Tengku Zafrul identified as ‘poster boy’

Joceline Tan, The Star

TENGKU Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Aziz has been a heated topic of conversation among Umno circles in Selangor.

Some view him as another one of those parachute candidates, others think he could be an asset while there are those who are dead against him.

Speculation is rife that he will be contesting the general election in Selangor on an Umno ticket.

Imported candidates are hardly new in Umno so why the buzz over him?

Well, he has also been identified as the poster boy for Barisan Nasional in Selangor in the general election.

He is being considered as the Opposition coalition’s menteri besar candidate although the chance of Barisan taking back Selangor at this point in time is like predicting snow falling over the Klang Valley.

However, said former Kapar Umno chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah: “Tengku Zafrul has the complete package”.

He has name recognition, his banking and corporate background will sit well in a state like Selangor and his moderate image will appeal to Selangor’s cafe society.

And there is the royal connection which still has some usefulness.

The Finance Minister’s appearance in Selangor politics has caught many by surprise because he was thought to be eyeing the Kuala Pilah seat in Negeri Sembilan where his mother has deep roots.

It is learnt that Selangor Umno chief Tan Sri Noh Omar had initially pin-pointed Umno Youth deputy chief Shahril Hamdan as a potential poster boy.

“Noh was impressed after hearing Shahril speak during our Umno retreats,” said Faizal, who was Noh’s former political secretary.

But Shahril, who lost in Kuala Langat in the general election, had other ideas about where he is heading and that was how Tengku Zafrul came into the picture.

Noh approached Tengku Zafrul several months ago about coming to Selangor and all options are on the table at this point in time.

Tengku Zafrul has since been associated with Kuala Selangor in the Malay hinterland where his late grandfather is buried.

The move ruffled feathers in Kuala Selangor where the division chief Datuk Jahaya Ibrahim has ordered a boycott of what he regards as the proverbial “bidan terjun,” a sudden decision forced on the division.

Moreover, Tengku Zafrul has been more closely associated with Bersatu and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin than with Umno in recent years.

Rightly or wrongly, some blamed him for damaging leaks at critical points during the Melaka and Johor elections that fell like durians into the laps of the Opposition.

A well-placed source said Tengku Zafrul resigned several years ago as an Umno member in Lembah Pantai where his younger brother is the deputy chief and their uncle Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin is the division head.

The reason for quitting is not known but some claimed it was related to the 1MDB scandal.

Tengku Zafrul, however, did not cut himself off from Umno.

His political secretary is Datuk Rizam Ismail, who is Selangor Umno Youth chief and Sungai Air Tawar assemblyman.

“I am all for people like Zafrul coming in because they bring added value but he may need to do more groundwork.

“You know the Umno culture – ketuk pintu, bagi salam (knock on the door and call out greetings). You can’t just barge into someone’s house,” said Sungai Buloh Umno deputy chief Datuk Harrison Hassan.

Tengku Zafrul also needs to drop the air of entitlement associated with those of his social status. Ordinary folk are no longer impressed with this sort of privilege and he needs to come down to earth and bring out his people skills

Noh, who is Entrepreneur Development Minister, has a fierce reputation as a warlord but he is seriously scouting for new faces and talent as he approaches the sunset of his career.

For instance, Noh hand-picked Rizam, who is only 41, as the state opposition leader.

“Noh knows he needs to win the perception war, to show that we have fresh and qualified people,” said Faizal.

Noh has also continued to defend ties between PAS and Umno in Selangor.

“Umno knows that many seats in Selangor can be won only if Umno and PAS are together,” said Selangor PAS secretary Roslan Shahir.

Roslan and Noh have put up a big show of solidarity in Selangor throughout the cold war between their party leaders.

On Monday, state PAS commissioner Datuk Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi accompanied Noh to the airport to send off Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to Japan.

“Noh is sincere in wanting to work with us,” said Roslan.

For instance, when a tainted former PKR minister went around claiming to be the candidate for Kuala Langat, Noh immediately said that PAS is more qualified for the seat.

There is also a marked softening among the top leaders despite insults and name-calling like “itik patah kaki” (duck with a broken leg) and “talam dua muka” (two-faced).

Noh has often been overlooked in Umno, eclipsed by more contemporary leaders and regarded as old-school and over the hill.

However, beneath that gruff and unvarnished exterior is a mind ticking away to come up with a menu and strategy to present to the electorate.

“Selangor is the ultimate battleground. Noh wants to give it a good fight,” said Faizal.