Controversial former law professor Abdul Aziz Bari is set to make his debut in Sabak Bernam in the 13th general election.
The 54-year-old constitutional expert and former International Islamic University (UIA) lecturer told FMT that he has been busy meeting constituents in Sabak Bernam, his hometown, for the past three months.
“Many times, previously, I was offered to contest by DAP, PAS, PKR, in 1999 and in 2007 also, but I never thought I was ready or suitable then,” said Abdul Aziz in an interview with FMT recently.
“But now I feel the time is right. I have retired from a cosy job that was difficult to leave, and since I was immediately offered to stand as a candidate, I just want to contribute. I am now willing to serve.
“There is now no reason for me not to join in the fray; the situation was such that I couldn’t say no,” he added.
Abdul Aziz said he was unsure why he was chosen but surmised that perhaps he was regarded as a suitable candidate because of his standing in the community.
However, he was quick to add: “Whether I am accepted or not, that’s for the constituents to decide.”
Late last year, Abdul Aziz courted controversy when he commented on the Selangor Sultan’s decree regarding the alleged proselytisation of Muslims by Christians.
His comments landed him a suspension, as well as a show-cause letter, from his university and he was also hauled up by the police in an investigation.
The university’s suspension was later lifted following several protests in support for the academic but Abdul Aziz later chose to retire.
Back in hometown
In the past, the professor was also issued a show-cause letter by his university over a statement likening Malaysia to Zimbabwe; and another when he accepted an appointment by the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat government over the appointment of its new state secretary.
Currently, the Malay-majority Sabak Bernam seat is held by Abdul Rahman Bakri, who was recently sentenced to six years’ jail and fined RM400,000 after being found guilty of making false claims four years ago when he was the Sungai Tawar assemblyman.
In 2008, Abdul Rahman beat PKR candidate Badrulamin Bahron by a majority of 1,335 votes.
Earlier in 2004, Mat Yasir Ikhsan from Umno beat Badrulamin by 5,348 votes.
Sabak Bernam consists of about 31,381 voters, according to the last count in 2008. The racial breakdown is about 80% Malays, 14% Chinese, 5% Indians and others.
“I’m back in my hometown and I’ve been organising forums, meeting people, conducting ceramahs. I don’t really give long talks.
“What’s important for me now is meeting people door to door… delivering gifts and goodies to the poor, single mothers and orphans, working with the state government to find anyone whose plight was overlooked,” said Abdul Aziz, who admitted that politics was tiring, time-consuming and taxing.
Abdul Aziz also admitted that the Sabak Bernam seat is, theoretically, a hard seat to win, but he expressed optimism.
“On paper, it is [a seat] quite difficult to win. There are about 36,600 registered voters according to the latest statistics and there are more Malays now than previously,” he said.
Abdul Aziz said that in the past, factors such as young voters who did not return, and the candidate being fielded, contributed to the losses.
“We studied each and every voting area and we looked at the areas we lost badly and we put those on top of the list.
“It came down to one thing: your presence was not felt. Now it’s probably easier with the Selangor machinery at my back; there are certain things we can deliver better than in 2008,” he said.
Abdul Aziz said that the various Selangor government initiatives such as free water, funds for children and the old and Jom shopping programmes, would also help tremendously this time around.
“So far, our visits and campaigning have been quite encouraging. I hope that the response would translate into votes. The party is very confident and I am encouraged,” he said.
“With the state government programme, and the current national mood, I think we are quite confident that this time around we can turn the table against them [BN].
“We can see now that the BN is pretty defensive and not sure if they can stand a good chance.
“The NFCorp [National Feedlot Corporation] issue, the PTPTN [study loan] issue, the Anything But Umno movement – it is all working for us.
“We are telling them [the voters]: look at what we’ve done at the state level, why don’t you give us a chance at being government at the federal level?” he said.
Abdul Aziz also said that it seems that BN is having difficulties choosing a candidate as he has seen no indication of a BN candidate there.
“It is pretty hard for Umno to lure candidates from the civil service, outside its own party circle these days,” he said.
Poor media access
However, Abdul Aziz said that a problem for him is access to media, which is a “major negative factor” for his campaign.
“Many still have no access to Internet, which is a shame given that Selangor is the most developed state in the country.
“This is a major negative factor for us because we have to deal with the propaganda, and outright lies perpetrated by those like Utusan Malaysia, TV3 and RTM,” he said.
Asked about his immediate plans for his constituency, Abdul Aziz said that although he supported Pakatan’s Buku Jingga and that most of the items listed there are good enough, he was also working on a separate manifesto for Sabak Bernam.
“Things like PTPTN are not there in the policy book. We will have a separate manifesto for Sabak Bernam as some problems are unique to this constituency; this [manifesto] is still a work-in-progress,” he said.