Nai Khan Ari Nai Keow (maroon shirt) greets the press on nomination day on 23 May
“CAN I ask my friend to come pick you up on his motorcycle? I am still at the Malay kampung and will be coming late to the temple,” Nai Khan Ari Nai Keow tells The Nut Graph over the telephone.
His initial notice to the press was that he will be at the Rajchaphohong Thai Buddhist Temple in Teluk Wang at 3.30pm on 24 May. But at 4pm, he still has not arrived.
But true to his word, in five minutes, one of his campaign volunteers shows up on a motorcycle. Barely five minutes later, Nai is seen walking door to door in Kampung Tun Sardon. The 41-year-old father of three is drenched in sweat but is energetic and cheerful.
“Here’s my card if you need to call me,” he says to the residents of one house. They are obviously on friendly terms. The woman teases back, “Don’t go so soon! I need to see if this is really you with your sepet eyes!”
“I am here to seek your restu (blessings),” he tells another resident, a middle-aged Malay Malaysian man. “No matter what, I am a fellow villager, so I hope you will help me to serve you.”
The Malay Malaysian uncle assures Nai and his campaign volunteers that he, too, believes in supporting fellow kampung folk.
Nai even knocks on the doors of houses whose residents are staunch Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) supporters. One young woman stares at him incredulously as he seems oblivious to the PKR t-shirt she is wearing. But the factory manager presses on.
Responding to politicking
“Do you want to stop me for an interview now, or do you still want to follow me around?” he asks The Nut Graph. He says he has at least 10 more homes to cover.
Lim Ju Lai
One of his campaign volunteers, his friend and colleague Lim Ju Lai, says, “We’ve been out here since 1.30pm.” He says they covered 100 houses in less than three hours.
“He likes to help people,” Lim tells The Nut Graph. “He’s always been like that, that’s why he joined Gerakan.”
Besides, Lim says, they’ve been encountering voters who are getting disillusioned by the politicking between the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR). “When they play politics, the ordinary voter suffers,” he says.
But this is a refrain that was heard during the Bukit Selambau state by-election as well, especially from the record-breaking 13 independent candidates there. And yet, on polling day there, voters appeared not to give the independents even a second glance. Thus, isn’t Nai running a futile campaign in Penanti?
“Bukit Selambau was different,” Lim says, after a pause. “There were too many independent candidates there. Our chances are better here.”
In this Penanti state by-election, Nai is up against PKR’s Dr Mansor Othman, and independents Aminah Abdullah and Kamarul Ramizu Idris. Polling day is 31 May.
After a while, Nai takes a much-needed break and grants an exclusive interview to The Nut Graph. The interview is short, but Nai says cheerfully, “You have a lot of questions.” He seems to be itching to get back to knocking on more doors.
TNG: You are the first Thai Malaysian candidate to contest in an election in Malaysia. What do you think your strengths are as a candidate from a minority group?
First of all, I’m a local. This is my village and I know these people very well. I have Malay [Malaysian] friends, Chinese [Malaysian] friends, and all my friends are helping me now. And I speak many languages — Thai, Bahasa Malaysia, Hokkien, Mandarin and English. I can’t speak Tamil but my friend there (points to one of his campaign volunteers) can speak Tamil very well. And I want to look after the people’s welfare, which has been neglected due to excessive politicking.
Nai and campaign volunteers visit some 100 houses in
less than three hours
But this is a Malay Malaysian-majority area, and it’s a PKR stronghold. How are you going to convince them to vote for you?
I am assessing what the community has and what it doesn’t have. Yes, this is a PKR stronghold, but in the current political scenario, even people here are losing out because of the excessive politicking. So I am offering myself as a candidate who is free from any party membership. (Nan resigned from Gerakan on 19 May 2009, after the BN decided not to contest in Penanti.)
A visitor from Penang island told me at the Thai temple just now that you are close to PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim?
(Guffaws) What? That is absolutely not true. You can look at my friends and I here — we are always fighting about politics and we don’t agree with each other all the time. But they are willing to help me because they know I am sincere in helping people — that is all. That is why I joined Gerakan, and now I’ve left because this is how I want to help the community, by offering myself as their representative.
How will you continue to serve the people if you don’t win?
You see, I’m not saying that the mainstream political parties are no good. They have good intentions, too, all of them. So even if I, as an independent candidate, lose, I can still help. I can offer my services to the local councils, to the welfare departments and so on. But I am taking my chances in this campaign to do the best for the community. I’m a factory manager, so I can afford the RM16,000 to RM18,000 to run my election campaign.
But can I add something? I believe the Penang state government also wants to help. The mainstream political parties all want to help people. But their members must always toe the party line and follow the party’s rules. I don’t need to do that now. I am answerable only to the voters of Penanti.
Nai: “I am officially considered a
bumiputera … but I can’t enjoy some
of the privileges.”
As a Thai Malaysian, are you considered bumiputera?
(Chuckles.) Let’s just say I am officially considered a bumiputera, but I can’t enjoy some of the privileges. For example if I buy a house, it really depends if the developer views me as bumiputera or not.
So do you think the New Economic Policy should be done away with?
Look, the bumi status is good for those who need help. But there must be balance. Non-bumiputeras deserve their opportunities too. The policy is meant to close the gap among communities, not widen it.
The DAP has long championed local government elections. What are your thoughts on this?
Elections are basically about giving people a choice to pick who will lead them. As for appointed leaders, usually the ones doing the appointing will choose those who will be on their side. Although it’s good to have elections, I think there are situations where you need to appoint some local councilors as well. But please, that is DAP’s fight. As far as I’m concerned, I only want to serve the people of Penanti.