PAS candidate Abdul Wahid Endut on his walkabout to meet voters in Kg Cina
THOUGH PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang claims divine intervention in his selection of the party’s candidate for the Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election, there could be a more earthly, tactical reason. There is a story about the candidate, Abdul Wahid Endut, which illustrates the warm ties he has with his party’s arch-rival, Umno, and why he spells trouble for them.
While Wahid, 51, was an executive councillor in the PAS-led Terengganu government from 1999 to 2004, he represented then Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, at a federal-level event held in the state. Wahid even read out Nazri’s speech.
The incident raised eyebrows a little, as ministers from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government would normally send their deputy, or a senior ministry official, in their stead.
But Nazri, who confirmed the story with The Nut Graph, shrugs off the fact that a PAS assemblyperson spoke on his behalf. Wahid was the executive councillor in charge of entrepreneurs in the state at the time.
“Sure, he’s from PAS, but so what? He was handling my ministry’s portfolio in the state and we worked well together,” Nazri says.
Umno family members
Wahid is so well-liked by Malay voters, who form 88.3% of voters in the KT constituency, that his candidacy may give the electorate a tough time in deciding who to support, local observers note. The Malay Malaysian vote is said to be split down the middle between PAS and Umno.
The five-term assemblyperson in the Wakaf Mempelam state seat, a PAS stronghold, also has a large extended family, some of whom are Umno members, a source says. In rural Malay areas, this could number between 100 and 300 people, sometimes more.
However, the PAS campaign is not highlighting Wahid’s family ties with Umno. “We don’t want his family members to be harassed,” the source says.
Wahid’s family. He has nine children (Pic from PAS leaflet)
PAS trumpets the fact that Wahid has never lost an election for his seat in the last five terms, and that he is hugely popular in the two other state seats held by PAS, Batu Burok and Ladang. The fourth state seat, Bandar, is a Chinese Malaysian area and held by the MCA.
Though unknown at the national level, Wahid is the party’s state treasurer and chief of the PAS Kuala Terengganu division. Casual chit-chat with people here indicates that Wahid is genuinely liked for his affable personality.
Wahid will face the BN’s former deputy home affairs minister Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh, 47, from Umno, and an independent candidate, traditional medicine practitioner Azharudin Mamat @ Adam, 46. Polling is on 17 Jan. The by-election was necessitated by the death of the incumbent Member of Parliament (MP), deputy education minister Datuk Razali Ismail from the BN.
Wahid packs a tireless schedule, running from one PAS markas and peti undi to another throughout the constituency to meet party workers. He drops in on voters’ homes, mingles with them at markets, and tops each day off with a ceramah circuit at night.
Wahid has been consistent in carrying the Pakatan Rakyat’s overall campaign message, which is to “teach BN a lesson” for “their arrogance, their corruption” — the list of sins goes on.
His message: that the by-election is about denying the BN one more seat in Parliament. With Razali’s death, the ruling coalition has 137 of 222 seats. Of the balance in the opposition bloc, PAS has 22 seats. Together with its Pakatan Rakyat partners, the alliance will have 81 seats if PAS wins this by-election. Four more seats are held by others: two by the Sabah Progressive Party or SAPP, one by Parti Sosialis Malaysia, and one independent.
Speaking at a ceramah in Kg Cina together with other Pakatan Rakyat leaders
“This election won’t change the BN’s power balance in Parliament, but it will make our voice stronger,” Wahid repeats at ceramahs and whenever he is asked by reporters what this by-election means for PAS.
He brushes off suggestions that he won’t be able to handle the workload of being both an MP and an assemblyperson. “My state constituents know me well enough already. I’ve won five times; that is my bonus.”
Wahid also fends off jibes that he is representing a political alliance that has severe differences on core issues like hudud, besides rifts across party lines in the administration of Pakatan Rakyat-led states.
“We are like pengantin baru (a newlywed couple) who are still getting to know each other. Differences are normal,” he says.
He turns the hudud tables back on Umno. “It’s they who don’t want Islam. But the Chinese, they understand because we’ve told them that hudud law is only for Muslims. It is already a law passed by the state government (under PAS) in Terengganu, so there is no issue for them.”
The law was gazetted but never enforced when PAS was in power in the state. The BN won back Terengganu in 2004.
Chinese Malaysian ties
Wahid also trumps his past position as entrepreneur exco as evidence of his good ties with the 8,787 Chinese Malaysian voters. “I dealt with the local Chinese Chamber of Commerce and businesses, they all know me.” He also believes Chinese Malaysians remember him from his attempt to contest the Bandar state seat in 1986, although he lost.
At a ceramah with a sizeable Chinese Malaysian audience, Wahid attempts to endear himself. “I have a sibling who married a Hong Kong Chinese, so I’m very comfortable with all of you. I could even look Chinese if I take off my kopiah,” he quips.
Wahid gets chummy with a local in Kg Cina, while accompanied by Anwar Ibrahim (foreground)
How is Wahid being received by this segment of the electorate? It depends who you ask. Locals affiliated with the MCA shake their heads. “Who is he? He was friendly with us when he stood in Bandar, but after he lost he forgot about us,” says a businessperson who is also a local MCA committee member.
But fence-sitters or those with opposition leanings aren’t bothered about whether they know Wahid or not. Judging from their reactions at the nightly ceramah, they appear moved by the slew of issues the Pakatan Rakyat campaign has imported from outside the state that touch on their Chinese Malaysian sensitivities.
The opposition is also using their superstars like DAP national adviser Lim Kit Siang, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Internal Security Act (ISA) icons Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, and blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin to woo the Chinese Malaysian crowd. In Malay ceramahs, PAS trots out its respected spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who is a big draw with the locals.
It indicates that to a large extent, the choice of candidates is an influential factor here. But this may matter less than the parties they represent, the prevailing national sentiment on racial and economic issues, and the larger-than-life presence of opposition leaders.