PETALING JAYA: Eyebrows have been raised at Pakatan Harapan’s choice of Zahid Mat Arip to contest against Najib Razak in Pekan while under a taint of a corruption investigation, but he is also viewed as being “daring, vocal and politically savvy”.
Zahid was arrested in August in an investigation into suspected corruption in a hotel purchase by a Felda unit in Kuching, but no charges have been brought against him.
“I think placing Zahid as a candidate opens PH to criticisms of double-standards and it can affect their chances in Pekan,” said political scientist Mohamed Mustafa Ishak of Universiti Utara Malaysia.
In contrast, political analyst Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya said Zahid “is known for being daring, vocal and politically savvy. What is important is that he is more well known and popular among the masses.”
However, Cynthia Gabriel of the C4 anti-corruption group, reiterated that the public should reject candidates linked to corruption cases.
Zahid, a member of PPBM’s Supreme Council, was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in August over the hotel purchase by Felda Investment Corporation in Kuching, which was allegedly over-priced.
He has denied any wrongdoing and said he believed the arrest was a form of persecution.
Mustafa pointed out that opposition politicians had in the past called on leaders accused of corruption to resign “so if they field someone who is linked to an investigation that is ongoing, it won’t reflect well on them.
“Similarly, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng has been named as a candidate and his corruption trial is ongoing.” Lim is on trial for alleged abuse of power in approving a land conversion application by a businesswoman, and another charge relating to the purchase of his bungalow home from her.
Awang Azman said that although Zahid was investigated, he had not been convicted of any crime.
If Zahid is asked not to contest because of the investigation, many other candidates, from other parties, would also not be in contention as election candidates, for the same reason, he said.
Zahid was once a special officer to former Felda chairman Isa Samad, a controversial figure himself, in the light of corruption claims being laid against Felda. Isa was also once detained during MACC’s investigations into alleged corruption in Felda. No charges have been brought against him.
Gabriel said the group had taken the same stand about tainted candidates after speculation about Isa being viewed as a prospective candidate in Negeri Sembilan, where he was once menteri besar.
Zahid is a grandson of the late Ghafar Baba, a former deputy prime minister. He came into prominence after filing a suit seeking to declassify the Auditor-General’s Report on 1MDB. However, the action was dismissed.
Pakatan Harapan had wanted to field Kamarul Ariffin Mohd Shahar to challenge Najib, but he said he had been asked by Mahathir to make way for Zahid.
Pekan is the home constituency of Najib Razak, who has been the MP there since 1976 after succeeding his father, second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak. He was re-elected with a majority of 35,613 votes in 2013 against PKR’s Mohd Fariz Abd Talib, who polled 15,665 votes.
Click here to get live updates throughout the GE14 season