PAS deputy chief a silver-tongued crowd puller

MALAYSIA'S Islamic party has one sure-fire way to attract huge crowds to its ceramah (political rallies) and to make them stay until the end.

Step one: Enlist Mr Mohamad Sabu as a speaker.

Step two: Make sure he is the last to speak.

The formula works every time as he remains the most popular public orator in Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and indeed, in the opposition pact.

Sure, Pakatan Rakyat's de facto chief Anwar Ibrahim and the spiritual leader of PAS, Nik Aziz Nik Mat, attract thousands too, but no one can match Mr Mohamad's wildly popular fiery speeches laced with humour. Sometimes, he throws in dirty jokes that make the ulama (clerics) sharing the stage with him squirm in horror.

"He is the most popular speaker in PAS. Interestingly, he did not take courses to speak and hold a crowd. He learnt everything from his years of speaking," said Mr Rashidi Hassan, a former editor of PAS organ Harakah.

In a party of ulama, Mr Mohamed, the party's deputy president, is decidedly not one.

Mr Mohamad's jokes often feature pretty women. Just before the May general election, he told thousands of PAS supporters at its Kedah headquarters that the opposition pact has many supporters in Sabah and Sarawak.

How did he know? He said he bumped into pretty girls at a beauty pageant in Sabah recently. They asked him to come nearer so that they could whisper into his ears.

He said he did, and they whispered in their sweet voices: "Ini Kalilah (This time)!" The election battle cry of the opposition. The crowd roared with laughter.

This weekend, Mr Mohamad, called Mat Sabu by everyone in Malaysia, narrowly defeated senior cleric Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah in the party's biennial elections.

Mr Mohamad received 588 votes - just 98 votes more than Datuk Mohd Amar, the deputy Kelantan Menteri Besar, who is also a fierce orator.

The victory wiped out months of anxiety for Mr Mohamad, 59, following a campaign against him by the ulama faction in PAS, who want him out as deputy president.

Their reason? PAS is a proud Islamic party whose top leaders are clerics reverently called Tuan Guru (master teachers, in Malay).

The Tuan Gurus in PAS include party president Abdul Hadi Awang and spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

And yet, the PAS No. 2, Mr Mohamad, is a non-ulama.

So winning the deputy president's post for the second term has vindicated him, as it shows his deep popularity in the Islamic party, which is currently seeing a bitter fight between the pro-ulama faction and its more liberal elements.

"It is good that he has won as we need leaders who could speak to us and not just ulama who can teach us," said Mr Shariff Hamdan, a civil servant who attended the party's congress in Selangor yesterday.

After his victory, Mr Mohamad told reporters: "There is nothing to celebrate as the contest is a friendly one."

He has travelled far since his student days.

He did not finish his studies after he was thrown out of Mara Technological Institute while studying food technology because he organised demonstrations, said Mr Rashidi.

Mr Mohamad's penchant for leading demonstrations is well-known in Malaysia.

He has been jailed under the now-repealed Internal Security Act twice - in 1984 and 1987.

He has survived a scandal in which he was caught in a hotel room in Kelantan with a married woman in 1994, and has been accused of being a secret Shi'ite follower.

Mr Mohamad and PAS leaders said the 1994 incident was a set-up by Umno to taint him. His wife, Normah Alwi, now 58, and their four children stood by him.

And Mr Mohamad has many times denied he is Shi'ite.

What's next?

"I will continue to work, to help the president to strengthen PAS and strengthen Pakatan Rakyat."

That will surely entail lots more open-air rallies swarmed by thousands of people, in which he is the last speaker.

reme@sph.com.sg

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