CLOSE WATCH: Mustapa Mohamed and Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat are forces to be reckoned with in this polls
IN contemporary Kelantan politics, Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed are the most recognisable faces in the state.
Generally referred to as "Tok Guru" and "Tok Pa", both have built up a strong base of admirers for their political struggles through Pas and Barisan Nasional (BN) respectively through the years.
As any other political brand names, they have drawn ardent critics, too. As they go out to the hustings, 82-year-old Nik Aziz and Mustapa, 63, will be the faces to look out for as they captain their respective party ships to the finish line at the polls.
Keen political watchers can already make a calculated guess of who between the two will have the most energy to last the rigorous pace of campaigning unscathed.
On the basis of physical health, Mustapa, an Australian and United States-trained economist, may likely set a more blistering pace when hitting the campaign trails in his efforts to win back Kelantan for BN.
With old age catching up on Nik Aziz, the veteran politician may not be able to reach out to all the voters in every corner of the state like he used to. Reports of his hospital treatment for fatigue has become too often that questions have been raised about his ability to lead Kelantan.
The recent pictures making the rounds on the Internet of Nik Aziz, a five-term menteri besar, showing him being carried by aides after a ceramah in Johor reflect his physical condition and health. Despite this, he has been adamant that he will not quit politics as long as he lives.
Those in Pas' inner circle have been whispering that Nik Aziz, who studied at universities in India, Pakistan and Egypt's Al-Azhar, might be on the last leg of his political career for health reasons.
On the other hand, Mustapa who has held various cabinet portfolios, including finance minister II and his last posting as the international trade and industry minister, looks suitably determined to turn the table against Pas.
It is only fitting that a leader entrusted to bring change to the political landscape must not only be physically robust but also be packed with fresh ideas on how to turn around the fortunes in Kelantan once BN is in power.
He and his BN colleagues have outlined wide-ranging programmes in the BN election manifesto if the people give the mandate to BN in the election.
Conversely, Pas under Nik Aziz has begun to look like a spent force after two decades of running the state.
For this election, it appears that the people are preparing to send a strong signal to Pas that they are no longer satisfied with its excuses about the lack of new programmes to propel the state forward.
In the case of Mustapa, there is a clarity of thought in his future plans for Kelantan. It is not far-fetched for the people to have faith in him that Kelantan under BN will be a better place to live compared with the present situation.
With BN candidacy confirmed, Mustapa will re-contest his Jeli parliamentary seat apart from standing as a candidate for the Air Lanas state constituency.
The selection of him to go for the state seat has prompted talk that he will be the likely candidate to be appointed the new Kelantan menteri besar if BN wrests back the state from Pas. Such an idea is not too far off the mark as Mustapa has all the skills and administrative savvy from his long years in Federal Government service to hold the post.
Back in the 2004 election, Mustapa, who also went neck and neck with Nik Aziz when they were leading their parties, was denied by mere whiskers by Pas to form the state government.
BN was then only two seats short of ousting Pas when the coalition managed to win 21 of the 45 seats in the state assembly.
As for Nik Aziz, he will re-contest in Chempaka, a state constituency under Pengkalan Chepa deemed to be one of Pas' fortresses in Kelantan.
While the political heat rises, the faces of Tok Pa and Tok Guru adorn campaign posters and banners to reinforce the notion that they are forces to be reckoned with in this polls.
Nik Imran Abdullah | firstname.lastname@example.org New Straits Times Columnist Thursday, April 25, 2013