JOURNALISTS have been warning each other that Zulkefly Mohamad Omar, PAS’s Bagan Pinang by-election candidate, is not the world’s best orator. Unfortunately, this is true.
At a PAS-organised ceramah in Taman Eastern on 5 Oct 2009, The Nut Graph observes that Zulkefly is ponderous in his speech. The chants of “Allahu akbar” that greet him are tentative and scattered. The entirely Malay Malaysian audience politely listens, but doesn’t even seem to know when he is done speaking.
Zulkefly delivering his speech in Taman Eastern
But Zulkefly is soft-spoken and gentle with journalists. And he lights up when anyone asks him about his involvement in the “no incinerator” campaign in Broga, Selangor. The incinerator fiasco began when the Selangor government, under then Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo, initially wanted to build a thermal incinerator in Puchong.
Worried about toxic emissions from the incinerator, Puchong residents went up in arms, and the state government decided to relocate the incinerator to Broga in 2002. Broga residents were equally irate and mounted a long and drawn-out protest against the incinerator. In July 2007, the residents emerged victorious when the RM1.5 billion project was finally terminated by the state government. And Zulkefly, 45, was the no-incinerator committee chairperson at the time. He was also in PAS Youth’s executive committee.
It is this sort of community-organising track record that could make Zulkefly the David to the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s Goliath, candidate Tan Sri Isa Samad. For example, Zulkefly has been, since 2000, one of the leaders demanding action on the mysterious deaths among pig farmers in Bukit Pelanduk, Negeri Sembilan that followed the 1998 Nipah virus outbreak. The cause of the deaths remain a mystery but Zulkefly says he knows that the Negeri Sembilan government, under none other than Isa as menteri besar, did not do enough to help the pig farmers in Bukit Pelanduk.
Indeed, these community-type issues seem to be Zulkefly’s forte. According to his campaign manifesto, revealed on 6 Oct 2009, he will focus on improving the constituency’s drainage system and quality of roads, and conserving the natural environment. But is this enough ammunition for Zulkefly to win the battle for Bagan Pinang?
As eager as he is to highlight his activist history, it is also easy to rattle Zulkefly. Reporters quiz him about DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng‘s assessment that the BN has a 70% chance at victory with Isa as their candidate. “I don’t want to answer this question,” Zulkefly says. What about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad‘s recent jibe that PAS will render halal all that it deemed haram in the past just to please its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners? “I’d like to focus on questions regarding my campaign, please,” Zulkefly says.
Zulkefly being interviewed by a journalist while Negeri Sembilan DAP chairperson Anthony Loke looks on
These might be fair objections coming from Zulkefly. After all, he is here to tell the people what he stands for as a candidate and what he can offer, not speculate on the outcome of the by-election or analyse PR dynamics.
Yet, he even avoids questions on other public interest issues that would alert the electorate about what principles he is made of.
The Nut Graph asks Zulkefly what his stand is on concert banning, as called for by central PAS Youth against both Danish soft-rock band Michael Learns to Rock and US R&B diva Beyonce Knowles. He declines comment. What is his stand on the open sale of alcohol? No comment. What is his position on the whipping sentence dropped on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor? No comment. He says, “Ask me questions about the campaign, please.”
But these are not curly questions. These are questions on issues of public policy. Yet, Zulkefly declines, albeit politely and sweetly. And when he addresses the multiracial crowd at the DAP operations centre in Batu 9 on 5 Oct, it is clear to see why Zulkefly is so cautious. “A vote for PAS is a vote for the PR and its vision,” he says in earnest.
And so this must be Zulkefly’s dilemma in Bagan Pinang. How will he sell himself to multiracial and multireligious voters while making sure PAS’s Islamist skeletons do not come jumping out of his campaign closet?
High stakes in Bagan Pinang
Campaigning in Bagan Pinang
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Now, that’s the PAS we know and love.
Better to not comment than to make silly comments like Tun [Mahathir]… [who] accused PAS of rendering halal all that [the BN] had deemed haram, [such as] support for pig farmers. In the meantime, his own son buys into the beer-brewing business.
PAS must not be concerned only about religious matters. It must be concerned about corruption, justice, and basic needs of the poor. Surely all religions teach us to care for the poor, the sick and the weak. This is far more important than beer and concerts.