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“Jalan-jalan cari undi”

Isa Samad poses at a Hari Raya Aidilfitri event in Bagan Pinang

“THIS is part of my programme for the Bagan Pinang by-election: jalan-jalan cari undi,” says Tan Sri Isa Samad, 60, riffing off the popular TV3 food travelogue, Jalan-Jalan Cari Makan. The 3,000-strong crowd here in Taman PD Utama initially looks more interested in the Aidilfitri spread at the Umno-organised function. But when Isa speaks, a few seem to perk up, and giggles can be heard. Before long, Isa gains momentum with his audience.

It’s not that Umno deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who spoke before Isa’s arrival, was a slouch. Muhyiddin spoke with gusto, but he never quite managed to whip the crowd into a frenzied mass. Granted, there are not many Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders known for electrifying their audience at massive ceramah. That is not their style anymore.

But Isa gives it a shot on the night of 4 Oct 2009, the second day of the by-election campaign. Bit by bit he takes on the allegations against him by PAS and its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) partners. First up: the threats by the PR’s Bagan Pinang by-election director and PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub to expose Isa’s mismanagement as Negeri Sembilan menteri besar.

“Salahuddin should go and help the Kelantan menteri besar (Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat) to develop Kelantan instead. Only an unbalanced person would say that Kelantan is more developed than Negeri Sembilan,” Isa retorts.

He is on a roll. “These PAS people should just stick to setting up roadside stalls,” he says, and is greeted with more laughter. PAS-aligned stalls, selling clothes, snacks, perfumes and party t-shirts, have mushroomed all around Port Dickson since the campaign started. “They come here and behave like this is their father’s state!” he thunders, and for the first time during the night, the multiracial crowd roars its approval.

The crowd at the ceramah in Taman PD Utama

And then Isa rounds off his little speech: “Ladies and gentlemen, actually the candidate shouldn’t talk for too long.” Again, the crowd giggles. “I just have so much fun walloping PAS. It’s fun walloping liars when we are in the right.”

It is at functions like these that the BN’s pre-nomination dilemma becomes clear: whether to field Isa the charmer, or to not field Isa, the leader Umno itself found guilty of corruption in 2005.

Isa’s chutzpah

After the BN’s Rohaizat Othman — a lawyer disbarred by the Bar Council for swindling a client — was trounced in the Permatang Pasir by-election, many thought the BN would have learnt its lesson. Umno veterans Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah expressed their frustration openly regarding Isa. But as Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin says, Isa is very different from Rohaizat.

In some ways, Khairy is right. True, Isa was suspended from Umno in 2005 and could not contest the March 2008 general election due to money politics. Technically, his suspension ended in June 2008, so he is actually free to enter politics as an Umno member again. And Isa is, as Khairy says, a “godfather” in local politics.

To Isa’s credit also, he does not shy away from difficult questions from reporters. He stops and waits when journalists call for impromptu press conferences. He invites questions: about what PAS is saying about him, about whether he abused his position when he was in power. He takes these questions on and even uses them as material during his speeches later.

Isa delivers his campaign speech
He jokes and teases reporters; his humour actually feels spontaneous, good-natured and unforced. And he doesn’t just scoot off to his next function. He always asks, “Any more questions?” and waits a beat before bidding a cheerful goodbye. And herein lies Isa’s secret weapon: the guy can’t help being funny, witty and likeable. He’s like a small-sized pak cik you hope will show up at your open house celebration.

And so, according to Isa, critics are mistaken in calling him a “recycled candidate”. “If they think I’m recycled, what about the de facto leader of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim), who was out in the political wilderness for six years? Even rubbish decomposes when you leave it out that long,” he quips.

And Isa is right. He is not a recycled candidate. He is actually a very charismatic contender, albeit one who has to recycle a very old script. Just look at his campaign rhetoric to date: that he has brought (and will bring more) development to Negeri Sembilan; that he is close to federal and state BN leaders; that he has valuable institutional memory and experience as a former menteri besar.

This is merely a variation of the BN’s campaign rhetoric in the seven by-elections it has contested since March 2008. And look where it’s brought the BN: six out of seven losses thus far. Perhaps asking Isa to make this tired script work is like asking Harrison Ford to make another Indiana Jones movie. It might work, but at what cost?

That’s Isa in a nutshell — an adorable charmer with a tainted past, reading from a tired script. The BN, being the incumbent in this seat, already has an edge over the PR. But if it really wants to clinch a convincing victory, the BN has got to revise its script and address Isa’s corrupt past more convincingly. After all, great performers have been undone by bad scripts before. And a few have been destroyed by pasts that refuse to stop haunting them.

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12 Responses to ““Jalan-jalan cari undi””

  1. lezzo says:

    I’m not sure if you guys are selectively quoting him. But if not, then it’s the same, point-fingers-to-the-opposition-and-avoid-the-real-issue rhetoric. Come on la, it’s so old.

    And the “father’s state” quote, as the usual “bapak punya… etc” Melayu mentality is just too rude, and inarticulate for a politician. We really should expect a lot more. I hope the Bagan Pinang folk don’t fall for his empty words.

  2. pakkarim says:

    Rasuah (corruption) is HARAM; not only for the giver but also the taker; so it was pronounced by the khatib during last Friday’s sermons in mosques and on Radio Ikim. There is no exception to the rule, and the punishment for the offence is beheading. Herein lies the reason for Umno’s rejection of hudud; not only “potong tangan” but also “potong kepala”!

    By fielding Isa Samad, who was suspended from Umno for vote buying, as their candidate in this by-election in Bagan Pinang, NS, is Umno claiming that “rasuah politik” is HALAL?

    Are they abrogating Islamic law in order to retain power?

    Malaysia for all.

  3. pakkarim says:


    Please read the title of this article as, “Jalan-Jalan Beli Undi”!

    Korrek! Korrek! Korrek!

  4. seriati says:

    Isa is not funny. I remember him as very vicious against Ghafar Baba when he supported DSAI (as member of Wawasan Group), and he was vicious towards DSAI when the latter was sacked.

    Yes, he was a vicious political opportunist who knew his way around. He is not funny at all.

  5. rudy says:

    Ha ha…mula-mula puji. Lepaih tu pukui dan belasah.

  6. tkwah says:

    Jalan-jalan BELI undi!!!!!!!!!!

  7. anak malaya says:

    He is a better man than most Umno leaders.

  8. David Raj says:

    This Isa guy can talk […] all he wants. BN is already guaranteed the 5,000 postal votes in their bag. Those poor postal voters are made […] to vote for BN or they will face BN’s wrath and get transferred to some God-forsaken region deep in Sarawak or Sabah .

    Hey Shanon, you should know better, those 3,000 people [who] attended ( I know the figure is exaggerated) were there only for free makan lah.

    BN will lose this election….mark my words.

  9. Joe says:

    I concur! They should bring in Samy Vellu to increase their chances with the Indian [Malaysian] vote bank!


  10. rudy says:

    “BN is already guaranteed the 5,000 postal votes in their bag.”

    In last year’s election, PAS won 1,200 to 1,600 of the postal votes for Bagan Pinang.

  11. rudy says:

    Isa is not part of the so-called “DSAI (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) Vision Team”. Set up for the Umno General Assembly in 1993, it is made up of Najib, Muhyiddin and Mohammad Taib. To a lesser extent, Rahim Thamby Chik is also a member; he won the youth leadership that year.

    Remember that during the early days of Reformasi, Muhyiddin visited Anwar Ibrahim at the Damansara Heights house, and this was covered in the mainstream media, i.e. the New Straits Times.

  12. merah silu says:

    Isa is an Umno veteran and he should know the sepak terajang of politics. He accepted the penalty and kept quiet for three years. Not like DSAI, running around the country and [condemning] the very party that promoted [him] to [be] DPM. Isa will win.

    The Malay [Malaysian] should […] treat […] [Bagan] Pinang as the turning point for their recovery. The Razak family will do it again for [..] Umno and its coalition. In 1969, Umno and [the] Perikatan suffered. Penang [fell] to [then] opposition Gerakan, and many seats were also lost in Perak and Selangor. The feeling to take over the country’s administration from the Malay [Malaysian]-dominated coalition was very strong among the non-Malay [Malaysian]-dominated parties. But Tun Razak formed BN and won with much greater majority in 1974. His son will do it again.

    [Personally], I do not know why many non-Malay [Malaysians] hate Umno. This article seems to be biased against Umno. They should [realise] that it was Umno’s biggest mistake (to the Malay) to agree to grant […] citizenship to these economic-seeking non-Malay immigrants brought in by [the] British.

    Many so-called Malay [Malaysians], including [the writer] of this article – I am not sure, are joining the bandwagon to condemn anything about Umno and Malay [Malaysians]. If the Malays were the only race [of] legal citizens in this country, then we [would] not [have] this identity problem as Malaysian. We do not need to share the wealth of this country with them; and the Malay [Malaysian] will not be exposed to this alien culture of corruption, brought in by these immigrants. I hope Umno and the Malay [Malaysians] can learn this expensive lesson and will not repeat it […] in future.

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