By Debra Chong
TAIPING, April 1 – “Woi, Nizar’s here!,” a Chinese youth called loudly to his friends in Mandarin at the night market at Kota Jaya in Simpang yesterday evening.
Quickly, those around him, vendors and visitors alike whipped their heads around and stretched out their necks, looking to catch sight of the popular Pasir Panjang state assemblyman who is gunning for a spot in Parliament.
At the behest of the hawkers, Nizar tries his hand at flipping a murtabak at the Simpang night market. – Pix by Choo Choy May
Many rushed forward to shake his hands as he moved swiftly through each and every stall, smiling and greeting every hawker like an old friend, intimating a few words directly into their ears, clapping their shoulders, clasping an outstretched hand a tad tighter or holding it a millisecond longer. The traders returned the gesture, inviting him to try flipping a murtabak and taste their wares.
“This is not his first visit here,” a Malay food seller said. “It’s his third,” he added, explaining the apparent familiarity they had with Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, whom he still regards as his lawful menteri besar, ignoring the fact that another now sits in the Ipoh office.
The man looked on in amusement as other traders, Chinese mostly, went slack-jawed with surprise at their first encounter with Nizar.
If not for the large group of photographers clicking madly away at his every pose and the posse of Pakatan Rakyat allies from the DAP and PKR walking with him, Nizar would have simply blended into the night market. He had traded his regular suits and shiny leather shoes for a casual cotton short-sleeved shirt in light green.
Nizar holds a child as he mingles wth the crowd at the market.
A Chinese family selling clothes were tickled when he stopped at their stall and chatted in Mandarin with them. They took the chance to snap pictures with him on their camera phones.
As he moved on, the matriarch was overheard exclaiming, in Hokkien: “He looks much better in person, doesn’t he?”
“Ya lah... not so old,” was the daughter’s rejoinder.
But by far the biggest welcome he received was at a coffee shop, Mei Shi, down the road. Before he even reached the eatery, he was mobbed by the Chinese men outside, clapping their hands furiously before pulling him inside to join the rest of their mates engaged in a game of mah-jong. They asked Nizar to do the honours and shuffle the tiles, which he gamely did.
He wrapped up his follow-up visit to the night market with a short speech from the back of a lorry asking the public to support him with their votes on April 7, so that “this change can lead to a bigger change at the federal level”. It was the closest reference he made of his legal wrangle over the menteri besar crisis.
He ended with the Pakatan Rakyat war cry: “Hidup, hidup! Makkal Sakthi! Reformasi!” The crowd joined in and cheered.
Nizar appears to have won the hearts of the semi-urban voters.
The pro-Pas Malay food seller told The Malaysian Insider he would definitely do his duty by Nizar come polling day.
Repeating some of the slogans spouted by the opposition alliance, that justice must be served, the man seemed to have bought into Pakatan Rakyat’s campaign of
Nizar obliging a mahjong party by shuffling the tiles for them.
He was most angry at his elected state representative, Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu (Changkat Jering, one of the three state seats within the Bukit Gantang parliamentary constituency) who had switched political camps and contributed to the fall of the PR state government.
“We voted him in because of the party, not because it was him. Must teach him a lesson,” the man explained.
Judging from the response from the mixed race crowd in the market, many are with him. But with six days left before polling day, anything can happen.