PAS candidate Mohd Salleh Man
THE fate of Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in Penang rests on the shoulders of one man, Mohd Salleh Man. If the PAS candidate in the Permatang Pasir by-election loses at the polls tomorrow on 25 Aug 2009, the alliance will have no co-operation to speak of within the state government.
PAS is defending its only seat in the Penang legislative assembly, in which the DAP has 19, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) nine, and the Barisan Nasional (BN) opposition 11.
“We cannot afford to lose this seat or the pact at state-government level comes undone. Winning will prove that the Pakatan Rakyat is alive in Penang,” PKR elections director Saifuddin Nasution tells The Nut Graph.
Salleh hopes to take over the reigns from the late assemblyperson Datuk Mohamad Hamdan Abdul Rahman, whose death on 31 July necessitated this by-election. Hamdan held the seat for three terms and was known as a gracious and popular elected representative.
Salleh, 55, is soft spoken and has a heavy local accent that makes it hard for out-of-towners to fully understand him. He comes across as an amiable “pak cik”, although many call him “ustaz” because of his career in religious teaching.
The Penang PAS commissioner has been active in local PAS politics ever since graduating from Universiti Malaya with an Islamic studies degree. Interestingly, Salleh has contested six times in previous elections in the Pinang Tunggal, Permatang Berangan and Sungai Dua state seats, and also in the Tasek Gelugor parliamentary seat, but never won.
This time, he believes it will be different.
Seventh time lucky?
Asked to explain why, Salleh says Permatang Pasir has consistently voted for PAS for the last three terms, and he believes that trend will continue.
“I am sure voters here will want to see that PAS retains the seat, because it is the sole seat for the party in the state,” he tells The Nut Graph at a campaign stop on 20 Aug.
We are standing in a football field, soggy with freshly cut grass after a spell of rain. Salleh has come to kick ball with the local youth of the Kubang Semang football club. PAS has organised a match for the village youths to play against a team comprising former state players and a few PR Youth leaders.
Salleh, in printed shirt, with youth from the local football club
Salleh isn’t terribly articulate, but seems the sort of leader who would obligingly stop for anyone with a question despite being on a hectic schedule.
He says of his six previous failed attempts at contesting a seat: “I am learning all the time, and each election helps me improve for the next. In the end, we only hope that voters will choose us.”
He promises to strengthen the Penang PR if he wins, by developing good ties with the Chinese and Indian Malaysian communities.
“I will continue the vision of the late assembly[person] Hamdan to prioritise the people’s welfare and ensure all the races work together, because we are all one under Pakatan Rakyat,” he says, reading from notes scribbled in a pocket-sized notepad.
A minder from his campaign team steps in to cut the interview short, and Salleh is whisked off to his next stop.
Salleh’s lack of flair is not likely to be a factor in this by-election, which has been overshadowed by attacks on the credibility of the BN candidate, Rohaizat Othman, a disbarred lawyer.
While Salleh works the ground meeting voters at markets and shops and in their homes, PAS leaders have harped on little else since nomination day on 17 Aug. They have used that to draw a contrast with Salleh, depicting him as a clean and pious man who is respected locally for teaching religious classes.
However, Salleh has not escaped the mudslinging. An Umno-linked blog claimed that he took RM600,000 of PAS’s funds meant for the Permatang Pauh parliamentary by-election last August. PAS leaders have challenged Umno to show proof.
Power and position
With little to pick on about Salleh, the BN has turned to dangling the carrot of state power and representation. The BN highlights the fact that PAS, despite being in the PR, is not given a post in the state government’s executive council.
“What is the use of voting for PAS when they are not given an exco post? The DAP is insulting PAS. Ask Lim Guan Eng, will he make PAS part of the state exco if they win? If not, what is the point of voting for PAS when they have no power in the state government?” said Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin at a ceramah on 20 Aug.
Khairy criticising Penang’s DAP government during the ceramah
After the PR seized power in Penang in the March 2008 general election, Chief Minister Lim named DAP and PKR assemblypersons to his executive council.
Local reporters who cover the Penang legislative assembly sittings say the BN opposition often taunted the late Hamdan over the matter. Hamdan, however, never retaliated, nor did he make public demands for an exco position.
Indeed, it has been pointed out that the DAP and PAS are “even” on this score. To the north, in Kedah, where PAS won the most seats in the general election, the lone DAP assemblyperson was not given an exco post, either.
Before his death, however, the Penang government did appoint Hamdan to posts in several state committees.
Saifuddin (File pic)“There are many other ways to appreciate our partners in Pakatan, not necessarily with exco positions. There are other important posts in state-owned companies and various state councils. Posts do not define the worth of our partnership,” argues PKR’s Saifuddin.
He also believes that Malay Malaysians in Penang are not “jealous” about this. “They are attracted to Guan Eng’s anti-corruption stance. You should not underestimate the Malay [Malaysians]; if they see a leader who shares their values, they can adapt even if the leader is of another race.”
PAS by-election operations director Datuk Mahfuz Omar refuses to entertain questions about whether PAS would ask for more recognition in the state government if it retains the Permatang Pasir seat. “This by-election is about the seat, not about government positions,” he says.
Then again, perhaps it is “win first” on polling day. And talk later.
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