Perak the talk of Penanti

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PENANTI, May 24 – The name on the lips of many a voter here is not Dr. Mansor Othman, PKR’s by-election candidate, but Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin.

With Barisan Nasional (BN) not contesting the by-election in this Pakatan Rakyat (PR) stronghold, the minds of many here are focused on the political drama unfolding in the city of Ipoh and the courts in Putrajaya.

“What did Nizar say?” asked one PKR leader almost immediately when he was approached yesterday by The Malaysian Insider at one of the roadside warongs near the nomination centre, eager to hear the words of the ousted Perak mentri besar who turned up earlier as a show of support for Mansor.

“Were you at the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya during the hearing?” he pressed, wanting to know every detail possible about the court’s decision on Friday to declare Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir as the rightful mentri besar.

Later in the evening, at an intimate “ceramah kelompok” or small group talk at Kampung Mengkuang Mak Sulong, villagers and PR supporters were all abuzz about the court’s decision.

“The Perak issue has reached the grassroots,” said one of the 20 or so villagers sitting on the carpeted floor of a small open air community hall set amid tall coconut trees gilded by the golden rays of the setting sun.

“Perak is the top issue,” Mansor, also known as “Prof” by PR supporters, told The Malaysian Insider.

The man, who will be Penang deputy chief minister if he wins, had changed out of the blue baju Melayu that he was wearing during the nomination process in the morning and was now clad in a striped shirt and also resting comfortably on the carpet and sipping warm tea, appearing unfazed by the stifling heat and humidity.

“It (the Perak political debacle) concerns the institutions of the police, the judiciary and democracy,” he said.

“But perhaps it is better for me to talk about serving the people and leave the Perak talk to the big guns,” he finished, referring to the fact that Nizar would be speaking in Penanti later in the night as would other top PR leaders.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim then arrives, more than half an hour late.

The opposition leader puts the villagers at ease by joking that he should have worn a skull cap instead of the songkok, to better blend in.

He then lowers himself onto the carpet, back to the wall, just opposite playing children.

He talks not about Perak but pitches the message to the all Malay crowd, and the need for Penanti Malays to unite behind a strong Malay leader who is able to be “friends with the Chinese.”

“The Chinese in Kuala Lumpur think only of the NEP but they don’t see the conditions in Kampung Mengkuang Mak Sulong,” he says, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

He also warns that while Umno is not contesting, it will not let PR win easily.

When Anwar leaves, the crowd starts dispersing, but likely only to regroup later at the night gatherings to hear what Nizar and other PR leaders have to say about Perak.