BN’s offer in Permatang Pasir

(The Nut Graph) AT 1am on Wednesday, 19 Aug 2009, Rohaizat Othman finally appears for this interview after a day of campaigning. The Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for the Permatang Pasir by-election looks terribly exhausted as he walks into the sparse media room at the BN by-election headquarters in Permatang Pasir.

The BN command centre is a hastily set up outfit of white air-conditioned tents in a muddy plot of land surrounded by padi fields. One wonders too, if Rohaizat's selection as candidate to stand in this opposition stronghold was just as hasty. Only a week ago, on 10 Aug, the Election Commission announced that nomination of candidates would be on 17 Aug and polling on 25 Aug.

Only two days into the campaign and Rohaizat, 38, was already under siege over his disbarment as a lawyer. Never mind the fact that this poses no legal hindrance to being a candidate. The damage to BN's credibility has already been done.

Introducing himself to voters at a Chinese economy rice stall in Sama Gagah

Rohaizat says he will take no questions on his disbarment for this interview. He had earlier on the Tuesday of 18 Aug fielded questions from reporters while on the campaign trail visiting voters in the Sama Gagah polling district. He put it down to "character assassination by PAS". He did the same on Tuesday night, in an emergency press conference with other Umno leaders to defend his innocence.

The gist of the defence was that Rohaizat's legal firm partner was the one who left the firm with money owed to clients, leaving Rohaizat as the one implicated in the scandal. The Penang Rubber Tappers Cooperative, which lodged a complaint with the Bar Council, withdrew it after reaching a settlement with the law firm. A committee member from the cooperative was also present at the press conference to confirm Rohaizat's innocence.

Whether this adequately clears the issue for voters remains to be seen. "It's a credibility issue which is too late to reverse and it's up to the voters to decide. So long as his standing as a candidate is not illegal, he should just go on campaigning as hard as he can," says political observer Assoc Prof Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff of Rohaizat's situation.

But what does the BN candidate have to offer?

Sizing up Rohaizat

"Kelebihan saya yang tidak ada pada calon PAS ialah, saya mewakili Barisan Nasional yang juga memerintah kerajaan pusat sekarang," he offers.

Right. That much is pretty obvious.

"Dengan itu, saya ada akses atau hubungan direct kepada kerajaan pusat. Saya boleh berhubung dengan menteri-menteri dan ini amat memudahkan dari apa-apa segi; dari segi mendapat biasiswa untuk pelajar-pelajar atau bantuan masuk universiti untuk anak-anak pengundi."

He reiterates Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's promise to make Permatang Pasir the "anak emas" who will get everything he or she desires.

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