Barisan Nasional (BN) had always counted on the Felda settlers to deliver the votes in Pahang. It did not disappoint in the 14th General Elections. Pahang was one of the three states BN had managed to retain.
“I dare say that BN took good care of the settlers to the extent that they have become a fixed deposit for UMNO,” says Pakatan Harapan Pahang Chairman Datuk Fauzi Abdul Rahman.
When one becomes too strong for too long, misuse of trust starts to creep in
“But as time goes on, when one becomes too strong for too long, misuse of trust starts to creep in,” he adds.
To understand Pahang and its political history and idiosyncrasies, one need not look further than Datuk Fauzi. An UMNO Pahang strongman in the 1990s, the former Kuantan and Indera Mahkota Member of Parliament had spent his childhood and almost entire adult life in Kuantan.
His father, Abdul Rahman Talib served as the country’s first Transport Minister in Tunku Abdul Rahman’s cabinet after Malaya gained independence in 1957.
“I grew up in a political family. But despite being a cabinet minister’s son, I still drank from wells, swam in Sungai Galing and ate ulam pegaga. That was the life of an average Malay person in Pahang then. I saw the struggle of the ordinary people.”
Fauzi left UMNO in 2008. He came out of retirement five years later to join Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
“I’ve always been close to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim,” the pair were schoolmates in Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK).
I strongly believe that we need two strong parties in a democratic nation. When one betrays the trust of the people, the rakyat wil choose the other. That way, both sides will always put the people - and not their pockets - first
“In 1998, when he was accused of many wrongdoings, I was the only UMNO minister who dared to visit him at home. That did not bode down well with other party members.” Fauzi was deputy minister in the prime minister’s department from 1997 to 1999.
“In the 1999 General Elections, I was not nominated despite the fact that I won Kuantan parliamentary seat in 1995 with over 23,000 vote majority,” says Fauzi, who admitted there was a political fallout between him and the party leadership headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at that time.
“Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob (who was nominated to contest in Kuantan and later on became Pahang Menteri Besar) suggested to Tun Dr Mahathir to move me to the Beserah state seat, perhaps to leverage on my Kuantan influence. I accepted and became state assemblyman for five years. It was a blessing as it allowed me to get closer to the people of Beserah.”
Fauzi contested in the Sungai Lembing state seat in GE14 but lost to four-term BN assemblyman Md Sohaimi Mohamed Shah.
"I strongly believe that we need two strong parties in a democratic nation. When one betrays the trust of the people, the rakyat wil choose the other. That way, both sides will always put the people - and not their pockets - first."
Pahang No Longer A Fortress for BN
There was a swing in Pahang, driven by the Rakyat’s anger toward the ruling party. However, the swing was not enough to take down BN. PKR, DAP and Amanah won five parliamentary seats, including Bentong, an increase from one seat from GE13. A few parliamentary seats won by BN also saw decreased majority.
The state seats won by the opposition (including PAS) also increased from 12 to 17. Many voted for PAS because the teachings of PAS is suited to the conservative thinking of voters in the kampung. PAS does well in areas where there is a big Malay majority.
Fauzi contested in the Sungai Lembing state seat in GE14 and was widely tipped to be Menteri Besar candidate if PH had won Pahang
Many advised me to contest in both the state and parliament seats. As chairman of Pakatan Harapan and PKR Pahang, I noticed there were many talented people in the second tier leadership. I felt that I needed to give them space. If I had remained in Indera Mahkota, Saifuddin Abdullah would have been moved elsewhere. Thus, the candidate of the other seat would have to be moved as well. So, I decided to not contest the parliament seat.
However, I was asked not to give up the state seat. They wanted to put me in Beserah. But the party had already made the decision that Amanah would contest in any seats which were won by PAS. (Beserah was one of it). So, if I had insisted to contest in Beserah, we had to re-open negotiations. But we were running out of time. GE14 was close.
I was then offered the Semambu seat, which I think, I would have stand a good chance to win. But Semambu already had a very hardworking, intelligent and trustworthy young ADUN, Lee Chean Chung. As PH chief in Pahang, it would send a very wrong singal if I had insisted to contest the seat to ‘save’ myself.
In the end, I went to Sungai Lembing. Party members - from Nurul Izzah to Datuk Seri Wan Azizah - thought I was crazy because Sungai Lembing is seen as a ‘black seat’ for PKR. But I said, let me, instead of the young ones, to go to the unchartered waters.
Fauzi on the Anwar Ibrahim factor in GE14
There were many factors that contributed to the change of government in GE14. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim triggered reformasi among the people twenty years ago. He would not have succeeded without the support of other reformists around him. So, that struggle began two decades ago. They tried in the 2008 general elections. They failed. They tried again in 2013 and once again, they failed. In 2018, Tun Dr Mahathir came along, he was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Tun Dr Mahathir contributed greatly to PH’s win; so did Anwar and the all the reformists who laid the groundwork for the past twenty years. At the end of the day, I believe it is Allah’s will.