By Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times
Monday, 12 January 2009 08:56
Controversial blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, recently released from detention, is such a famous figure, he gets curious stares everywhere he goes in Kuala Terengganu. Some locals even ask to be photographed with the blogger, sporting his trademark beret and pipe.
Raja Petra is in town to campaign for Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) candidate Abdul Wahid Endut, ahead of the Kuala Terengganu by-election on Saturday. Mr Wahid is up against Umno's Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh and an independent. The by-election was called after Umno MP Razali Ismail died in November last year.
'I am neutral, but I subscribe to certain aspects of the opposition such as bringing reforms to Malaysia,' said Raja Petra, 58, who does not belong to any political party.
He runs the Malaysia Today website, which publishes his hard-hitting columns that take on the most powerful politicians in Malaysia. Three other political bloggers have joined him in campaigning for the opposition in Kuala Terengganu as well as in cyberspace.
Although Kuala Terengganu is too rural to be Internet-savvy, Raja Petra said he has met voters who are familiar with his writings. His postings are frequently distributed as leaflets in the villages.
The opposition's focus is the 8,000-plus Chinese voters said to hold the key to this election, as the Malay vote is split.
Raja Petra speaks at one or two rallies nearly every night, and also to smaller groups of voters, to whom he talks about PAS and the Islamic state.
'When the voters see that we are not Taleban and we support PAS, it gives us a chance to explain things to them,' he said.
His message blends well with the opposition campaign, which is focusing on recent controversies such as those raised by Umno Youth chief aspirant Mukhriz Mahathir's call to turn vernacular schools into national ones, and a Penang Umno leader's description of the Chinese as immigrants.
A PAS banner has gone up in the Chinese area labelling Umno as extreme. Leaflets have also gone out showing a picture of Penang Umno leaders tearing up a poster of Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon after he protested against the description of the Chinese as immigrants.
Still, it is not certain to what extent this will mean more votes for the PAS candidate. In the March general election, 65 per cent of the Chinese votes went to Barisan Nasional (BN).
But this time, the Chinese are turning up at opposition rallies by the hundreds. At the rally last Saturday, many were seen stuffing RM50 (S$21) notes into the donation boxes.
They cheered for the PAS candidate in his robes and skull cap, and were wowed by the star speaker, Ms Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. There is some euphoria in the opposition camp, which believes there has been a swing in its favour. But it is also aware there is a week still to go.