KUALA TERENGGANU, Dec 20 – There were no surprises today in the naming of Senator Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh as Barisan Nasional’s (BN) candidate for the crucial Kuala Terengganu by-election, but the controversies surrounding him and his close links with the prime minister will be campaign fodder for Pakatan Rakyat.
For Wan Farid, who is also Kuala Terengganu Umno division chief and the deputy home minister, his political career is riding on the election as he has been told that he will not be reappointed senator again if he loses the vote.
The Terengganu state assembly nominated the deputy home minister as senator recently as his first term ends in January.
The selection of Wan Ahmad Farid was announced by Deputy Prime Mnister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who said the decision had the consent of Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
“For the candidate, the Umno president had taken all factors and opinions into consideration, and thus the BN now presents Datuk Wan Farid as its candidate for the P36 Kuala Terengganu by-election,” said Najib, who is also Umno deputy president.
Najib said Wan Farid, 46, who has been the Kuala Terengganu Umno division head for two terms, was the candidate whom the party leaders believed to be capable of retaining the parliamentary seat for the BN.
“I have had several discussions with the (Umno) president, I want to tell the president that I share his view in the selection of the candidate,” he said.
In addition, he said, other Umno leaders as well as the leaders of the other BN component parties, including from the Terengganu state itself, supported choice of Wan Farid.
“In a by-election, the candidate is among the factors that determines the party’s victory and we are confident that our candidate is capable of achieving victory on Jan 17,” he said.
He said the naming of the BN candidate early for this by-election instead of the usual announcement on the eve of nomination day, was intended to enable the chosen candidate to be closer to the constituents.
It would also give the BN time to tackle or resolve any problems that might arise, he said.
The election has gained significance because it comes just as BN appears to be regaining a stable foothold on power after months of uncertainty brought about by Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s threat to seize power through mass defections.
But his failure and the announcement that Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi will leave office in March has brought back some focus to the ruling coalition.
This will serve as a minor test of Najib’s leadership before he takes the reins of power in March.
Najib has said Barisan Nasional and Umno will have to win the by-election as proof of its revival after its dismal performance in the March 8 general election where it lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority together with four states and the mauling at the Permatang Pauh by-election that saw sacked Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim make his political comeback.
But the choice of Wan Farid will ensure BN’s work remains cut out for them.
Wan Farid is a former political secretary to the prime minister.
But he is closely linked, through his elder brother Datuk Wan Hisham Wan Salleh, to the organising of the Monsoon Cup, the annual world-class sailing competition which has been heavily criticised because of its elitism and the perception that the event serves to benefit the politically-connected and not the state in general.
Pas, who are expected to be the main contender to BN for the seat, has already served notice that they will use the Monsoon Cup to attack their traditional rivals.