Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Arif Shah, the likeable politician

As the clock ticks down for the most exciting political bout of the decade, the focus of the entire nation is on one man - Anwar Ibrahim.

Ten years ago, political pundits had written him off but the charismatic politician has somehow managed to defy the odds and reclaim his spot in the limelight.

On Aug 26, he will take on a lesser known Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate and hitherto unknown independent contender in the Permatang Pauh by-election to chart his return to Parliament.

The charismatic politician has also proclaimed that BN will be ousted from power on Sept 16 and the federal government will be formed by the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance led by him.

The ruling coalition, on the other hand, has entrusted Arif Shah Omar Shah with the unenviable task of knocking out the heavyweight, who is 10 years his senior.

While Anwar might take pole position in the popularity contest, the 51-year-old BN candidate is no pushover. He commands respect from both friends and foes.

‘Friendly personality’

According to Bernama, the affable Seberang Jaya state assemblyperson is ever ready to lend a ear to the problems faced by the locals.

“His friendly personality appeals to people of all races, religious background and political leanings,” read the report.

The news agency stated that Arif, who has a service centre in Taman Pauh Jaya, can be spotted having breakfast with his supporters in the compound of his house in Jalan Persiaran Tengiri, Seberang Jaya.

“Even PKR supporters who pass by never fail to greet him or just flash a smile at the assemblyperson.”

“A stallholder near Pasar Penanti who claimed to be a PKR supporter even took pictures with Arif Shah when the BN candidate dropped by his stall recently.”

Bernama also reported that Arif Shah caught his rivals by surprise when he dropped by at the PKR operations room in Taman Siakap, Seberang Jaya, which was hit by flash flood on Monday.

The politician, who speaks fluent Mandarin and Hokkien, later attended funeral prayers for a PKR supporter at a mosque in Kampung Petani, Penanti.

Local resident Ahmad Ariffin,67, was quoted as saying that Arif Shah’s friendly characteristic is missing from the other elected representatives in Permatang Pauh.

He said even before being named the BN candidate, Arif Shah had always looked after the poor and those affected by floods irrespective of race and religious background.

Never tired to help

As for Arif Shah, tackling problems of the Permatang Pauh people is a “hobby” which he enjoys.

“For someone who is really interested in community work, the word tired does not exist in the dictionary,” he told Bernama recently.

He said tackling the people’s problems had been a routine for him since 2004 via his service centre and that it was not something seasonal.

His Seberang Jaya service centre is the only one accredited with the ISO certificate in Malaysia.

Apart from Anwar and Arif Shah, the by-election will also witness the participation of Hanafi Mamat of Angkatan Keadilan Insan Malaysia (Akim).

The seat was vacated by Anwar’s wife and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail to allow her husband to reignite his political career.