PANDAN, Nov 6 — Returning to his first and only constituency, Pakatan Harapan (PH) hopeful Rafizi Ramli launched his comeback campaign for the federal seat with something simple, banana fritters, and something grand: A chance to put Malaysia back on track.
Having served as Pandan MP for just a single term from 2013 to 2018, Rafizi was prevented from seeking re-election due to an undischarged Official Secrets Act (OSA) conviction from one his signature exposés, which landed him with a 30-month prison sentence.
While he was eventually acquitted, it came too late for him to contest the 14th general election that, coupled with a failed challenge against Datuk Seri Azmin Ali for the PKR deputy presidency at the time, led to Rafizi withdrawing from active politics.
Now, the outspoken national leader with a whistleblower’s image is back and has set his sights on regaining the seat he was forced to give up due to his tendency for legally risky revelations.
But what was meant to be an easy return has hit an unexpected snag. Not only must Rafizi face a scrum for the seat, among them a former political heavyweight and the Pandan MP immediately before him: Ex-MCA president Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat.
A former transport minister, Ong was a four-term MP for Ampang Jaya from 1990 until 2004, before the constituency was abolished and replaced with Pandan, which he went on to win twice more.
Still, Rafizi believes he is up to the challenge.
“I am not a stranger here. I mean my experience in Pandan; I started in Pandan in 2011, so it’s very unique because it’s very urban but has a very working class feel, people here are humble so long as you are not arrogant with them.
“If you ask me how it feels, it feels good to be back because this is where I started politically.
“I do feel I belong here,” Rafizi told Malay Mail after an evening walkabout at the iconic Mid Point shopping centre in Pandan Indah following nomination for the 15th general election yesterday.
It was no coincidence that Rafizi chose the spot for his first “official” campaign walkabout as the shopping centre is near the main commercial thoroughfare of Pandan Indah.
There, Rafizi donned an apron and, with the assistance of his campaigners, began frying up bananas coated in batter, while entertaining photo requests from a crowd that had gathered near the makeshift kitchen set up in front of the mall entrance.
The ‘pisang goreng’ effect
Banana fritters, fondly known as pisang goreng in Malay, are one of Malaysia’s most iconic snacks and street food. So, it was small wonder why Rafizi chose it for as a gimmick to reconnect with Pandan residents.
“Over conversation, they tell you their hope, their wish, their problems. So, it’s a two-way communication rather than just having ceramahs all day,” he said of his pisang goreng and even burger giveaways in strategic locations as an effective campaign strategy.
Speaking highly of Pandan constituents, Rafizi said he felt extremely lucky to have voters who were understanding and supportive of his circumstances, in which he had to balance his duties as a senior PKR leader and service as an MP.
“I tried my best to be around. I think I did right last time around, it’s something of a familiarity between voters and myself.
“As far as voters are concerned, they just want to see you. They don’t like protocols, I myself hate protocols. If I am a voter, I just want to go and see a very approachable guy (candidate),” he said.
PKR deputy president Pandan Rafizi Ramli addresses attendees at the Ayuh Malaysia, Kita Boleh rally in Pandan on November 5, 2022. — Picture by Kenneth Tee
Later on, Rafizi’s first day of campaigning culminated in an Ayuh Malaysia, Kita Boleh (Come on, Malaysia; we can) mass rally, which people of various ethnicities attended at the Padang Perbandaran MPAJ, Pandan Indah.
Though the crowd did not reach the level of those from the 2018 general election when PH unexpectedly won, there were still hundreds gathered around the makeshift stage set up in the middle of the football field.
As he arrived, Rafizi was immediately swarmed by photo requests from those present, suggesting that some of the familiarity that helped him get elected nearly a decade ago remained intact.
But for good measure, Rafizi did not come alone, bringing with him a supporting PKR cast who helped fire up the crowd for him.
Among them were fellow GE15 candidates from PKR such as Fahmi Fadzil, Rodziah Ismail, K Saraswathy and Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari, who each took turns to stump for Rafizi during the ceramah.
“Are you ready for Rafizi Ramli?” the emcee exclaimed, triggering loud cheers from the crowd as Rafizi took the stage.
On stage, Rafizi expressed his gratitude to Pandan constituents for their unwavering faith in him and his ongoing struggle to fight corruption in Malaysia.
“So, thank you very much, I am back and it feels like home!” he said in his introduction to more cheers from the crowd.
In his hour-long speech, Rafizi played up his anti-corruption credentials, before he began a tirade denouncing the so-called “Sheraton Move” that brought down the PH government in 2020, to be replaced with allegedly persistent corruption within BN and Perikatan Nasional.
Rafizi then implored voters to “do the right thing” by giving the mandate to PH again, as they had done in May 2018.
“This time, I want you to believe me, we are on the right track,” he said as concluded his ceramah.
With nomination concluded yesterday, all eyes will be on the campaign until polling day on November 19.
Aside from Parti Warisan’s Ong, Rafizi will face also face Gerakan Tanah Air’s Nadia Hanafiah (Parti Pejuang Tanah Air), Barisan Nasional’s Datuk Leong Kok Wee (MCA) and Perikatan Nasional’s Muhammad Rafique Zubir Albakri (PAS).
In 2013, Rafizi won against Gary Lim Chin Yee — the candidate who replaced Ong — in a three-cornered fight with a 26,729-vote majority.
After he was forced to sit out the 2018 general election, PKR sent in Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail who doubled the party’s majority in a five-cornered fight, beating Leong by a 52,543 majority.