There were many coincidences in our recent trip to Terengganu.
It coincided with the flood. Our planned destinations had to be rescheduled due to the flood. On the Tuesday, water was rising when we were on our way to Kemaman and was alerted to divert.
It was also an opportunity to keep abreast with Terengganu and the current Menteri Besar, Dato Ahmad Said or Mat Said as people would affectionately call him. At the tailend of Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar's tenure, Terengganu was a regular destination.
We had an invitation to Mat Said for breakfast at his official residence sometime two three years ago but forego to opportunity catch an early flight back to KL. Finally, we had the honour to be introduced to him at the lobby of Hilton Sentral after a dinner last year.
The man comes off as fairly quiet and hardly the person depicted as crude and rude by his political detractors.
When his name turned up in the midst of the post 2008 general election leadership crisi in Terengganu, the only impression of him was depicted in this PAS video below:
Pushed to the deep end
Mat Said was merely another state assemblyman from Kijal when few days after the 2008 general election, he was summoned to the palace and decreed to replace Dato Idris Jusoh as Menteri Besar.
It surely put him in a damn if I do and damn if I don't situation. Usually, the party President would suggest the candidate for the Sultan and the suggestion is seldom denied. However, this time it is the
Sultan that suggested the name.
Naturally, then party President, Pak Lah, incumbent Menteri Besar, Dato Seri Idris Jusoh and supporters could not not be pleased with this surprise. There was "revolt" and demonstration with the infamous banner that basically calling the Sultan "natang" or animal in Terengganu dilect.
That banner became a controversy and perhaps became the reason for Idris to slow down before the situation got any worse. He may have realised and accepted the fact that it was his fault for making the Sultan displease. Idris met the Sultan and apologised.
At the time, Pak Lah was so enthralled with Terengganu. Federal fund or the Wang Ehsan was diverted to Terengganu. He would "turun" Terengganu as often as every week. Then came complains of cronyism including the name of Dato Patrick Lim and wastage mega projects.
He was pushed to the deep end and his gedebe image remain prevalent and it is so easily manipulated.
PAS shit stirers at the low cost PPRT housing project could easily accused him for evicting them on such notice and forced them to take up the PPRT home.
Obviously, it is not sensible because the eviction process is never short. In Malaysia, there is a lot of persuasions, negotiations and delay dally. The negative perception on Mat Said arising from the rough power transition makes him a convenient target.
If only the public knows what the PPRT home owners gets and the future plan in the mind of Mat Said that would benefit them, they would endear to him.
The rough power transition also made him combative and his detractors kept hurling issues at him.
One accusation at him was that Mat Said denied funding and abandon projects of Idris Jusoh's grandiose plans for his hometown of Besut out of revenge.
New MBs tend to review existing government plans and hear out responses from the public before moving forward. Off course, there are changes and tweeking by new state leaders. Terengganu was moving at such a fast pace under Idris Jusoh that one can expect some roof to fall. Recently there was another one. [Read in a Terengganu blog here.]
Mat Said had been fair and contrary to perception of him, he bear no grudge against his detractors. Idris Jusoh's plans continued as he expressed in this You Tube video here but spinned by PAS as state government had to continue bear Idris's project.
Opposition hoped to see him spill some beans and blast his predecessors but he did not. He realised that as party leader and Menteri Besar, he must safeguard the interest of the party. However, his detractors continued to criticise him but he just swallowed it.
It is more lonely for Mat Said when Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister never made any visits to Terengganu. It is like he is getting no support from the leadership. He is hardly a national news item, except when there are legacy issues made into controversies by the opposition.
Sources claim he was never given the chance to get an appointment with the Prime Minister or his Deputy. He can be seen in public events with them but not a private appointment. It is like he is being shunned.
Such are the fate of common folks that rise to the top. Mat Said is a son of a kampong nira (coconut sapling) collector.
Bungled candidate list
The recent general election shows he is sincere and responsible towards the party and could put aside any ill feeling others had against him. In the recent general election, he ensured every candidates, whether his supporters or detractors, was sufficiently funded.
Terengganu did not do as well as expected and only scrapped through with a 4 seats majority. So naturally, Mat Said gets blamed as putting up candidates of only his men and trying to oust his predecessors men to secure himself. The truth vastly differs.
As liaison chief for Terengganu, Mat Said prepared a list of thoroughly vetted candidates in accordance to the winnable candidate criteria. Sources claimed his appointment with the President was only 15 minutes. He was merely told the list for Terengganu was already prepared.
Who prepared it? If asked, Mat Said will never tell because the last he wants to do is blame on the party leadership.
Coincidently, Idris was on the War Room committee and is the last he wants to accuse and get into a quarrel with. There is also the possibility of Hishamuddin, who was formerly Liaison Chief before Mat Said tookover.
When PM announced the candidate list, our Terengganu sources was in cold sweat. PM's list was total different and was far from winnable. The writing was on the wall for a possible defeat. Luckily they scrapped through. At best, BN could only win on 2-seat margin. The guilty party is silent till to-date.
Sensing it spells the end for Mat Said, rumourmongers were spreading words that he will form a coalition government with PAS should there be a coup attempt against him or if he is not reappointed. Off course, there is no such thing when the Sultan is fine with Mat Said.
More than half a year after GE, Idris Jusoh have regain his national position but may not be a significant local factor. His reluctance to defend the post of Besut UMNO Division Head is indicative. Weakened also are diehards like Dato Rasol Wahid, who could hold on to a state assembly position.
However, a coup attempt cannot be discounted. There have been some ambitous aspiring ones like Tengku Putera and conspiracy theory says Mat Said could see the end by April 2014.
But, UMNO leadership must stem such attempts. At this stage, it is suicidal. Internal politicking need to be reduced to nil. Any plans to change MB should be done for next term and after Mat Said completed his second term. Otherwise, Terengganu is destined to fall back to PAS in GE14.
Two terms is fair enough as MB. He should be allowed to consolidate the state politics and allow his plans for Terengganu. He has fairly interesting development plans for Terengganu to add to continuing where Idris left off.
He has no bone against Idris and willingly allow Idris to be Election Director for the Kuala Besut by-election without much noise. His support for Idris allowed BN to win Kuala Besut handsomely.
Over lunch last week with an old time player, we were told that there was two problems with Idris. One was Pak lah's intervention for the interest of Patrick Lim and suspiciously for his taikor son, Kamaluddin. [Read Rocky Bru's here.]
The other problem or more prercisely strength of Idris was that he is too smart and too far ahead for Terengganu. Tan Sri Wan Mokhtar understood this aspect of Terengganu and Mat Said's common man touch is the right approach for Terengganu.
It needs time before Terengganu can absorb the many big ideas. Terengganu is still rural in landscape, and psyche, so economic progress cannot be shoved down their throat. They will regurgitate back at you as happened to Idris.
Despite doing much, it remains quite challenging on Mat Said to gain the trust and confidence as he expressed in a recent Utusan Malaysia interview here. He need the support to surpassed that barrier. If it is the last term for him, so be it but Mat Said should be supported to prepare the path for his successor for GE14.
The recent flood could be a disaster and could be god-send for Mat Said. It was the opportunity to display the manifestation of Mat Said's common touch. Hopefully the national attention to his antics could endear himself with the rakyat.
Allow us to qualify that we have much sentiment to common folks that made it to the top.
Mat Said could not attend Dato Najib's opening address and UMNO's General Assembly because he had just returned from a trade visit abroad and had to accompany the Sultan to visit the flood sites and relief centres in Kemaman.
The next day, Tan Sri Muhyiddin visited Kemaman while Najib visited Kuantan.
But Mat Said did not spend his time merely to accompany royals and VVIPs. He walked through the flood water. Went around to visit and talk to the folks. Crisis needs quick decision and he is there to provide the support and make decisions.
He lent his hand also.
In one occasion, a lady complained that she has run out of milk for her children. True to his common touch, he personally went to Giant Kijal to fill up the official MB car with baby milk and distributed it to mothers.
But the best incident and this well forever be remembered was when he and all other vehicles were stucked in a jam for hours and people were complaining of hunger. There was a Gardenia van making their transport rounds but bound by their job, the drivers could not sell it.
Realising that it needs some intervention and flexing of power and influence, Mat Said personally opened the van himself and distribute the bred himself. Mat Said insisted to pay for it but Gardenia refused. Instead he was commended. [Read The Star here.].
But, it could be just a politician rising to the occasion for attention but for Mat Said it is just his common touch.
The opposition propaganda machinery called it a Robin Hood act of highway robbery. But, the drivers appreciated the MB's intervention. Otherwise they wouldn't be comfortable taking a photo together.
In case, anyone doubt it.
Today Mat Said was seen helping to clean the Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Tayor. He and Datin Seri looked at ease giving a hand with the water hose and scrub to wash the school's table and chairs. [Read in The Flying Kick here.]
His MBship had been rather quiet. If not for the flood, one would hardly hear much of him in the national media. Despite the unnecessary publicity that his predecessor suffered, Mat Said should do better for Terengganu. Some of the efforts are bearing fruit and still unannounced.
Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim recently made claims that Selangor is expected to receive an RM8 billion FDI. That is paltry to what Mat Said will soon achieve. In a quick 1-2-3 succession of announcements, he can surpass what Khalid plan to achieve.
He not only has the common touch but has not lost his affinity for the common folks.
If only everybody is aware of the program he had done and continuing the effort of his predecessor Idris for rakyat, including the PPRT programs, Terengganu is truly the model state for the slogan "Rakyat didahulukan, Pencapaian diutamakan".
Already Mat Said announced offering PPRT homes for folks who lost their homes during the flood. [Read The Star here] If they know what is in Mat Said's head and realise how lucky they are, these Terengganu folks should just grab and stop complaining.
Maybe Dato Manja Ismail should get more stories of his home state now that he has moved up a notch in TV3.
*Edited 11:00 PM