umno.
Expectations of him will be high, his every move will be under scrutiny and he will have to do much better than before.
The party cannot move much further ahead without non-Malay support and that will be Nasharudin’s biggest challenge in the next two years.