Jan 27: Like him or loathe him, Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak is someone whose simple lifestyle has drawn praise from both friends and foes.
The popular 'ustaz', as he is known among PAS circles nationwide, courted controversy recently over his statement in support of the suspension of five students of a state-owned college.
Yet, Azizan's moderate lifestyle betrays the image of the top civil servant in each state as Malaysians have grown to get used to, with the exception being the Menteri Besar of Kelantan, Tuan Guru Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, whose decision to stay put in his wooden house despite being in power for more than two decades has been a strength many of his counterpart find hard to emulate.
POWER NAP... Nik Aziz, the Kelantan MB, takes a short siesta
When PAS president Tuan Guru Abdul Hadi Awang took over as MB in neighbouring Terengganu, the same culture of maintaining an austere lifestyle was followed. As the MB, Hadi continued to teach at his madrasah beside his house in Rusila, and went fishing clad in his kampung attire.
So too can be said of the current Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng, whose moderate lifestyle earned praise from PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu, a Penangite. 'Fussy Azizan'
Visiting the Kedah MB recently, reporter Azamin Amin returns to tell of Azizan’s lifestyle which is a far cry from that of his predecessors from Barisan Nasional.
The state's most powerful man lives in an ordinary double storey house which does not invite second glance from passers by.
“Whoever walks pass, a pedestrian or motorist, will certainly miss it as it has nothing to attract one's attention,” he writes.
Azizan's house in Jalan Sultanah, Alor Setar, when it was inundated with flood water last year
Immediately after assuming office in March 2008, Azizan refused to use state grants to repair the damaged fencing of his house despite being advised to do so by the police for security reasons, saying he would only use his own money to do so.
Indeed, the veteran PAS leader is particular when it comes to financial matters.
“What he detests most is if someone comes asking for projects from him. He becomes very agitated if something is expensive and illogically priced. He goes into too much detail and is fussy when it comes to money,” says one staff member at the MB's office.
72-year old Azizan is father to 14 children, yet not one among them has been appointed to any state agency.
“This is despite some of them having no stable job,” revealed a source close to Azizan. 'Fashion taste' from Kangkong
Azizan's simple lifestyle can be compared to many PAS leaders: unassuming and ordinary, to say the least. his favourite clothing stores are not in Sydney. He goes 'shopping' for his clothes to a Chinese-owned shop in Simpang Empat, Kangkong and another in Penang.
"Some of the shirts he wears to official functions cost only RM19!” observes Azamin in his report.
Azizan also has a preference to travel outstation by land rather than by air. According to his personal assistant, the Kedah MB would insist on a non-stop road journey from Alor Setar to Kuala Lumpur, and flies only when when urgency is required, such as an invitation by the Sultan of Kedah with whom he has a strong relationship. No to luxury hotels
When in Kuala Lumpur for official matters, Azizan spurns luxury hotels allocated for him, instead rents a three-room house to share with his aides.
Like many opposition leaders, Azizan is hounded by reporters and loaded questions.
Such as how the writer recalls when a reporter once posed Azizan the question, “Now Kedah has no water, how Datuk Seri?”
Azizan had then politely asked the reporter whether he had taken his morning shower, to which the reporter answered in the affirmative.
“How then can you claim there is no water? From which university you graduated? It is now the dry season, and the whole country is facing water shortage issues. We can pray to God for rain,” he retorted.
Another anecdote reveals Azizan's friendlier side.
Last Ramadan, many Kedahans were cheated by a leaflets claiming that the Kedah MB would be distributing Hari Raya cash gifts at his office.
Sure enough, 300 people turned up at his office.
What would someone who is fussy about financial matters have done in such an occasion? Quite the opposite.
"Feeling sorry for those being cheated by the leaflets, Azizan told his officers to distribute RM50 to each of them, and that money came directly from his pocket!”