COMMENT Can we take it that because the word of the Mursyidul Am (spiritual leader) of PAS nearly enjoys the sanctity of holy writ, Nik Aziz Nik Mat's demurral over the PKR attempt to remove Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim means the move is dead in the water?
Without PAS's support the PKR attempt, though backed by its Pakatan Rakyat partner DAP, is hobbled and, if persisted in, risks the break-up of the six-year-old opposition coalition, as Lim Guan Eng has warned .
After PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang had the day before yesterday announced he saw no good reason why Khalid should be removed as Selangor MB - despite a slew of other high-ranking PAS leaders having earlier endorsed the move - it only remained for the spiritual leader of the party to state his stand for the rest of Pakatan to know what effectively is the PAS position.
Now that the Tok Guru has adopted an identical position to that of the party president, the PAS stance becomes clear: It's a no-go to the PKR initiative to have a new MB for Selangor.
PAS is a democratic party with a monolithic superstructure. It's imperative for members and subordinate leaders to follow what the president says while the word of the spiritual leader is regarded as sacrosanct.
We have seen in the last six years of Pakatan's emergence as a government-in-waiting how the Tok Guru is the final word on any issue affecting PAS. No one can buck him in the Islamic party.
This fact was vividly demonstrated in the early days of Pakatan's emergence as a political entity when a move by PAS to commence unity talks with Umno gathered pace.
The talks boded ill for PAS's continued presence and collaboration with partners DAP and PKR in Pakatan.
The planned talks were a follow-through to the one surreptitiously conducted in the wee hours of March 9, 2008 when an Umno that was jolted by severe reverses in the national polls held the previous day sought a spurious unity with their long standing rivals for the Malay vote.
Nik Aziz simply pulled the brakes on the entire matter.
He spoke out against the unity talks with Umno even as it appeared that he was the only leader of prominence in his party bold enough to set his face against collaboration with Umno.
Though seemingly alone in his opposition, not only to the idea of a unity government but also to the exploration of the initiative, his clout was formidable enough to bury the boondoggle for good.
Nik Aziz might be old (he is 83) and ailing, he's still a huge influence on PAS, a stature gained by his incorruptibility during 23 years as MB of Kelantan, by the simplicity of his lifestyle, his at times perspicacious pronouncements, and his refreshing freedom from the racism that warps Malaysian society.
In the 16 years of the emergence of the reformasi movement, catalysed by the travails of Anwar Ibrahim, Nik Aziz has shown sympathy for the tribulations endured by the PKR leader on account of Umno's deliberate campaign to smother the threat to their continued rule posed by Anwar.
Snuffing out the effort by a faction within PAS wanting to forge common ground with Umno was seen as a move by Nik Aziz that favoured Anwar's campaign to draw Malay/Muslim support away from Umno-BN and channel it towards Pakatan.
But now it appears there are limits to Nik Aziz's receptivity to Anwar's maneuvers.
In not wanting to go along with the move to remove Khalid as Selangor MB and to replace him with PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, it is quite clear that the PAS supremo's receptivity to Anwar's presentation of a case for action is not as it was before.
Might this be the closure of a phase of empathy between Anwar and vital higher-ups in PAS on issues of national import, a phase that began when Fadzil Noor, the PAS president (1989-2002) before Abdul Hadi, who had a special tie to Anwar and was responsible for steering his party into the lead role in the general clamour for justice when Anwar was goaled following his sacking from Umno in 1998?
With Nik Aziz and the party's current president united in giving the thumbs down to the move to remove Khalid, how are the rest in Pakatan who want a new MB for Selangor to effect the change?
Obviously, the forces in PAS that favour Khalid's removal would have to find some way round the party's top two leaders' disapproval.
Could a circumventing move succeed given the way PAS is constituted where the president's opinion is taken as the party's preferred stance and the spiritual leader's advice is viewed as sacrosanct?
For some time now the argument has gained credence that a discernible divide in PAS between the Quranic literalists and those of not inflexible interpretation would arrive at the point where each would have to go separate ways.
The former take positions on issues that tend to drive a wedge between them and the more liberal rest of Pakatan whereas the latter hew to interpretations that are broadly compatible with their DAP and PKR allies.
Increasingly, it is felt that Pakatan's cohesion as a tripartite coalition of PKR, DAP and PAS is dependent on the collusion of that part of PAS that is less literalist and inflexible.
Is that faction realistic enough to see that going along with its literalistic brethren in PAS places Pakatan at risk of a break-up and with that the incineration of hopes of an opposition coalition ever supplanting an irredeemably decayed Umno-BN in Putrajaya?
TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for four decades now. He likes the profession because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them.