It is going to be its toughest task yet, but Pakatan Rakyat has no choice but to find effective ways to shore up eroding support among the Malay electorate in Perak.
The coalition has found that 7-8 percent of rural Malay voters have swung their support to arch-rivals Barisan Nasional (BN) since the 2008 general election.
Ousted Perak menteri besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin now thinks that turning to social networking site Facebook could help turn the tide.
Excerpts of the interview follow. The content has been edited for language and brevity.
Malaysiakini: How is Pakatan’s Bubar DUN (Dissolve the State Assembly) coming along? It seems that the momentum is being lost.
Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin: Right after the power grab in Perak, we took several measures to return people power to Pakatan. Several measures were undertaken by our information department to tell the people that what happened was undemocratic, unparliamentary and against the constitution. That was our political move.
We then took legal action to inform the public that their rights had been snatched by BN. Ever since last February, we have never wavered from the objective of keeping them informed.
When Pakatan held a state legislative assembly under a tree or in a hotel, it was with the prime objective of (reinforcing) that the government had been undemocratically grabbed by BN.
I think we can proudly say that the support has been enormous and continuous from urban and the suburban areas. Our only problem has been in penetrating remote village areas. This is because the alternative media has not been able to challenge the traditional media like Utusan Malaysia and other newspapers.
So we reverted to trying to maintain the status quo…but unfortunately, BN has menggula-gulakan (given sweeteners) to village folk. During festive seasons, BN also made a concerted effort to meet the people in remote areas by giving a lot of goodies.
We have reverted to trying to retain support from these areas. We want to make Malay voters realise that the power grab was unconstitutional and, from the Islamic viewpoint, against the Syariah.
How effective has the effort been to date?
Among village folk, it is not very effective because of Umno propaganda in relation to two issues that are close to the Malay heart. One is that ‘Perak Pakatan has been giving face to the Chinese and has become a stooge of (Chinese -majority) DAP’.
The second issue is that I had committed treason with regard to the palace, to the sultan. No sensible Malay must ever be involved in such matters. These two issues are closely related to Malay interests…these are more or less cardinal sins. I have not been able to penetrate their mindset to find a breakthrough.
But we have managed to gain access to the people via the alternative media. We know that many Malays have sons and daughters studying either in higher institutions or colleges whom we have made an effort to approach. We hope they have been able to convince their parents.
We got something out of this but not very much. We have also tried to defuse BN propaganda by going to mosques and suraus because those are the places that many Malay folk frequent.
How did you approach their children?
We used a couple of mechanisms. One was to go through the village head who knows to a large extent where the children or relatives of people are working or studying.
We tried to get their handphone numbers for text-messages and email addresses to ‘Facebook’ them…and the feedback on my personal Facebook account has been tremendous and encouraging. We have created fan clubs and the youth are responding to this.
Issues that PAS is a DAP ‘stooge’ and about treason are old ones that were played up by BN during the Bukit Gantang by-election last April. Do you think support for Pakatan deteriorated after that?
No I don’t think so. As far as Bukit Gantang is concerned, I don’t see it as an election per se because it happened soon after the power grab. So I would interpret Bukit Gantang as a referendum by the people of Perak to show their abhorrence of what happened.
To say that support deteriorated after that is not true. It deteriorated after several months because BN then maximised the opportunities and resources available to it.
And the situation was aggravated by disagreement and bickering in Pakatan which were blown out of proportion - such as the purported ‘unity government’ between PAS and Umno, and issues in Kedah and Kelantan.
But there was not so much bickering in Perak Pakatan...
People saw the problems as reflective of Pakatan as a whole. We were able to rebut the issues and counter that there was evidence to suggest that Umno could equally be regarded as a stooge of MCA or the Chinese - and that Umno had committed treason with regard to royalty.
People seem to have moved on since the power grab. At first they were eager in calling for dissolution of the state assembly. Now they say ‘wait for the next general election’ to take back the Perak government.
This is because they are more or less contented. In their minds they think, ‘Life must go on, business must go on but we will not forget the general election’. That’s what most people have been telling me, ‘Let’s wait for the 13th general election, you wait and see, we will never forget’.
Support for Pakatan has also been affected because Umno has been inciting fear over the last nine months, based on racist sentiments. They say, ‘If you still allow Pakatan to maintain and administer Perak, then you will see a Chinese government because the majority of them are Chinese’.
That is their argument and they have been playing up the issue for the last 10 months, and the repeat it in Malay papers. If you analyse Utusan Malaysia or other papers over that period, without a doubt, they have been playing up those issues. But I have confidence that disseminating information will more or less defuse such claims.
They are now playing up the use of ‘Allah’, but PAS has been able to transcend the racist element. We almost immediately made an official statement saying ‘No, we are not going to be with Umno’ in the abuse of an issue relevant to Malays and Islam. Our statement was well received by all Malaysians, as well as Pakatan parties.
Related story: Pakatan losing Malay support in Perak