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KT locals think Wan Farid too arrogant - malaysiakini

Poor Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh. Much has been made of his looks and demeanour in an election where perception could turn out to mean everything.

As the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate in the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election, Wan Farid has been advised to smile more and behave less snobbishly. In this semi-urban east coast constituency, people want their elected representative to be friendly, accessible, and to possess the human touch.

Though a local boy, the 46-year-old former lawyer grew up in a privileged family of civil servants. During the campaigning, remarks have been passed that he should wear the kain pelikat (sarong) more when canvassing among the locals. He's also been advised to not be afraid to sit on the floor of homes to show that he is one of them.

Perception problems

Another perception problem Wan Farid faces is his links to outgoing Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He was the premier's political secretary for four years, before being appointed senator and made deputy home minister after the March 2008 general election. He has since resigned from both positions to contest in the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

Additionally, it didn't help the BN campaign when former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad described Wan Farid as Abdullah's proxy.

Wan Farid also got caught in the web of allegations that Abdullah's cronies were given the contracts to build the Pulau Duyong marine facilities to host the annual Monsoon Cup sailing competition, and the Islamic theme park on Pulau Wan Man.

His candidacy has appeared to put BN on the defensive in this campaign. Top leaders including Abdullah and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak have been giving one explanation after another on Wan Farid's perceived aloofness, the proxy allegation, and his capabilities as a first-time candidate.

Development gains

Wan Farid's campaign message rides on the BN's development track record. He is positioned as a representative who will be able to help the electorate because of the government machinery behind him.

Najib has also promised that Wan Farid will be reappointed as a deputy minister if he wins this election. The message to voters is that Wan Farid, as a deputy minister, would have better access to federal help than a PAS Member of Parliament (MP).

However, his former ministerial post is being used against him in Pakatan Rakyat ceramah. The opposition alliance has used blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, who was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), to speak against Wan Farid, although it is the home minister who signs detention orders.

"If he wins and becomes deputy home minister again, he will sign orders to detain people like you and me under ISA," Raja Petra told a largely Chinese crowd at a ceramah in Bandar Baru, Pulau Kambing on 9 Jan.

Internal factionalism

Politically, the former senator and deputy home minister has never contested an election, whether at state or parliamentary level

In Umno, Wan Farid is the party's two-term Kuala Terengganu division chief. He won the post uncontested the second time in divisional elections in July 2008. Despite this show of Umno grassroots unity, factionalism within the division has given the opposition PAS leverage to run down his candidacy.

PAS has drawn comparisons between Wan Farid and the previous MP and deputy education minister, Datuk Razali Ismail, whose death in November 2008 forced this by-election. Razali was liked for his efforts to improve education in the state. He beat his PAS contender, the popular Mohamad Sabu, in the 2008 general election by a slim majority of 628 votes.

During the campaign, Wan Farid has been forced to say that as division chief, he never sidelined Razali, who ran for the division's vice-chief post but lost to Wan Farid's brother, Datuk Wan Hisham Wan Salleh.

Thus, the BN's announcement of Wan Farid as their candidate two weeks ahead of nomination day on 6 Jan was seen as a move to give the factions time to cool down and unite.

Wan Farid has denied any internal rivalry and said his early candidacy gave him an edge to know voters better. He will face PAS's Abdul Wahid Endut and independent Azharudin Mamat @ Adam in the 17 Jan polls.

The Nut Graph managed to interview Wan Farid, who is the father of six girls, on a campaign stop. He was at a kampung in Kuala Bekah, where a Rural and Regional Development Ministry function was being held on 10 Jan.

TNG: If you become MP, how do you propose to eradicate poverty and improve living conditions for the poor in Kuala Terengganu?

Wan Farid: I have discovered while on the campaign trail that people want more opportunities. They do not know that we have so many facilities and so many things they can participate in. My concern is to make sure they are well informed of these opportunities.

The Terengganu government has decided not to pursue the wang ehsan (oil royalties) civil suit (filed when PAS was the state government) against the federal government. Do you agree?

The matter is closed. The moment the federal government returned the royalty, the case has become academic.

But there are disputes over the figures. The royalties have not been fully returned.

The opposition is making [it out] as if the federal government is taking advantage of the state government. With the final payment of RM408 million in December, everything has been settled. There are no arrears anymore.

What kind of personal advantages do you have over the other candidates, which aren't related to you representing the BN?

I was in Parliament, in the Dewan Negara for three years. And for the last nine months I was a member of the administration. I've appeared in both Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.

Your stand on hudud law.

I don't think it's an issue.

The opposition is using your post as former deputy home minister against you. What is your stand on the ISA?

In government, we cannot have individual [positions] on policies. Whoever speaks against me individually must also understand that you can't have a different view as a member of the administration.

You want to speak about this, you must understand parliamentary democracy, must understand how the cabinet works, must understand collective responsibility. Okay, if they want to attack me on this, it means they don't understand parliamentary democracy.

Should the ISA be at least reviewed?

My stand is parallel with the government's. It is good as it is. Preventive law has mechanisms and safeguards, which people don't talk about. They only talk about the so-called repressive law.

You can see, recently, whoever was arrested under the ISA could go to court and apply for habeas corpus, and there were instances where the court allowed the application. We have the necessary safeguards.

Is being the former deputy home affairs minister a liability to your campaign because of the issues the opposition is raising?

No, it's not a liability at all. Because I appear on TV almost every alternate day when Parliament is in session and the people of Terengganu know me.

Are you a reluctant candidate because you stand to lose so much in your political career?

I'm not a reluctant candidate. In politics, it's not about you. It's about the people you represent.

If you lose, what are your plans?

I'm not going to talk about that. It's premature.

By Deborah Loh, The Nut Graph

Malaysiakini's report when out.