Farid, the reluctant politician who wanted to learn Chinese

OBITUARY | During the 14th general election, I was tasked as a journalist to cover Johor, a key battlefront state between BN and Pakatan Harapan.

In that election, Bersatu was to contest 10 out of the 26 parliamentary seats but the majority of its resources were poured into Pagoh, Muar, Sri Gading, Simpang Renggam and Tanjung Piai – the five seats the party believed they have a realistic chance of winning.

Contesting in those five seats were high profile leaders including a former deputy prime minister, the Bersatu secretary-general and a well known academic and debater.

An exception was Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, who was tasked to contest in Tanjung Piai but was a relatively unknown on the national political scene nor was he well-known in Tanjung Piai.

I first got to know Farid when I arrived in Tanjung Piai, which is also the southernmost tip of the Asia continent, in April last year for the election.

From our conversations, he came across as a reluctant politician who wasn’t really interested in politics. He also found it hard to accustom himself in a political culture that some would deem “dirty”.

I understood that Md Farid contested the Tanjung Piai due to his mother Norma Mohamad, better known locally as Mak Ne, a local Bersatu leader. A tough and no-nonsense woman, she was also formerly the Tanjung Piai Umno Wanita chief.

At Bersatu chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s request, Farid agreed to contest the seat which has never left the grasp of BN since it was created in 2004.

On the night of May 9, Farid pulled off a surprise win, securing the seat with a 524-vote majority.

Face of moderation

A month after Mahathir formed the core cabinet members, I received a call from Farid and we chatted.

He asked me about the functions of Parliament and I joked that as a first-term MP, he is not immediately expected to know how to submit parliamentary questions.

But Farid would not be asking any questions. Instead, he would be the one answering them as Farid, to his surprise, was appointed as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of unity.

From time to time, we exchanged views on the Orang Asli community, the civil service, Harapan’s challenge with Malay voters and his constituency.

He had worked to revive the Rukun Tetangga, which he believed could help strengthen the relations of neighbours of different races.

In Parliament, Farid was a face of moderation, not only in terms of his politics but also demeanour.

I could still remember when the Dewan Rakyat descended into chaos in April as angry opposition MPs complained about but Farid remained composed throughout.

Farid was also not comfortable having to spend so much time away from his constituents due to his busy schedule as a deputy minister in Putrajaya.

He admitted that having spent almost 10 years in the United Kingdom and later serving as an anesthesiologist in Malacca, he has not had much interaction outside his circle.

In our of our conversations, he expressed a desire to learn Chinese, noting his mixed constituency. Tanjung Piai comprised 57 percent Malay voters, 42 percent Chinese and one percent Indian.

It was also at a time when there was from the Chinese community against plans to introduce khat lessons in schools.

I told Farid I could teach him basic Chinese and he said “Okay”.

‘I am the MP for Tanjung Piai’

As we were preoccupied with our own schedules, that did not happen until two days ago.

That night, we met at Shaftsbury Putrajaya’s Starbucks and I taught him basic greetings in Chinese such as “Good Morning, Good Evening, and Good Night”.

Farid asked how does he introduce himself as “I am the MP for Tanjung Piai” in Chinese and I taught him the phonetics for each Chinese character for the expression.

Before we parted ways at midnight, I asked when he would be free to meet in Tanjung Piai and he can then perhaps teach me to fish at sea.

I also told him that I would like to hear him say “I am the MP for Tanjung Piai” in Chinese to his constituents.

Farid said he was more suited for behind the scenes work and was still adjusting himself to being a politician.

We exchanged greetings and said goodbye. I did not expect that it would be our last goodbye and our last Mandarin lesson. We won’t get to hear Farid say, “I am the MP for Tanjung Piai” in Chinese.

My condolences to his family.

LU WEI HOONG is a Malaysiakini team member.

This content was originally published here.

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