JOCELINE TAN: A TWEET GONE WRONG

Joceline Tan The Star 17 June 2012 A tweet gone wrong

Insight
By JOCELINE TAN

 

Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin was once a glittering star in PAS but his run-in with the Johor Sultan is the latest in a string of controversies that has affected his political image.

DATUK Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin is still reeling from the storm whipped up by no less than himself. The political fallout from the former Perak Mentri Besar’s tweet about the exclusive WWW 1 vehicle registration number has been greater than he could have imagined.

The Sultan of Johor openly rebuked him on Thursday at the opening of the Johor Legislative Assembly. The royals rarely speak in a direct fashion but the Sultan did not hold his punches this time and used terms like “ignorant” and “shallow-minded” to describe the politician and implied that Nizar has “forgotten Malay customs”.

It was quite a blow to Nizar. The once glittering star in PAS clearly bit off more than he could chew when he tweeted that the RM520,000 bid for what is now the most famous number plate in the country could have been spent on poor Malays and low-cost housing. It was a cynical remark made on the spur of a moment but it was impudent and has damaged him and also compromised the big plans that his party has in Johor in the general election.

Royal rebuke: The Sultan of Johor was visibly overwhelmed by the show of loyalty by his subjects over the WWW 1 issue. With him at the rally were (from his right) royal consort Raja Zarith Sofiah, Tunku Mahkota Tunku Ismail and Tunku Temenggong Johor Tunku Idris. — ABDUL RAHMAN EMBONG/The Star

It was what Johor Baru MP Tan Sri Shahrir Samad called a “populist remark” gone seriously wrong.

“It’s a miscalculation on Nizar’s part; it shows immaturity,” added a Johor civil servant.

PAS and its Pakatan Rakyat partners have been on the offensive in Johor after declaring it their frontline state. But they are now sort of squeezed, reluctant to defend Nizar’s tweet, yet unable to condemn it. Nizar’s political timing could not have been more off the mark.

Despite the uproar, the party’s Johor star and vice-president Salahuddin Ayub insisted it was not a big issue in the State.

“From the bottom of my heart, it is not a big matter. People are wise enough to judge,” said Salahuddin.

Pakatan politicians have tried to paint the massive pro-Sultan rally on Sunday as orchestrated by Umno Youth. There is no denying that Umno has gone to town on the issue but as journalists at the event noted, it was not only the size of the crowd but the mood that was an indication that this issue is bigger than what PAS politicians are saying.

Nizar: His hopes of an audience with Johor Sultan in ashes.

Even the Tuanku who is known for his macho style – he rides big bikes, has driven a train and flies planes – seemed overwhelmed by the show of loyalty and could been seen wiping away tears as the doa was recited.

“The thing is that this tweet came from an ex-MB. People are saying that if Salahuddin becomes MB (of Johor), what are we to expect,” said a Malay journalist who was at the site.

There are actually many people out there who agree that half a million ringgit seems like an awful lot of money to spend on a car number. But when the remark comes from Nizar, it takes on a whole different meaning because, as everyone knows, he has some history with the Perak palace following the fall of the Pakatan government in Perak.

Besides, said Shahrir, many Johoreans think that Nizar is being presumptuous about the Johor palace.

“He does not understand Johor because PAS has never had a real footing here. He should not assume the Sultan does not do charity just because the palace does not advertise their charity work. But Johoreans know, hence, the anger directed at Nizar,” said Shahrir.

The Johor royal family is very wealthy and it is well known in Johor that the Sultan’s late father contributed RM1mil of his personal funds for his subjects after the big Johor floods. The late monarch also donated RM1mil – his own funds again – to relief work in Acheh after the Christmas Day tsunami.

Hanafiah: Told Nizar to stop telling lies at PAS ceramah.

The WWW 1 issue will probably blow on for a while more before it fades away. But Nizar, who is Bukit Gantang MP and Pasir Panjang assemblyman, ought to be more calculated in his words and action because he is gaining a reputation as a loose cannon.

Bizarre behaviour

In fact, his behaviour has at times been bizarre as Umno politician Hanafiah Man found out when speaking at a ceramah in a village near Kampar last month. Hanafiah is one of those younger, tech-savvy politicians who illustrates his ceramah outings with video clips and photographs.

That night he was lambasting Nizar when Nizar suddenly walked in from behind him, wearing a broad smile and waving to the audience. He even showed the thumbs up, shook hands with the other speakers and sat down next to Kampar Umno chief Datuk Radzi Manan.

Hanafiah, a former journalist, recognised the moment for what it was, tapped on his laptop and soon a video of Nizar accusing Dr Zambry of dabbling in the supernatural was playing on the projector screen.

“Dr Zambry has denied and condemned the accusations but you can see in the video that this man sitting here swore in the name of God that Dr Zambry has not denied the supernatural practices. He even claimed that the Fatwa Council agreed with him until Dr Zambry produced the minutes of the Fatwa Council meeting and proved it was a big lie,” said Hanafiah.

At this point, Nizar, still smiling away, stood up to go. He walked over to Hanafiah, whispered in his ear and left.

By then, Hanafiah was on a roll and he told the audience: “Just now, Datuk Seri Nizar asked me when we will fix a debate for him and Datuk Zambry. I just want to say that after seeing his standard of debate in the State Assembly, there is no need. Just my standard is enough, no need to debate Datuk Zambry.”

The gatecrashing incident was the talk of political circles in Perak. Nizar later told Harakah Daily that he had asked a friend to take him there on a motorcycle after hearing that the ceramah was about “Nizar the serial liar”.

“What is so wrong to sit and hear about my own lies which I might have forgotten?” he was quoted in Harakah Daily.

Salahuddin: A spanner in his bid to make political inroads.

Nizar’s version of the event claimed that Hanafiah was startled and quickly changed topic when he appeared and the crowd went silent.

Those wondering who is telling the truth can view the video entitled Nizar Giler on YouTube and decide for themselves.

A little over a month ago, Nizar had caused a stir with his remarks about the armed forces.

He claimed at an Ipoh ceramah that the Prime Minister had met the Armed Forces chiefs and asked them to “do something” if the Barisan Nasional lost the next general election.

It was pretty outrageous stuff and no less than the Chief of Armed Forces Jen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin has roundly denied any such incident. The military chief declared that the Malaysian Armed Forces is a professional body that respects the Federal Constitution.

A total of 46 police reports have been lodged against Nizar on this issue so far.

Caught out once too often

Nizar’s problem is that he has been caught out one time too many saying things without basis or what his Umno opponents call “outright lies” especially about his nemesis Dr Zambry.

For instance, when Pakatan politicians tried to portray a Brazilian iron ore project in Perak as another Lynas. Nizar promptly accused Dr Zambry of approving the project site in Teluk Rubiah.

But at the last State Legislative Assembly sitting, Dr Zambry produced a letter showing that it was Nizar himself, when he was the Mentri Besar, who granted approval to the project in Teluk Rubiah. It was a very embarrassing moment for him and his Pakatan friends.

Yet, when engaged on a one-to-one basis, Nizar is soft-spoken, courteous and gentlemanly. He is tall, handsome and, thanks to his mixed parentage, he looks Malay in a Malay crowd and Chinese when in a Chinese setting, an attribute that is such a blessing in Malaysian politics. As a result of the way he was ousted, there was a certain romantic tragedy to his persona that drew sympathy.

But the odd part about his personality is that the moment he is put on a stage and behind a microphone, he seems to become a different person and that is when he starts saying things that are not always correct or accurate.

The Umno people in Perak have apparently decided that enough is enough. According to Hanafiah, they are not going to let Nizar get away with his outrageous allegations and have been keeping a hawk’s eye on him.

Nizar has been in PAS since the time when the great Datuk Fadzil Mohd Noor was president. Becoming the Mentri Besar of Perak was probably the greatest moment of his life and it was all the more special because he was sworn in on his birthday – March 17.

Unfortunately, he was out after only 10 months. He has found it hard to accept the change of fortune, hence, his constant attacks against the current Mentri Besar whom he regards as a usurper. His Umno detractors say he is suffering from the gila talak syndrome, a Malay saying for someone who has divorced his spouse but still yearns for her.

His party often introduces him at events as Mentri Besar yang sah (the legitimate Mentri Besar) and it is said that his rented home still has the sign: Kediaman Mentri Besar Perak (Residence of the Perak Mentri Besar).

Perak DAP chairman Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham has said that Nizar remains their candidate for Mentri Besar if they take back Perak. But others are not so sure. PAS is said to be grooming its latest big name, retired CID chief Datuk Fauzi Shaari for the Perak post whereas PKR is projecting Dr Mat Nur Manuty as the man.

At the PAS election in 2009, Nizar had emerged with the most votes among those contesting the central committee post. But two years later, he had slipped right to the bottom, at 14th place. Nizar is probably aware that his ratings have fallen and political observers in Perak say that his controversial statements are aimed at staying in the game and remaining relevant.

But in his haste to maintain a high profile, he is making mistakes which have not only affected his image but also that of his party.

Nizar was once advertised as the potential Prime Minister after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. But so much water has passed under the bridge since and Nizar is not even sure that he will get back his Mentri Besar job after the general election.

 

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