JELEBU, July 3 — Datuk Zaid Ibrahim made his debut on the PKR ceramah trail at a small village here in Negri Sembilan last night and sparked enough excitement and concern to prompt his Umno rival to throw a dinner for villagers in an attempt to draw attention from the maverick politician.
The Umno dinner was organised by his former Umno Cabinet colleague Datuk Seri Rais Yatim, who is also the local MP, and according to some villagers, it was the first such function in years.
Ties between Rais and Zaid have been icy after the Barisan Nasional (BN) minister accused the former de facto law minister of being an agent of the Western press in discrediting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Zaid denied this and subsequently challenged the information minister to a public debate. Last night over 400 villagers gave Rais's dinner a miss and turned up at the small community hall to listen to Zaid, who joined PKR last month.
Zaid told the crowd he was still waiting for Rais to give him the time and place for a debate.
“My only condition is that RTM should broadcast the debate.”
But in his first ceramah as a PKR member, Zaid, who has been touted as a potential national leader and even a possible heir to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, used his own small town upbringing to relate to the audience.
Zaid told the gathering of mainly rural Malay villagers that he also came from a kampung in Kelantan and could relate to their hardships.
He told the crowd that he entered politics to help uplift the plight of ordinary folk but while he was in Umno, he learned that politicians seldom honoured their promises.
He lashed out at Najib’s slogan of 1 Malaysia and said that while the BN government spoke of change they would never amend laws which kept them in power.
He challenged the government to prove him wrong by repealing the Official Secrets Act and other repressive laws which he said kept the government from telling people the truth.
Zaid also accused the BN administration of misusing the police to suppress democracy especially during by-elections, as he appeared to stay on the message from Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties in painting a picture of an oppressive government to voters.
The former minister resigned last year from Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's administration in protest against the use of the Internal Security Act (ISA).
He had been roped into the Cabinet by Abdullah last year to specifically reform the judiciary but quickly grew frustrated over the slow pace of reforms and the attacks against him from within Umno.
Last night the lawyer-turned-political maverick cited the recent use of between 5,000 and 6,000 police personnel sent to maintain security during the Kuala Terengganu by-election as an example of voter intimidation.
The former minister pointed out that he had just returned from Jakarta, where just 3,500 police personnel managed to successfully maintain law and order while the city’s 12 million people elected its new mayor.
He lamented the fact that while Indonesia was ruled by a dictator for 35 years, the practice of democracy there was now more vibrant than in Malaysia.
Zaid also reminded the crowd of what happened to Anwar during his prosecution for sodomy in 1999 and said he feared history was going to be repeated.
However he said PKR was ready to face the challenges ahead even if the opposition leader was sent back to jail.