FORMER Perak menteri besar Nizar Jamaluddin is upbeat about the next elections as having Amanah and Bersatu will boost the troubled Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in the silver state.
He said the pact, which includes DAP and PKR, stands a good chance to regain the state compared with the 2013 elections because of the strong working relationship among the parties.
“The coalition has an understanding to continue efforts from 2008 (when the then Pakatan Rakyat won the election and formed the state government),” said Nizar.
He admitted that the win in 2008 took them by surprise and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) was unprepared when Barisan Nasional (BN) seized power the following year by having three opposition assemblymen defect to the ruling coalition.
Nizar is hopeful about Bersatu, the latest addition to PH, which is facing a popular Umno menteri besar in Zambry Abdul Kadirand lacks an acceptable candidate to replace him.
Bersatu is led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who also chairs PH, and his leadership has revived and brought order to the pact, which recently submitted its registration papers to the Registrar of Societies.
It was decided at the PH presidential council meeting on Monday night that Bersatu would lead the opposition’s campaign in Perak in GE14.
Perak Bersatu is led by Ahmad Faizal Azumu, a former Umno member in his 30s, whose father was former senator Azumu Tak in the 1980s and who headed the Umno Ipoh division.
Amanah and Bersatu, as Malay-based parties, could strike a balance with the predominantly Chinese DAP which has the most assemblymen in the coalition. This could work in Nizar’s favour as he has long been seen as DAP’s stooge.
The Malaysian Insight caught up with Nizar at the sidelines of the Perak Amanah convention recently. Having left PAS, he is now the Perak Amanah deputy commissioner and the sole Amanah assemblyman in the state, in the Changkat Jering seat.
The 60-year old British-trained engineer revealed PH’s plans to increase the state coffers if it takes back Perak, including renegotiating contracts with federal agencies given state land.
He also talked about what he was able to do in his short-lived tenure as menteri besar, with regard to allocating land to the Orang Asli and helping private schools, which he said received little media attention outside Perak, and other plans he had when he led the state but was never able to fulfil.
And he detailed the way voters have been moved between constituencies in order to “kill” his political career.
Excerpts of the interview:
TMI: PR won in 2008 but there was a change in government in 2009. In the 2013 general election, there was hope to regain the state but the opposition’s effort was stalled. So what’s the way forward for the next election?
Nizar: In 2008, under PR we did not expect to win because our target was to have a strong opposition. That was our mission in the Perak state assembly. We were not prepared for the victory and Umno took advantage. We were short-lived for 11 months because of unpreparedness. There were a lot of weaknesses at that time.
In 2013, we didn’t get more than the 30 seats needed (the opposition won 28 seats)… 55% of Perak voters voted for PR. We won the popular vote but lost (by) seats due to the first past-the-post system.
Now, with Amanah and Bersatu, the chance for us to win in GE14 is bigger.
Firstly, there is an understanding in PH to continue the efforts from 2008. Second, we also have Bersatu with us now and thirdly, there are issues that are affecting the Perak and federal governments.
These three factors give us an edge, better than in 2008 to face the 14th general election.
TMI: What are these issues in Perak?
Nizar: A lot of land owned by the government has been given to Menteri Besar Incorporated (MB Inc), But MB Inc is not paying the state in terms of premium, tax and land value. So the state government does not get any revenue because the land is parked under MB Inc.
Had it been us, we would have had an open tender. The highest bidder will get the land, which is prime land in the middle of the town. We have also asked in the state assembly last year, how much land had the government given to MB Inc. There was no reply.
In Kampar, there were two factories that closed down and affected 500 workers. During my 11 months as menteri besar, we were able to attract foreign investment worth about RM3 billion. Some local investors also came back to Perak because we have less red tape. Decision-making was prompt and they did not have to wait for months or years.
We believe if we take over and can increase and expand the pull factor, not only Perakians will come back to Perak but foreign investors also.
Perak has lots of sources of wealth. We have large number of rivers that we can sell the water to Selangor and Penang. That has never been capitalised. During my time, I discussed that with Selangor and Penang.
There is still a lot of tin here. The deposits under Batu Gajah, Gopeng, Tapah and Tanjung Tualang are huge but the government does not want to invest for operators to harvest the tin under these four towns. Otherwise it can be a rich source of income and job opportunities.
With the latest technology from China and Australia, you can harvest the tin without even affecting the town. It is a matter of time when the price of tin will be up again.
Many government agencies at the federal level have acquired big tracts of land from the state government. Since the federal government is BN, and the state government is also BN, therefore they can “kawtim” (settle between both sides).
For example, Felcra was given 30,000ha in Hulu Perak. They have tilled that land for almost 40 years and the state government has not enjoyed anything from that land given to Felcra.
The new PH government will review the agreements that were signed between the BN federal and state governments. We have calculated based on the six to seven agencies (with land in Perak), that the minimum revenue is about RM200 million annually.
TMI: The Orang Asli remember that the PR government gave them land titles during the 11 months it was the state government. Can you tell us more about it?
Nizar: We set up a department for Orang Asli which did not exist under BN. When we approved the land under Perak Land Rules, it became native land. We give it to them because it is their right. But we limit the size.
Like the Temiar area which had 100 homes, we divide the land equally. There is no premium to the land but the land title is under the community and not individual. And they cannot change the ownership of the land without the consent of the state government.
This policy does not just apply to the Orang Asli. I had approved 1,000ha of land to the private secondary schools. It has never been done before. I was accused by Umno of being a stooge to DAP and the Chinese community as a result.
Perak has the largest number of private Chinese schools. Every time there is an election, the government will give them some money. When they came to see me, I said this will not work in the long term.
I told the nine private Chinese schools to form a company and I gave them 1,000ha where they can work on it and sell the produce for income. They transformed the land into a palm oil plantation and enjoy income from there.
Similarly, I also gave 1,000ha land to the private religious schools. There were 26 schools and they formed a cooperation to manage the land which has also been turned into a palm oil plantation.
TMI: Even in 2008, you were already depicted as being dominated by DAP. That perception hasn’t gone away.
Nizar: Umno capitalised on that to demonise me so much so that they say Nizar is the DAP’s puppet. In terms of the number of seats contested in 2013, PAS stood in 22 seats but won five. DAP contested 18 and won all. There is nothing you can do when you contested the most seats but only won five. You cannot stop the perception. The have 18. When you take a photo, I have only five (PAS assemblymen).
In the state assembly, I asked whether Umno assemblymen can identify a single issue where I was subservient to DAP’s demands. Under BN there were many roads named after BN leaders. Can they identify where in my 11 months I have named a road for DAP leaders? They could not name one.
If I spend my time trying to remove this perception, I won’t be doing else anything. And I can’t remove it because whenever I meet press, those are the numbers. I can only counter them with my arguments and hopefully that will reduce the perception bit by bit.
It was what helped Umno win the state in 2013 – the talk that for 11 months Nizar was in power, DAP was actually the government. That was the issue they brought to the villagers. (They said) although Nizar is Malay, but the government is Chinese. The villagers want a Malay government. Doesn’t matter if it is a corrupt one.
Prime Minister Najib Razak is still playing the same game at the federal level. In 2013, people bought into the Chinese or Malay government issue. There were no issues like 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) or the goods and services tax (GST). (But now) If Umno is still going to this (racial) issue, the Malays are not going to buy into it. The scenario has changed.
TMI: You keep changing the seat you contest in every election. Why do you do so?
Nizar: They want to kill my political career. The first time I won (in 2008) was in Pasir Panjang, which was MIC’s traditional seat. A few of the PAS areas there gave 800 votes.
In the 2013 elections, these 800 voters were shifted to Setiawan, which is next to Pasir Panjang. Ngeh Koo Ham is the assemblyman for Setiawan. He won with an 11,000, including the 800 votes. It is ok to let Ngeh win big just to kill me.
They sent 3,000 voters from Kg Gajah which is an Umno stronghold, and sent them to Pasir Panjang. If I had stayed put, I would have died. (He stood in Changkat Jering instead in 2013.)
They are doing the same now to Changkat Jering. They have developed a housing area of 500 units. The people are given the houses with cheap rental on the condition that they vote for BN. If one house has five people, there will be 2,500 voters. They have also removed 9,000 Chinese voters (from Changkat Jering) to Aulong. It is a DAP seat with 7,000 majority. So let them have bigger majority in Aulong and kill Nizar.
So I have to look for greener and less anticipated areas. It so happens that I live in Sg Rapat. Sg Rapat has 35% Chinese voters who are frustrated with PAS and Umno. That will go solidly to Amanah. The 60% Malay voters have been split into three. I stand a better chance there.
Furthermore, if it is going to be three-cornered fight between PAS, BN and Amanah, PAS will not enjoy votes from the non-Malays. The split in Malay votes has given me the advantage. The element of “winnability” exists in Sg Rapat.