COMMENT The pose of wanting a position while simultaneously not caring too keenly to obtain it is one of the more difficult roles to bring off in Malay political culture.
This seemingly contradictory stance requires a blend of self-projection and effacement that is beyond the ken of the hamsters that populate the national political arena.
This duality of assertion and abasement does indeed raise suspicion that its practitioners are false like their masks, but when the fusion is seamless, the equipoise it demands is a feat that can elicit admiration from even the most reluctant.
Ustaz Ahmad Awang, challenger to incumbent Abdul Hadi Awang for the PAS presidency that’s become a contest perhaps even more pivotal to the country’s political future than Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tug-of-war with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, spent the whole of Sunday at the Perak PAS convention like an obedient child before appraising elders - being seen and not heard.
A rather difficult summons, one might say, given that Ahmad, for all his compelling comportment, trails the incumbent in the presidential sweepstakes even in his home state of Perak where the divisional contests have all but gone to the ulama faction that is heavily in favour of Hadi.
To some 150 delegates who will vote at the PAS muktamar in just over a week’s time and who had gathered at Sri Iskandar, a town halfway between Lumut and Ipoh, for the state convention the Islamic party organises every year in the immediate prelude to the muktamar, Ahmad must have seemed rather like Anwar Ibrahim presently appears to the PKR faithful - as a reminder of a past of exhilarating possibility amidst the current reality of frustrating constraints.
Though Ahmad did not address the convention because he was not on the roster of speakers, his presence was conspicuous, mingling with the delegates at every opportunity and gladhanding at every chance he had.
After all, he had been the state PAS commissioner from 2004 to 2011 and a national vice-president of the party in the coeval period, so he was no stranger to the convention’s attendees.
But he was careful not to parlay the enormous credit he enjoys as an an elder statesman into electoral cachet for his presidential bid.
He had to wait until the last half hour of the day-long convention for his merits to be hailed and the meaning of his bid to be highlighted.
This was done by Nizar Jamaluddin ( photo ), to whom fell the role of penultimate speaker at the convention.
Nizar, whose 11-month tenancy (March 2008-February 2009) as the Pakatan menteri besar of Perak is regarded as one of the most exhilarating spans in the history of Malaysian state chieftains, in remarks about Ahmad confined himself to autobiography rather than hagiography.
Nizar said that after returning from his engineering studies abroad he joined PAS in 1984 and was content to be an ordinary member, when Ahmad recommended him to then-party president Fadzil Noor to be the PAS candidate to contest against Umno heavyweight Rafidah Aziz in the Kuala Kangsar parliamentary seat in the 2004 general election.
Fadzil had been on the lookout to give suitable professionals a chance to rise within the ulama-led party, and when Ahmad commended Nizar’s merits to the PAS chief, the latter had no hesitation in endorsing the recommendation.
Nizar was buried in the BN landslide of March 2004, occasioned by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s new-broom premiership which commenced the previous October after an overly protracted 22-year-old tenancy in the same office by Dr Mahathir.
The Umno-BN landslide was one of Malaysian electoral history's more transient triumphs: it evaporated into a denial of the ruling coalition’s two-third majority at the next general election in 2008.
That polls brought Nizar to the MB’s post in Perak, one of five states that succumbed to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat wave in the March 2008 election.
Consequently, Abdullah had to make way for successor Najib, whose merits for a takeover must have been embellished, in the eyes of Umno partisans, by his engineering the removal of the Pakatan government in Perak in February 2009 led by Nizar, a putsch that is dyed in infamy.
These days Pakatan stalwarts regard Najb’s travails at the hands of that relentless extirpator of sitting prime ministers (not to mention deputy prime minister), Mahathir, as divine retribution for the coup d’etat he launched against Nizar.
Ahmad Awang was the PAS leader in Perak who chose Nizar for the post of MB after it became clear that DAP, winner of the largest number of seats in the state assembly had no suitable Malay to take the post and there was no qualified Malay in the motley PKK crew of state reps.
The striking panache of that choice was confirmed by the alarm it caused in Umno that a PAS MB could make the waves that Nizar made in just 11 months in office.
Nizar was duly removed and the man whose choice panicked Najib into devising a coup is attempting to return PAS to the euphoria occasioned by Nizar’s MB-ship.
Whether the delegates who heard Nizar’s evocation of an exhilarating past would be prompted to vote for a reprise remains to be seen.
TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.