IN the final days before voters go to the polls in Bukit Gantang, PAS candidate Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin appears to have changed tack in his campaign.
The first few days after the 29 April nomination day, colourful photo-ops of Nizar were aplenty. Frying char kway teow as he wooed Chinese Malaysian voters. Mending fishing nets and taking a fishing boat from Kuala Sepetang to Pulau Sangga to meet voters in the constituency’s farthest reaches. Going to the market.
Nizar chars kway teow (Pic by Raj Kumar, courtesy of theSun)
But the last days before polling on 7 April 2009 are marked with a sense of urgency. Nizar’s campaign focuses on repeatedly refuting the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s accusation that the embattled menteri besar committed treason against the sultan, and has sold out Malay Malaysians in Perak.
Nizar has been holding “Dialog Bersama Rakyat” sessions every afternoon in small gatherings across the constituency. These are either in housing estates in semi-urban areas nearer to Taiping or under a makeshift hut in a kampung deep in the rural heartland.
At these sessions, he gives a short speech that touches on key aspects of the BN’s main allegations. He’s on a tight schedule, so each session lasts no more than half an hour before he dashes off to his next stop.
The common practice in election campaigns is usually for the candidate to say little, leaving explanations of the issues to other campaigners. The candidate is to focus on meeting as many people as possible in a day.
Hence the endless rounds of visiting markets and shops, and performing prayers with the locals. At nightly ceramah, the candidate makes a pit stop at the many simultaneous rallies to give a short speech and shake more hands before continuing on the circuit.
Making Nizar do the talking himself is part of PAS’s strategy to counter the BN’s mighty machinery. This machinery includes the mass media, a party worker said at one such session in the BN stronghold of Kampung Salak Baru in Trong. The village has 200 households, almost all of whom are pro-BN.
“Many kampung folk only have RTM1, RTM2 and TV3. They don’t know the other side of the story. If they see him here explaining to them himself, maybe they can understand better,” the party worker said.
Nizar as he arrives for a “Dialog Bersama Rakyat” session
Convincing a kampung
The dialogue session at Kampung Salak Baru on 2 April was promoted by a Toyota Avanza. Draped in PAS flags, it drove around the village, loudspeakers blaring Nizar’s arrival and urging villagers to hurry over to the house of one saudara Musa. Musa is one of the few PAS loyalists in the village.
A temporary shelter erected in Pak Musa’s compound was prettified with the green of PAS flags and banners. Over at his neighbours, BN blue draped the houses.
Nizar arrives, and after a round of greetings, is ushered into the shelter and given the VIP seat: a plastic chair facing rows of more plastic chairs for the kampung audience.
It starts to drizzle and suddenly the shelter is full of people, about 30 in all. They are mostly men and a handful of Perak-based DAP and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) officials who had arrived with Nizar. It is hard to tell if the men are village residents.
Nizar begins. His voice crackles over the portable speaker. Suddenly, a party worker gets a bright idea. He connects the microphone to the loudspeakers of the parked Avanza. Nizar’s voice is carried on the breeze throughout the village.
“This is a by-election to enact the truth and reject BN. BN says that I have sold out the Malay [Malaysians] by giving land titles to the Chinese [Malaysians]. What you don’t know is that we have given 7,000 acres of land to the Malay [Malaysians] for planned villages and this involved a total of 1,200 residential lots.
“But this story has not been reported by the BN-controlled media,” Nizar says.
He also tells his audience they should not feel envious of the Chinese Malaysians because the 134 existing new villages were established out of historical necessity during the Emergency. “We give titles to them because they have lived there for the last two to three generations. But we are not going to open any more new villages,” Nizar says.
The temporary shelter in Musa’s compound being used for the dialogue session
He delves into claims that he has committed treason or derhaka against the Perak sultan by refusing to step down as menteri besar.
“There are only three ways for me to resign … I tender my resignation, or the state assembly is dissolved, or there is a vote of no-confidence against me in the assembly. All this is according to the state constitution and the Federal Constitution,” Nizar translates the legalese as plainly as possible.
He explains how the “derhaka” claims came about. “When I went to see Tuanku, I had to use palace language. In the softest, most gentle tone, I said, ‘Tuanku, patik mohon sembah derhaka’.
“These were the right words to use, but Umno has twisted the matter to pick on the word ‘derhaka’.”
Then comes question time, but there are none save for one on the administrative process of applying for land grants.
The group is either satisfied with Nizar’s explanations or has heard it all before. It has, after all, been two months since Perak’s constitutional crisis, and Nizar, the embattled menteri besar, had been on the campaign trail ever since.