KAMARUL Ramizu Idris, the eyebrow-raising independent candidate in both the Bukit Gantang and Penanti by-elections, is being skewered for coming out in support of the Internal Security Act (ISA).
“Whether the ISA exists or is abolished is meaningless now. It just should not be abused, either by individuals or the government. It must be transparent and correctly applied,” he says.
Lau Shu Shi“I really don’t think you understand the ISA,” Lau Shu Shi, a coordinator with the Penang branch of human rights organisation Suaram, retorts.
“Thank you, thank you,” Kamarul replies, and chuckles. “Suzy (sic) ini bahaya sikit,” he tells the rest of the crowd. “Tapi saya akan cuba jawab soalan dia.” And then he repeats his stand. Still exasperated, Lau hands him an anti-ISA leaflet which he accepts before shaking her hand warmly.
It is 28 May 2009, the sixth day of campaigning in the Penanti by-election. Reporters have been at their wits end trying to get in touch with Kamarul. By now, everybody is resigned to listening to the DiGi caller ringtone loop on Kamarul’s mobile phone at all hours of the day.
And so, when watchdog group Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (Mafrel) confirmed that Kamarul would be taking part in its public debate, the announcement was met with incredulity, not least by The Nut Graph.
But lo and behold, Kamarul does show up at the Bukit Indera Muda Village Security and Development Committee compound, entourage in tow, even though he arrives half an hour after fellow independent candidate Nai Khan Ari Nai Keow. The absent candidates vying for the Penang state seat are Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidate Dr Mansor Othman and ex-PKR-turned-independent Aminah Abdullah.
During the debate, Kamarul repeats his campaign spiel from Bukit Gantang. Indeed, he is even recycling his posters from the Bukit Gantang by-election here in Penanti.
“YB” Kamarul Ramizu Idris“I am trying to advocate faith-based politics and development,” he says. “Through iman (faith), we will be able to reduce corruption and social ills, bit by bit.”
He also clarifies that he is not an “independent” candidate per se, but a party candidate in the making.
“My independent candidacy is a temporary gig only — I am trying to register my multiracial party now (Parti Iman SeMalaysia or PIS),” he says. According to his campaign manifesto, he is not merely seeking to register his own political party, but to set up a “Global Religious Organisation”.
After the debate, reporters crowd around Kamarul — he has, after all, been virtually incommunicado. Kamarul agrees good-naturedly, but not before he shakes hands with the 20-plus members of the crowd — mostly consisting of reporters and photographers anyway.
When he eventually talks to reporters, we lament that he has been virtually impossible to contact.
“I’m so sorry, but it’s because I go deep into the kampungs every day, and I am unable to take calls from the media,” he explains. He says he has already visited voters in eight villages in Penanti and has “four or five” villages left to cover until polling day.
“I am focusing on canvassing for votes, not just seeking glamour from the media,” he stresses.
Kamarul says that his campaign now consists of door-to-door canvassing, and waking up at the crack of dawn to stalk newspaper vendors.
Kamarul’s Bukit Gantang (left) and Penanti campaign flyers
“As an independent candidate, I don’t have the means to have a huge campaign, so I slip my flyers into the newspapers before they are delivered to voters’ doorsteps,” he says. He says he has printed 11,000 flyers to be distributed in the Penanti by-election, and his campaign costs have come up to RM30,000. That’s a lot of money wasted if he loses in Penanti, as he did in Bukit Gantang.
“It’s not a waste,” he says. “The important thing is that my message gets across and that my party is eventually registered.”
“I do understand the ISA”
But how is he going to get his message across if, as an exasperated Lau expressed, he does not even understand issues such as the ISA?
“That’s unfair,” he says. “I do understand the ISA, and I do have a stand. In Bukit Gantang, I also met the families of the 13 ISA detainees who were released and talked to them.
Lau and Kamarul
“But I couldn’t develop my argument tonight, because the topic that the organisers gave me was on what I could offer for the well-being of Penanti as a potential state assemblyperson. And so that was what I prepared myself for.”
Besides, he says, why harp on sensitive issues? One thing is clear though —- Kamarul is not sensitive. He takes on jibes with a smile and a chuckle.
“After all, I am a YB — Yang Bertanding.” But will voters turn Kamarul into “Yang Berhormat” on polling day?
“In Bukit Gantang, I was up against two giants (from Pakatan Rakyat and BN), that’s why I only captured 62 votes. But here, I am up against only one giant (from PKR), so my chances are better,” he says during the debate. The audience listens politely and Kamarul beams at them.