Old ghosts back to haunt Mat Sabu

THERE were many who thought this would be Mohamad Sabu's lucky year when he beat the odds to become PAS' new deputy president.

But his luck seems to be running out. Mat Sabu, as he is better known, has been hit by another controversy even as a firestorm is still raging over his remarks that the communists were the real heroes of the Bukit Kepong massacre.

A video titled "Skandal Seks Mat Sabu" has made its way into the Internet and is set to shake the party.

The video contains some very sexy conversation between a man and a woman, whom the commentator in the video claimed to be Mat Sabu and Normah Halim, the woman with whom he was caught for khalwat in 1994 in Kota Baru.

That was a long time ago, but his past has returned to haunt him.

At this point in time, it is hard to tell whether the sexy phone talk, which appeared to have been secretly taped, is genuine or staged.

But Mat Sabu's dilemma is that this is one issue which he and his friends in PAS will find hard to address or defend because the khalwat incident involving him and Normah has never been denied although it was thrown out by the syariah court.

Mat Sabu and Normah were caught in a hotel room but were acquitted because two of the witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the hotel room's number in which they were caught for khalwat.

Mat Sabu was then a rising star. He was Nilam Puri MP and PAS deputy Youth chief.

Normah was a local beauty who in her salad days was regarded as the belle of Melor, the area where she hails from.

At the time of the incident, she was married to Bukhari Noor, a handsome and wealthy businessman, also from the area.

The scandal rocked the party which had just come to power in Kelantan.

A lawyer in the case remembered the packed courtroom and how one of the witnesses had even fainted during the proceedings.

Mat Sabu had told a close associate then, "mampus aku kali ni" (I'm finished this time), but it was not to be.

He scraped through and even survived the general election which was called shortly after.

The khalwat incident is etched irrevocably in the memories of the adult generation who had followed the case.

In fact, most Kelantanese with some interest in politics would have watched the uploaded video by now and formed their own conclusions.

It was clearly put together by his enemies out there, with a running commentary in between segments of the conversation.

However, the commentator was quite understated and had referred to the sexy exchange as "bermain cinta" or "flirting".

It is not exactly phone sex, but it is what polite society would call "intimate talk" and in less polite society, "dirty talk".

There are references to the sexual liaisons between the two speakers, all of which are conducted in the local patios and slang terms.

Those who have heard Mat Sabu speak at political ceramah and are familiar with his voice think that it does sound like him.

"The male voice sounds like that of Mat Sabu. I know Normah and her husband; they have come to my restaurant.

"But the woman in the tape is speaking in a whispered tone throughout; quite hard to say if it is Normah.

"I have heard her speaking, but not in a whisper," said restaurateur Juhaidi Yean Abdullah who is also from Melor.

Mat Sabu may find himself quite alone in this issue.

Not many of his associates from Kelantan will be able to defend him with an open heart.

"I have heard about it (the video) but I have not listened to it, so I can't say if it is true or false.

"It's so difficult to know what is true or untrue in politics because so many things are happening now that the general election is getting nearer but if this is done with bad intention, then it is not right," said Kelantan PAS deputy commissioner Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah.

Besides, he added, the khalwat case is no longer an issue in Kelantan.

"Many people believed it was a plot by Umno even though they were found together in the room," Nik Amar said.

Mat Sabu's friends in PAS are angry that these cerita lama or old stories are being dredged out to discredit him.

They said if the phone conversations were authentic, then they would have been used against Mat Sabu at the height of the scandal.

A lot of it has to do with the Internet and also the fact that Mat Sabu is a major star today.

All eyes are on him and everything he says or does has become newsworthy.

After all, if anything happens to Datuk Seri Hadi Awang, Mat Sabu will be the next PAS president.

But at the time of the khalwat scandal, he was just on the way up.

"He was then known as an ayam tambatan (a fighting cock) that PAS used to peck at the other side," said Juhaidi.

"The ulama leadership in PAS was so sure that no one like him could ever go so high up.

"He was then just an orator, not a threat to anyone inside or outside the party."

The stakes, said blogger Syed Azidi Syed Aziz, were much higher now and both sides were using whatever they have against each other.

Mat Sabu's response to the latest issue has been "no comment," which Syed Azidi, who used to work for a PAS politician in Kelantan, finds ironic.

"It's really funny for someone who makes a living out of talking to have no comment'.

"I'm not sure how people will take this, but it is certainly extra bullets for his enemies," said Syed Azidi.

PAS members took a leap of faith when they elected Mat Sabu as their deputy president.

They were aware of his personal baggage but they thought that unlike the ulama leaders, he would be able to take the party to another level.

Instead, he has led the party from one controversy to another.

And, as Juhaidi pointed out: "Instead of explaining the Negara Kebajikan (welfare state) concept PAS is promoting in place of the Islamic state, the party is spending time defending their deputy president."