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Thursday, February 12, 2009

In victory or defeat, Nizar the embodiment of Pas For All

By Shannon Teoh

IPOH, Feb 11 — In Kampung Bali, situated just outside Tronoh and some 30 km south of Ipoh, there was no doubt that Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin is still mentri besar.

Despite his fast-fading hopes of holding onto power in the ongoing Constitutional crisis engulfing Perak, he can call his 11-month-old tenure an unqualified success based on the reception he received during his one-hour visit to this outpost of heartland Chinese on Monday night.

Kampung Bali has been a DAP stronghold for decades and here, one gets the sense that the demonisation of Pas all these years has perhaps finally come undone.

On March 8 last year, the DAP-led electoral alliance took hold of the Perak state government and in the early days, there was tension within Pakatan Rakyat (PR) over the choice of mentri besar.

But that was then, and this is now: wholehearted cheers went up among the 300-strong audience — among them, shirtless men — at the new village’s Chap Goh Mei celebrations when Nizar arrived and they mobbed him to get a chance to shake his hand.

While Nizar and his wife were served KFC for dinner, which The Malaysian Insider can confirm he devoured happily, the sight of a leader from the Islamist Pas sitting to sup with a Chinese crowd and hugging toddlers was enough for the locals to swig crates of beer and even break out bottles of wine.

That they felt comfortable indulging in alcohol before a pious Muslim shows the sort of inroads the ideologically disparate coalition has made among its grassroots.

In an exclusive interview with The Malaysian Insider today, Nizar said this was down to a collective pursuit of justice by the PR state government.

“People are seeking for the truth. In their heart, they are craving for justice like any normal human being.

“We come from different backgrounds, cultures and race. If it was not because of justice, we would not have come together,” he said.

That night in Kampung Bali, he gave a speech in Chinese-accented Bahasa Malaysia, presenting his arguments in simple terms but with a smattering of Cantonese.

Umno manyak jahat, dia mau buang ini cheng fu (Umno is very evil, it is trying to get rid of this government),” he said, without ever sounding condescending, as he played the jester for the night; the Malay man trying to fit in with the Chinese crowd.

Sekalang kita ada lua MB, lua cheng fu, tapi kita hou leng punya, Umno hou sui (Now we have two MBs, two governments but we are the authentic one, Umno’s is false),” he added.

Today, Perak’s 10th mentri besar presented the same argument.

“Ironically in the Kuala Terengganu by-election, a group called Umno comprised of one race and one religion had a lot of infighting.

“In Perak we had 31 assemblymen from three different parties and different cultures working together whereas Umno has one kind of people, one race, one religion but they still couldn't unify.”

The current popularity of Nizar is in stark contrast to the accepted reality a year ago when Pas had launched its “Pas For All” slogan ahead of the general election in a bid to overcome the “unelectable” taboo it had within non-Muslim majority constituencies.

But on Monday night, there was unanimous support for Nizar to contest in the Bukit Gantang by-election.

Wholehearted cheers went up among the 300-strong audience in welcoming Nizar. — Pic by Choo Choy May

Loud cheers went up when Perak DAP secretary Nga Kor Ming said Nizar would be the best candidate for Bukit Gantang.

“As you can see, even the Chinese here support Nizar,” he said and on cue, the crowd roared its approval.

Perhaps Pas had not expected this level of success just a year into its campaign.

With just six assemblymen in what was a 31-strong Perak PR government, a Pas mentri besar seemed an uneasy compromise for the alliance.

Then, Pas For All meant a promise that Nizar would not usurp the clout of the larger PKR (then seven) and DAP (18) representation in his government.

“We have practised this in the last 11 months, that we are not as what we were negatively perceived to be. I am proud to say that I can work with DAP leaders,” Nizar said in the interview.

Today, it has become unthinkable among PR’s grassroots support that anyone else could head Perak’s government.

For them, there is only one candidate to be Perak’s 12th mentri besar.

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