GE15: Ahmad Faizal insists he’s still in Tambun race

The race for the Tambun parliamentary seat enters into its final lap as Malaysians head to the polls on Saturday.

Incumbent MP, Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu, admits he is trailing Pakatan Harapan’s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in an intense race that could result in a historic outcome either way.

If Ahmad Faizal retains his seat, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia deputy president would be known as the man who “killed” Anwar’s political career, as GE15 has been largely described as the 75-year-old’s last-ditch, going-for-broke attempt to occupy the top seat in Putrajaya.

But if Anwar wins, and his coalition enjoys a bountiful outing, Tambun could be represented by Malaysia’s incoming prime minister.

Popularly known as Peja, Ahmad Faizal made international headlines in 2010 after he and five other Malaysian peace activists on board MV Rachel Corrie – the last of the aid ships of the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla – were detained by Israeli naval forces.

The former Perak menteri besar and the caretaker youth and sports minister took time off his busy campaign schedule to speak to Twentytwo13 about his chances in Tambun and the 15th General Election in Malaysia.

It’s just a few more days before Nov 19. What’s the game plan?

Ahmad Faizal: I’m trailing. I’m being honest. The Malay votes are split. They will contribute the biggest chunk of votes.

You may think Pakatan Harapan (PH) is popular, but that isn’t entirely the case. We are not far behind. The gap isn’t that big. The young have decided, but they are not saying it out loud. Nationwide, PH will not be able to secure a simple majority, even with seats from Sabah and Sarawak.

We just need to step up our game. Meet more people, talk to them and remind them who reached out and helped them, especially at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some voters in Tambun seek change. Others in Tambun remember you for your Covid-19 aid.

Ahmad Faizal: Yes, people remember my team for what we did at the start, and at the height of Covid-19. There was one incident that really made my day. An old schoolmate of mine sent me a picture of his daughter eating a cream bun and said “You sent this bread over and my daughter enjoyed it.” It’s not that that bun was super delicious, but when the lockdown was imposed (to curb the spread of the coronavirus in 2020), a simple cream bun became a luxury item.
We tend to take things for granted, only to realise that people appreciate the smallest things, and will remember them.

When the first lockdown was imposed, I went to the Police General Forces barracks and there, some of the housewives said that it was difficult for them to get groceries. Their husbands were out working, they had no one to care for their children at home, and the regulation then was that only one person from a household could go out to buy basic necessities.

So, I got my team to secure two tonnes of fish and we sent them over to the barracks. The recipients were overjoyed. I then asked my team, ‘Why can’t we do the same with chicken and at other locations?’ As we were securing chickens, my friends told me that farmers were facing problems pushing off their produce and that vegetables were being left to rot. So, I requested for the SADC (Perak State Agricultural Development Corporation) to spare me RM500,000. We bought the vegetables from the farmers. We sent some of them out to the needy, and sold the remaining to those who could afford them. The money raised was then used to buy more products for the poor.

But most people don’t remember you for such work. Instead, they know you as the Curry Mee minister.
(Editor’s note: Ahmad Faizal, who was then the special adviser to former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, hogged the spotlight after a video of him commenting about a bowl of curry noodles made its rounds.)

Ahmad Faizal: The curry mee video was among the best thing I’ve ever done. And I’ll tell you why. An officer of mine told me that her friend lost her job and that she wanted to sell curry mee. She packed some noodles for me and said she would consider setting up a stall if it was good enough. Those who know me know I’m a huge curry mee fan, and the officer took a video of me commenting about her dish. It wasn’t a promotional video, I didn’t mention any names or phone numbers. Go watch the video again.

Anyway, I gave my views and the video was sent to the woman. She was encouraged by the feedback and sent the video to her family group. The video somehow ended up on social media.

The woman is a mother of three. And when that curry mee video made its rounds, she sold between 300 and 400 packets of curry mee daily. She is able to care for her three boys, to put food on the table. So it’s okay if people call me Curry Mee Minister. I’ve helped a family.

People in Perak, in Tambun … they know Peja is not a joke. When I was the menteri besar, I used to have meetings with officers at all levels and the legal team over land matters. I was hungry to know more, to learn more, and had them feeding me with information. I wanted more people to own homes in the state. It’s baffling that my uncle, a postman who went door to door on his bicycle delivering letters, could buy a home decades ago, but my nephew, who is a doctor and his wife, a teacher, can’t seem to afford a home.

What happened along the way? Among our biggest problems are abuse of power and corruption.

But back to your question, my mistake, perhaps, is that I like being me. I’m true to myself. There are those who remember me for my work.

We are bracing for a hung Parliament …

Ahmad Faizal: Serve Umno right. They think they can come back into power and were the ones pushing for a general election to be held during the monsoon season, when we’ve got bigger issues to deal with … we need to brace for a possible recession next year.

Some people have labelled you a traitor …

Ahmad Faizal: As far as I’m concerned, I can work with anyone. The problem is when people are too gung-ho in their approach. You need to win the respect of the various communities. Remember when (DAP’s) Lim Guan Eng issued a statement in Mandarin when he was finance minister? You don’t do things like that.

Some call me a traitor. Yet, the biggest betrayal took place when DAP’s Abdul Aziz Bari went behind my back to oust me as Perak menteri besar in 2020. I stayed within my party (Bersatu). I could have kicked up a big fuss then, but I didn’t. Because it wasn’t about me, it’s about the rakyat.

It’s so important to have a stable government. We have to be quiet. Do you think we are not sakit hati (offended) with Umno (calling for an election now)?

Muhyiddin could have dissolved parliament instead of stepping down last year. But we looked at what’s important for the people. It would have been irresponsible to call for an election.

The facts are there. The Malaysian Meteorological Department has given their advice but they (Umno leaders) didn’t follow it. They think they have the right (to call for GE15).

To us, political stability is important. The economy is bad, the ringgit is sliding. If we didn’t have the lockdowns at the height of Covid-19, many of us wouldn’t be here today. Our death rates would be in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions.

So, Muhyiddin should lead Malaysia then?

Ahmad Fazial: Do you want (Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad) Zahid Hamidi to become prime minister? The race is between Anwar and Muhyiddin. Muhyiddin was cool during the pandemic. He didn’t engage with the public and the media, so people didn’t understand him and his intentions.

(Datuk Seri) Ismail Sabri (Yaakob) appeared on television almost daily when he became PM. Of course his rating will go up.

Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) is a great statesman. People worldwide still respect him. But during his second tour as prime minister, he didn’t have the luxury of dictating his team.

What are Perikatan Nasional’s chances, beyond Tambun?

Ahmad Faizal: It’s a tough fight, but we are surely in the race. As you said earlier, we cannot discount the possibility of a hung parliament.

The problem is, more often than not, those who come into power work in silos. They tend to become territorial. Why is there a sports unit in the Higher Learning Ministry when it should rightfully fall under the Youth and Sports Ministry?

I’ve been with the Youth and Sports Ministry (as youth and sports minister) and we saw some good initiatives like the Hari Sukan Negara, Hari Belia Negara, Fit Malaysia … these were initiatives by my predecessors and can be improved on. Imagine if Hari Sukan Negara is Bulan Sukan Negara (sports month). This will benefit more people and create a bigger impact.

Whenever someone new enters the ministry, he or she will have great ideas, but that is not good enough. The new minister should also oversee past programmes and make them better.