PKR’s Khalid Jaafar seems like a new face in Malaysian politics but he has contested — and lost — in three general elections. Khalid, widely tipped as PKR’s candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Hulu Selangor in the 13th general election, now faces a different challenge as he tackles a whole new electorate. But he is undaunted and insists he can pull off an upset in the largely rural seat.The former journalist contested the Batu Berendam parliamentary seat in Melaka in 1999 and the Bukit Katil parliamentary seat in 2004 and 2008. Now, he is shifting to Hulu Selangor.Khalid, who is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research, however rejected the notion that being parachuted to Hulu Selangor would be a disadvantage after having operated in Melaka for 14 years.“Although the normal thing is to go back to your roots to contest, I think it is a fallacy,” he told fz.com.“I was born in Batu Berendam but at the age of 15 I went to boarding school in Seremban and I would only return home during the school holidays. I didn’t have much interaction with the peers in my age group in my village. After graduating from college, I started working and eventually settled down in Selangor, where I’ve been since.“The only time I used to go back to my kampung after that was for Hari Raya or to visit my parents. I have no engagement with the people [there].“This has happened to many of us in PKR — we return to our kampung after 10 or 20 years thinking that the people there know us but the truth is, they have forgotten us. We didn’t attend their weddings, we were not there for their youth activities — we have become detached.”
Challenging Ghafar BabaKhalid had his first taste of standing as an election candidate in 1999 when he challenged the late deputy prime minister Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba for the Batu Berendam parliamentary seat. Khalid, who then stood under the Parti Keadilan Nasional (PKN) banner, lost to the Umno veteran by 7,105 votes.PKN was, at that time, part of a loose coalition known as the Barisan Alternatif, with the other partners being the DAP, Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) and PAS. The coalition was formed in the wake of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking as deputy prime minister and from Umno, and his subsequent arrest.Khalid is a close ally of Anwar, having worked as the latter’s press secretary from the time he was education minister in the 1980s until he became deputy prime minister. Khalid had then remained averse to joining Umno to pursue a career in politics and instead dreamt of life in academia.But the antipathy against politics did not last long. Viewing the sacking of his former boss as an injustice, he took on a lead role in helping form PKN in 1999.“Right after Anwar’s arrest, there was a witch hunt and I had to go into hiding. I left everything behind and hid in Jakarta for six months.“That’s when I made a choice to help build a political movement — just ordinary dissent was not enough. We knew we had to take a frontal struggle and politics is the only way it can be done,” he said.A delineation exercise just before the 2004 general election saw Batu Berendam being divided into the parliamentary constituencies of Bukit Katil and Tangga Batu, prompting Khalid to contest again after PKN merged with PRM to form the present PKR.But the 58-year-old tasted defeat once again as he lost the Bukit Katil seat to Umno’s Datuk Mohd Ruddin Abdul Ghani by a whopping 27,252 votes.Khalid tried his luck in Bukit Katil once again in the 2008 general election. But this time, he lost to Umno’s Datuk Md Sirat Abu by only 1,758 votes. That was the year the then new opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat made substantial inroads into parliament.“In 2008, I would have won had there been indelible ink. I lost by about 1,700 votes. We heard there were dubious voters but I didn’t have enough polling agents at that time,” he said in a dejected tone.
Connection with votersNevertheless, the past electoral let-downs have not hampered Khalid’s determination to win over voters in Hulu Selangor, an area the size of Melaka, as he finds he is comparatively better connected to the electorate there.Anwar, who has known Khalid since their days in the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia movement, made Khalid’s candidacy public in a ceramah in February, making it easier for his protege to establish a support base.It makes good sense for Khalid to stand in the Hulu Selangor parliamentary constituency as he has been living in Bukit Beruntung, which is located in the Hulu Selangor district, for more than a decade now.“It’s more economical for me to base my politics here rather than Melaka, which I can only visit during the weekends,” said Khalid, who is also a PKR supreme council member. “Now I don’t have to make my 2½-hour trip to Melaka to carry out my political work. These days, my entire day, in one way or another, involves political activity.”He said in April 2011, he was appointed coordinator for Batang Kali and was tasked with implementing the Selangor government’s policies and providing services to the people. “That was when I got my chance to do my political work, and serve the people,” he said.Hulu Selangor has 83,000 voters, half of whom live in Batang Kali. About 20,000 voters live in Kuala Kubu Baru and another 20,000 in Ulu Bernam.Khalid insisted that he stood a fair chance against the Hulu Selangor incumbent member of parliament P Kamalanathan, who won the seat in a by-election in 2010 after the death of PKR’s Datuk Zainal Abiden Ahmad, who had beaten MIC’s Datuk Seri G Palanivel in the 2008 election.The party’s loss in the by-election, he said, was due to weak machinery but the problem has been rectified since then as PKR has developed better cooperation with village heads after having neglected then in the past.“As I’ve been living here for a number of years, I know the area and its problems too. I’m concentrating on areas we lost badly like Batang Kali which has two polling districts with a combined 7,000 voters. In 2008 we secured above 40% support but in the by-election we got below 40%; it’s a hard core Umno area,” he said.Noting that “every election is a new election”, Khalid said the factors that led to the political tsunami five years ago may not be relevant now but the Pakatan-run Selangor government’s efforts to alleviate some of the problems faced by the poor, who make up a sizeable portion of Hulu Selangor’s electorate, will work to his advantage.Having lost in three elections, most pundits do not think much of Khalid’s chances of winning back Hulu Selangor against a Barisan Nasional which is determined to win back Selangor.BN has poured plenty of resources — both financial and physical development — into Hulu Selangor and has a well-oiled machinery to boot.In the face of this, Khalid has a very tough task ahead of him to convince voters to back Pakatan Rakyat. Still, he seems optimistic, though his strategy so far seems to involve riding on the state government initiatives for the people — such as free water, the RM2,500 funeral expenses for senior citizens, and the micro-credit scheme for the urban poor — to garner support.
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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 9, 2013.