My candidate, your problem

More damning is his association with Abdullah, his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and the former mentri besar, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, who is also closely linked with the Prime Minister.

Liew Chin Tong, The Malaysian Insider

Whenever the US Fed and Treasury officials were facing financial crises, they tended to tell their counterparts from Europe and beyond that the dollar was “our currency, your problem”.

For the current Kuala Terengganu parliamentary by-election campaign, if I am allowed to speculate about what is in the minds of Umno’s No. 1 and No. 2, I can hear Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi telling his deputy and successor Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak that Datuk Wan Ahmad Farid Salleh is “my candidate, your problem”.

Most observers agree that Wan Farid is a problem for Barisan Nasional. Despite being the chairman of Kuala Terengganu Umno division, this is the first time Wan Farid is contesting.

Before the March 8 general election last year, he was the political secretary to Abdullah in the latter’s capacity as Home Minister. Wan Farid was later appointed a senator – a non-elected position – until last week when he resigned to contest in the by-election.

Wan Farid comes from a well-to-do family and previously ran a successful legal practice. Such a resume from any Malay politician usually draws admiration.

But in his case, Kuala Terengganu folk talk about him as if he is “too big time for a small town”. This was what I heard a lot during some coffee shop chats I had with the locals in the constituency last week.

More damning is his association with Abdullah, his son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin and the former mentri besar, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, who is also closely linked with the Prime Minister.

All these patrons were powerful and, before the 2008 general election, it must have been great to be associated with them.

The only problem now is, it’s 2009 and a leader such as Idris is now remembered as the big spender of Terengganu’s oil wealth on “white elephant” projects.

The Crystal Mosque – some say it cost the taxpayers RM50 million while others claim RM250 million – can be seen by everyone crossing the main bridge linking two sides of the Terengganu river but it rarely attracts visitors. It is so near for the eyes to see but too far and troublesome for ordinary folks to take a boat ride to the island for prayers.

While some opposition leaders claim the Islamic Civilisation Centre which houses the Crystal Mosque and 21 replica mosques representing, among others, Baitul Maqdis’ Al-Aqsa, Medina’s Prophet mosque and Spain’s Al-Hambra, costs RM500 million, the official government figure puts it at RM249.3 million.

Whatever the true figure is, to many people, it’s a lot of money for a state that is still considered poor.

The multi-million ringgit annual Monsoon Cup event also draws flak from locals as very little economic benefits spill over to them.

Here is where Wan Farid is particularly vulnerable. His brother Datuk Wan Hisham is not only the man behind the elitist event but also the politician who defeated the late Datuk Razali Ismail in the Umno divisional election for the position of deputy chairman.

Razali was well liked by most in the constituency, partly because of his mild demeanour, which contrasted sharply with Wan Farid, whom many consider arrogant. It might be just his serious facial expression. But politics is about perception.

Razali was a teacher who worked his way up the power ladder from humble beginnings. His tenure as State Education Director and later as Chairman of the Higher Education Fund endeared him to many students and teachers.

In the old world of Umno, apart from a handful of aristocrats, the party was essentially led by teachers and Razali was probably one of the very last of that breed.

The capital of Terengganu, like other state capitals, is home to many civil servants and teachers. In the old days, the spouse of a civil servant was likely a teacher if she was in the workforce.

The experience of the 2008 election has shown that the influence of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was mainly among Malay civil servants, teachers and business people in the urban centres.

Kuala Terengganu, the most urban of all seats in Terengganu, is receptive to Mahathir’s ideas, especially when he speaks like an anti-establishment figure.

Clearly for Dr Mahathir and a host of other Malays, including some Umno members, Wan Farid is not the right candidate for the by-election.

Najib now has the unenviable task of selling an unmarketable product at hand. The outcome will be seen as a referendum on Najib and defeat will not augur well for Najib’s premiership.

Perhaps someone within Barisan hopes to engineer a BN defeat to derail Najib’s path to the top.