Azizan Abdul Razak is the incumbent Menteri Besar (MB or Chief Minister) of Kedah. His Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) leads a coalition government of Kedah with PKR and the DAP after their victory in the 2008 General Election. Kedah has never seen Opposition rule since Independence and Azizan is the first Menteri Besar of Kedah from a political party other than UMNO.
The former lecturer holds the Kedah state assembly seat of Sungai Limau, is the PAS Commissioner for Kedah and member of the PAS Central Committee. An al-Azhar University graduate, he later spent four years studying in England. And at 71, he is still the man of the moment in Kedah.
Astounded by the quick success
As a student leader back in university, he was involved in grassroots politics then he moved on to party politics after his student days. In 2008, upon his rise to the post of MB and as a responsible politician he is now involved in politics of government. He has speedily picked up the subject matters in governance – within a short period of three years. This is undeniably an achievement for a politician who never had the experience of governance prior to this. His nemeses, UMNO politicians, are astounded by his swift success and all their hounds and cries have failed to deride Azizan through the media. Azizan, on the contrary, is a very cool and patient MB and is not the sort who would plump for witch-hunts. He delights his political opponents and the media with respect. It is his religious background that has made him a man of these desirable qualities.
When he took over as MB of Kedah, there was no official hand-over from the previous menteri besar. He was not given any briefing whatsoever. The shelves in his office were completely empty and the files were all gone. Never disillusioned, he managed to grip on to his guts, academic experience and his political acumen to start leading the state. He went on to turn the knob of governance with success and credibility – much to the chagrin of his political enemies. He, however, believes that to forgive is divine – a religious doctrine that he attaches so much importance to – and this trait of his has endeared him to the people. Today, there are even politicians in the opposite divide who tacitly support his leadership. This is squarely attributed to his political persona and sincere deportment in politics.
In the 2008 General Election, PAS won 16 state seats. They only lost the Belantek and Kota Siputeh seats. PKR won four, DAP one and an Independent another. PAS in fact expected victory in this election. Azizan now leads an opposition alliance made up of PAS, PKR and DAP. He is now not just the leader of PAS in Kedah but the Opposition Alliance as well. The State Assembly now comprises PAS (16 seats) DAP (1 seat), PKR (2 seats), Independent (2 seats) and BN (14 seats). Two PKR State Assemblymen left the party to become Independents.
A graduate of University of Kent
Azizan is a graduate of Al-Azhar University and the University of Kent, England and was a former head of the Sharia Law Department of the National University of Malaysia (UKM). Azizan was sworn in as the MB of Kedah on 9 March 2008, before Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah at Wisma Darul Aman. On 16 July 2008, Ustaz Azizan was conferred the Darjah Seri Paduka Mahkota Kedah (SPMK) which carries the “Datuk Seri” title. The award was presented by Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah at Istana Anak Bukit in conjunction with the Sultan’s Golden Jubilee celebration. Azizan has known His Majesty the Sultan of Kedah for a long time and gets along fine with him. His Majesty is apolitical. Azizan even accompanies His Majesty for golf using his old Wilson golf that he purchased in London in 1984. The new Kedah MB, nonetheless, is still very much the Ustaz Azizan residents have known since he became their assemblyman in 1995.
Critics were sceptical when PAS appointed Azizan as MB of Kedah. Judging the book by its cover, UMNO immediately used his religious background to haunt the people by disparaging the MB as a person with no business experience, a conservative and that he would not bring progress to Kedah He became a soft-target but little did they realise that Azizan is a very capable leader and that he could deliver the goods. Azizan may appear to be rather quiet and is seen as a low-profile politician but his political acumen is in fact glittery. As they say, still water runs deep. He has in fact proven all his critics wrong. He is today a well-liked MB in Kedah – being accepted by people of all races and religions. The dynamics that has made him succeed as MB is the “2H factor” – being humble and honest. Ask any Kedahan and they would admit that the MB is a very humble man. He would put aside protocols when meeting the people. He welcomes anyone to meet him at any time. Beyond that, Azizan is an honest man in politics. He tolerates no corruption, nepotism or cronyism in his administration – a totally new culture in the administration of Kedah. These attributes of the MB have become the envy of many UMNO aspirants. UMNO politicians in Kedah would find it real tough to match Azizan’s reputation at the moment.
Kept himself in sync with new political realities
Azizan has been an academic and politician for many years. His academic background and experience have kept himself in sync with new political realities. He has been with PAS since 1978. He lived in England for four years, studying for his Masters in Philosophy in Law at the University of Kent. The focus of his study was on South East Asian Law, with reference to the Malaysian old legal system and the administration of Muslim Law in Malaysia. It was his stint in England that opened up his mind to many things. He is an avid reader and has a lot of knowledge on world politics. He has lived and lectured in the Philippines, and later returned to head the Syariah Department at UKM.
Under Aizian’s competent headship, Kedah has seen positive growth under his “2H Policy” since PAS (Pakatan) took over the state in 2008. Being the 10th MB of Kedah since 1948 and the first for PAS, he has shown to be an effective leader in Kedah despite the incessant political onslaught by UMNO against him. The press, nevertheless, has a soft spot for him. He may not get the publicity as much as those UMNO MBs but his media-friendly approach has endeared him to the reporters. His sterling performance in Kedah as a people-friendly leader is enough to make the electorate here happy with him. The people of Kedah generally considers Azizan as the most compassionate MB Kedah has ever produced. He is kind, honest, always humble and gets many things done without great pomp and ceremony.
Surprisingly, the pro-UMNO media has been quite fair in reporting as far as Kedah is concerned. The state has since received adequate and fair coverage. This has helped the tourism industry and foreign investment in the state. What’s more, Kedah has an open-door policy on foreign investment and this has ensured the success of their economic ventures in the state.
Under Azizan’s “2H Policy” and his accomplished stewardship, the Kedah state government achieved a 135.8 percent increase in state revenue with a record surplus budget for 2010 at RM22.50 million, compared to a deficit of RM62.89 million in 2009. Kedah under him has always been business and investor friendly. No bribery is entertained for any investor to set up businesses in Kedah. Businessmen and investors thus find it very comfortable to deal with the state government as they do not have to resort to bribery and corruption to run their businesses.
The success of Kedah
Azizan is a staunch believer that the private sector should generate the economy for the state. For this reason his government is always open to business ventures. He however does not tolerate sleazy deals to lure private investments and business ventures. This has very much relieved the business community.
Last year, the Auditor-General’s Report rated Kedah’s financial position as satisfactory with a consolidated revenue increase of 23.9 percent from RM265.52 million to RM328.28 million in 2009. State expenditure for 2010 rose by RM2.55 million or 0.6 percent. This led to a surplus for the state government in 2010.
The increase in revenue reduced the balance of the Consolidated Revenue Account deficit in 2010 by a total of RM22.50 million or 7 percent, from RM320.73 million down to RM298.23 in 2009. On projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, the report rates the state’s project implementation as of 31 December 2010 as satisfactory with RM2.51 billion or 73.3 percent from the RM3.42 billion allocated being spent. Four of the state agencies received the ‘very good’ rate, 12 ‘good’ and one as ‘satisfactory’. Overall, the financial management of the state’s agencies has improved compared to 2009.
Kedah is one of the four Pakatan-controlled states that has achieved tremendous success in the past three years and this has been relatively far better than any Barisan-controlled state. The economy has improved and the people find it more “cosy” to be under the Pakatan government. The testimony to this:
“We are happy with him. We have nothing to worry despite all the negative ways UMNO and MCA try to indoctrinate us. Our business goes on as usual. We don’t have to bribe any officers to get things done. Business has improved since PAS took over. The delivery system is better. Officers are more humble these days. The present state government is business friendly. Just look at its achievements, the increase in investors in the state and business is flourishing without hindrances.”
The tourist Island of Pulau Langkawi island is recognised by the state government for its special needs. There is no unnecessary restrictions in this tourist zone. The state keeps an open mind on tourism. In fact. There has been more tourists visiting Pulau Langkawi in the past three years – an increase of 15.3 percent as compared with the three years prior to 2008.
Nothing to complain about
“He is a humble man. He helps everybody – Muslims and non-Muslims – and he is ‘colour-blind’. We know Kedah is not as rich as Penang or Selangor but with Azizan leading us the state will gradually flourish. He and his team are always unassuming and are willing to listen to our plights. We Indians here hope he continues to lead us. The state will progress more under the present government. ”
“We have nothing to complain about. The government is business friendly. Only MCA and UMNO are exploiting on irrelevant issues that we the non-Muslims are deprived of our rights. Even in Kelantan, the Chinese and Indians have little to complain about, so why should there be any problems with us here in Kedah? We can do business as usual, in fact it is better now as we don’t have to bribe anybody. We strive in business better and we pay more tax to the government. As for the night joints, hotels or restaurants, if people want to drink liquor and their religion allows it, they are not going to stop them. It is their rights.”
Since PAS helming the government the people have not heard of enforcement officers going round hotels and entertainment centres and shutting them down. That is not the way Kedah is governed. The Chinese, Indians and Malays have no reason to fear the government. The government allows what are allowed by the respective religions or culture – business as well as matters of worship is concerned – as long they do not intentionally perturb the sensitivity of the Muslims. The government has never gone overboard. The government has never curtailed the rights of the non-Muslims in the state. This has endeared the MB to the people.
“At first we were worried, as UMNO and MCA were alerting us on many issues. Some quarters in the business sector were worried that an Islamic-type administration will eventually take centre stage here. They say the current political climate will not make for better living, with entertainment curtailed and liquor not to be served freely in hotels and restaurants. It turned out to be spuriousness. In fact, nothing of that sort has happened. We are happy with the state government.”
“He first became an assemblyman in 1995. He is a humble man who talks to everybody in a humble manner. If Nik Aziz is the icon to the Kelantanese, Azizan is the icon to the Kedahans. Both these icons are humble, pious and honest.”
A God-fearing MB
“As an MB he is now in the driver’s seat and he always believe in making the people feel comfortable in the state. The people’s concerns are always with him. He listens to suggestions and has a lot of ideas for them. We would continue supporting him. It is better to be led by a God-fearing MB than a dishonest and corrupted leader. ”
“The MB has taught us to be humble and honest. We don’t ask for bribes from our customers. We make sure that they get into their businesses with ease. They pay tax and we earn salaries through these taxes. We have to be co-operative. On top of that, we should not encourage corruption. Corruption is against the teachings of all religions and a corrupt culture will destroy the state.”
“I believe we officers are professional in discharging our responsibilities. We are probably lucky to have an MB who understands our responsibilities. He is very supportive of us. We do not need to fear him as long as we are honest in our duty. Whatever it is, honesty is the best policy.”
Just mention the name Ustaz Azizan to the people of Kedah and they would immediately be elated because of the man’s humbleness. Azizan has astounded critics with his zest for the job as MB. He meets the kampung folk in his modest office-cum-residence located along the trunk road in his rural Sungai Limau constituency. Residents have no qualm meeting him at anytime as he does not belief much in protocols when it comes to meeting or helping the people. The Malays, Chinese, Indians, Siamese and others could freely approach him and he would always receive them with a smile on his face. He would collect all the unpaid water and electric bills of the poor kampung or estate folk who approach him for help. He would then settle the bills for them. Some poor citizens would approach him for financial help and he would help them. He only takes home a third of his salary as MB with the rest used to help the poor and needy. To the people of Kedah and his constituency he is still very much the Ustaz Azizan they have known since he became their assemblyman in 1995.
Matching his words with deeds
He has cut down on extravagance that was typical of the past governments. He has lived to his pledge to reduce the perks and special privileges of the Menteri Besar – matching is words with deeds. He used to move around in his old Mercedes Benz 280 and another old 4-wheel-drive to go round and meet the people. He does not live in the posh residence in Mentaloon but his humble house where he usually meets the ordinary people. He only uses the official residence for official events.
Azizan had a very poor and humble beginning in life. Born and bred in the area, Azizan used to brave tempestuous waves as a fisherman during his younger years there. Now as MB and Yang Amat Berhormat, there is no change in his demeanour – he talks pleasantly to the people and dresses up simple. He looks so comfortable in his Malay sarong and baju Melayu with songkok. He looks equally at ease in his dark pin-striped suit with songkok and bright tie as he leaves for his office at Wisma Darulaman.
Pakatan would retain Kedah
Kedah is the 8th largest state by land area and 8th most populated state in Malaysia, with a population of 1, 890,098. It has a relatively heterogeneous populace comprising three major ethnic groups – Malays, Chinese and Indians – similar to most of the other Malaysian states.
There are 1, 336,352 Malays (who make up about 75.5 percent of the state’s population), 252, 987 Chinese (or 14.2 percent), 122, 911 Indians (or 6.9 percent), 35, 293 non-citizens (or 1.9 percent) and 27, 532 people from other ethnic groups (or 1.5 percent) in the state.
Economically, the four Pakatan states of Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Kelantan have beaten the other 10 BN states by attracting RM25 billion in investments comprising 53 percent of Malaysia’s total investments of RM47.2 billion in 2010. These four Pakatan states alone could beat the remainder 10 states of BN Malaysia combined. For the first time in history, Kedah has shown to the people that in absence of wastage, corruption, nepotism and cronyism the state could bring in improved economic development to the people. Despite the financial constraints and limitations imposed by BN, Kedah under the stewardship of Azizan, has indeed shown good governance.
An online survey of the people of Kedah in October 2011 still gives Pakatan an edge over Barisan Nasional. A significant number of those who responded to the survey favour PAS or Pakatan to lead Kedah. Among the reasons cited were: The image of some national BN leaders is not to their liking. The economic situation in the country where prices of almost everything has gone up does not favour BN. The perception is that BN is not doing enough to clamp down the growing price hike of essential items. The hike in pay and the one-off bonus and payments given to civil servants are not going to help the poor and the non-wage earners. The majority of electorate in Kedah are not civil-servants. The poor are feeling the pinch and find that the small income they make is not sufficient to make ends meet.
Besides that, UMNO in Kedah is perceived by the people as a divided force, as there are many within the party who are too ambitious to become candidates in the next general election. They are at loggerheads now. There are presently at least three major factions within UMNO in Kedah and this does not bode well for the party. MCA is quite insignificant in Kedah as the party itself is in disarray at the national level. MIC cannot make an impact in Kedah as the incumbent Pakatan Indian leader under PKR is perceived as doing an exemplary job in his Bukit Selambau constituency. PAS is still the preference among the majority Malays in this state after seeing for themselves the progress made by the State government under the incumbent MB. The next general election would see Pakatan retain Kedah.