Rain or shine, Ismail pounds the ground

By Debra Chong (Malaysian Insider)
TAIPING, March 31 – Ismail Saffian was soaking wet by the time he ended his door-to-door tour of Kampung Temerlok, a minority Chinese village in the majority Malay state constituency of Trong, near here yesterday evening.

Moisture dripped off his thick moustache and his dark blue shirt stuck to his back, drenched with a mixture of sweat and rainwater.
It had been raining non-stop the whole afternoon in this part of the Bukit Gantang parliamentary constituency, but the Barisan Nasional candidate was determined to meet and greet all the villagers, old and young alike.
Getting out of the white Umno van – marked with its recognisable crossed keris in red on the front – Ismail launched himself into the dim and cramped Restoran Kwong Lai Heong, where a group of village elders had been waiting since just after lunch.
Ismail pinning a BN badge on one of the constituents. – Pic by Choo Choy May
He was late, delayed by the torrential downpour, which eased up a little around 5pm. Smiling broadly all around, Ismail was ushered to a seat where he then shared a smoke and a cuppa before being led on a tour of the weathered village on the banks of Kuala Terong.
Trailed by reporters, photographers and a bevy of MCA campaign workers from out of town busily handing out pamphlets featuring Pas Spiritual Advisor Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, Ismail made lightning stops at practically every door, even one where a young Indian boy was playing with his pet dog at the entrance.
Ismail appeared unperturbed at the heavy presence of the dogs everywhere. Then again, most of the Chinese had decided to tie their pets at the back of the house, in deference to Ismail’s Muslim faith.
Offering a big, toothsome grin, the lanky Ismail called out a greeting at every door and waited patiently for the occupants to step out.
Taking their gnarly hands – many of those who were home looked older than 40 – in both of his, Ismail whispered in Malay, “Please, please,” but he did not finish his sentence even as he tilted their bodies to face the cameras.
With some 80 houses scattered everywhere, it was close to dinner time when Ismail finished. Along the route, he stopped frequently to pat a child’s head or chuck his or her chin, smiling at the expressions of puzzlement on the upturned faces.
He even went out of his way to greet a potential voter when told there was a villager fixing his boat on the riverbank. Turned out the fisherman, Chan Ah Moi, had drifted away from the bank and Ismail had to leap two across two sampans to reach him.
Ismail nearly landed in the cold waters when he struggled to keep his balance on the bobbing boats but made it safely back to shore unscathed.
He looked beat. And his day was far from over. After escorting MCA secretary-general Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan to a dinner with the Kampung Temerlok Chinese community held behind a temple, Ismail dashed back into the van to head home for a shower, prayers and a quick bite before moving on to the next event in Changkat Jering.
Before leaving, the local boy from nearby Kampung Kubu told reporters he was bolstered by the positive reactions from the residents.
But the grin he had worn easily earlier looked closer to a grimace now. Hitting the campaign trail takes a lot out of a person.
One of the villagers told The Malaysian Insider Ismail was no different from any other politician he had met, including the previous Bukit Gantang MP, Roslan Shaharum from Pas, whose death on Feb 9 paved the way for the by-elections.
The vegetable seller, who declined to give his name, noted that politicians entered their village only during election season and neglected them at other times.
He was resigned to the fact that politicians say one thing when they want votes but act differently when they have been elected into power.
However, he said he would continue to support the BN, as would at least 70 per cent of his Chinese neighbours. He sounded very sure of himself.
Asked why, he arched his eyebrows and drawing closer, whispered: “They’re easier to deal with. Can negotiate.”
Another villager seconded the vegetable seller’s view. The man on a motorcycle said that Pas candidate Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin had visited the village too, before Ismail, but failed to do anything for them during his 10-month stint as Perak menteri besar.
The man, who looked to be in his 40s, was worried about the economy. He recounted the days long ago when he had to leave home and work outstation, taking whatever jobs he could land. He remembered Ong Ka Chuan had helped the villagers then. But he did not go into details.
He hoped the BN would win, he said, because “they are the only ones with money to make a difference.”