(All pics by Danny Lim)
WHEN independent candidate Azharudin Mamat @ Adam was explaining how he was going to campaign in the Kuala Terengganu by-election, he chuckled and said, “Saya pelik sikit.”
Because not only does he not have a campaign slogan, he is not going house-to-house to canvass votes. Neither is he going to appeal for votes or even introduce himself; nor will he even say anything, except to greet those who approach him. Indeed if he wins even a decent chunk of votes on polling day on 17 Jan, he will have effectively revolutionised politics in this country.
In Permatang Pauh, Angkatan Keadilan Insan Malaysia (Akim)’s Hanafi Hamat was treated as comic relief. In Kuala Terengganu during the 2008 general election, news reports celebrated Maimun Yusuf more for the ‘human interest’ rather than political angle she offered.
Azharudin, all mumbling, nodding and giggling with a self-awareness that he is being rather unusual, seemed to be begging to set himself up as a joke. And the punchline is … drum-roll please … he was born on 1 April.
The sniggering stops when one considers the impact Maimun had contesting in this very parliamentary seat during the general election. She won 685 votes, and the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s Datuk Razali Ismail beat PAS’s Mohamad Sabu to the seat by a margin of 628. Most analysts attributed Maimun’s candidacy as a contributing factor to PAS’s loss.
An independent analysis of the voting patterns in last March’s elections provides a more nuanced, though still murky view. Maimun’s votes came from areas where the BN was relatively stronger, proving that voters there were more willing to opt for an independent candidate.
What this could mean is that Azharudin’s candidacy is not necessarily detrimental to PAS. If anything, how well the third candidate does here now becomes an indicator of how far the sentiments amongst fence-sitters have blown for or against the BN since 8 March 2008.
Inside Azharudin’s clinic
Both Maimun and Hanafi were willing to stump up the money for their no-chance candidacy when they realised how much publicity they would get in return. While that motivation is always implicit, Azharudin seems to be that bit more unusual than his political antecedents.
Our interview takes place in his traditional medicine treatment centre, a tiny shoplot a stone’s throw away from the Batu Bersurat roundabout in Ladang Pasar. In the spartan waiting area there is a queue of reporters, camerapersons, patients and some black-jacketed men who may well be from Special Branch.
The section of the shoplot where he treats patients is divided by flimsy boards and two doors, one marked Ladies, the other marked Gents, not unlike toilet signs. The waiting area extends into the “Ladies” section where three chairs and a dead cockroach await.
Azharudin, 45, works alone as the physician in this treatment centre from 9.30pm to around 4am consulting patients suffering from ailments such as gout, asthma, heart disease and “gangguan makhluk halus” (disturbances by supernatural beings). During the day he works for a contractor building houses. He is married with nine children, with the youngest being born just last month.
Item number 8: Gangguan makhluk halus
He says he earns anything up to RM1,500 (for treating heart disease) per patient. His business is a couple of years old, and he claims his services are much in demand.
Following the signs
When asked if he had any grievances with the state government, he says no. So why is he standing as a candidate in this by-election, which was called after the incumbent MP died on 28 Nov 2008?
“Dapat gerak dari hati,” says Azharudin. He followed an impulse, borne from a “petunjuk” (sign) he felt soon after Datuk Razali Ismail, the incumbent parliamentarian, passed away.
The last time he got such “signs” was last year when he was at the Turkish border, stopped from entering Greece, as part of the Jemaah Tabligh, a Muslim missionary movement group. The moment he got the “sign”, he was allowed through the border, he claims. Upon receiving the “gerak hati” to contest in this by-election, he consulted his friend, an ustaz, who told him, to quote Azharudin in his laconic style, “Harus.”
On nomination day, he had problems with his forms, because one of the endorsees of his candidacy was not a registered voter. Without a back-up plan, he quickly rushed out to find someone who would qualify as an endorsee, and managed to file in his forms just before nominations closed.
On this “gerak hati”, he will spend just under RM30,000, including the RM15,000 deposit for his candidacy. This is financed partly from his own savings and partly from loans from friends. Some of that money will go towards 80 banners, 100 posters (with more to come), and a party which he will hold when he unveils his banner on 9 Jan. He claims to have around 200 friends volunteering to help him in his campaign.
Anak Cikgu Adam
Not once did he consider the impact that his candidacy could have on the by-election by stealing votes from the PAS candidate, Mohd Abdul Wahid Endut, or the BN’s Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh.
But Azharudin also revealed that he is the son of the late Adam Taib, who is apparently well-known in the local community. Adam is a former director in the Terengganu education department and crucially, a former political secretary to former Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Wan Mokhtar Wan Ahmad.
Alarm bells are tinkling, but Azharudin giggles and insists he is apolitical, having never been involved in politics of any sort even when he was studying in Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (he studied Food Technology). He’s never been interested to keep up with politics beyond reading the papers. And no, he never asked his dad about politics.
His campaign style will be to go to the shops with friends. “Tapi saya tak beritahu saya calon bebas, pergi jalan saja. Bila kita jalan tu, orang akan kata, ‘Oh ini calon bebas’.” He will not ask for votes, because, he says, “biar orang kita kenal daripada hati”. If he was pressed, would he ask them for support? “Terpulang (depends),” he says.
The extent of his campaign will only reach the areas of Batu Burok and Ladang. He’s always around here, he says, and a lot of people know him, and now that the news media has spread word of his candidacy, even more people will know who he is.
He also admits that he is well known as “anak Cikgu Adam”, so his father’s standing in the local community will come in good stead. As for the Bandar area, he says he has a lot of Chinese friends there whom he has known since they were kids.
Earlier Azharudin had told the press about his intention to help the poor with his candidacy. He promised that should he win the seat, the allowance he would receive as a parliamentarian would go to buying rice for the poor, regardless of race or religion. And his first statement in Parliament? “Hak orang itu kena pulang balik (return the rights of the people).”
In predicting his chances, Azharudin says, “Insya-Allah, harus menang (God willing, should win)”, and adds rather enigmatically, “sebab Umno berkelompok (because Umno has factions)” before trailing off again into a tangle of indecipherable mumbles.
Azharudin wears a serene expression and smile that, taken one way, makes you wonder if he is clueless. Taken another way, he appears to be a man at peace and unfussed by the bluster of political battle. “Dia orang berak, kita pun berak, cuma baju lain (They defecate, we defecate, only the clothes are different),” he says, unbowed by the pressures of contest.
If he doesn’t win, it’s alright. Because “kita dah masuk untuk bertanding, dah sampai,” he says. Confused, we ask what he meant. He just repeats, “Dah sampai.” Okay then, yes, Azharudin has arrived.
Danny Lim is a freelance journalist.
Also see: Contrasting campaign styles in KT