Q: All speculation about the Johor MB ended when you submitted your nomination papers to defend your Serom state seat. How have you been handling all this speculation?
A: I take all this in my stride and have instead focused on preparations for the general election especially in the last two months. This is the third time I am leading the state Barisan Nasional (1999 and 2004 previously) and this speculation about my position as MB has not been a distraction for me.
Q: You are expected to enter your fourth term as MB and some have said that you are tiring out. What have you got to say about this?
A: At my level, ideas are very important and in my first year as MB in 1995, I was in a hurry to translate my ideas into development project. Since then (1999 and 2004), I have been focused in getting all these ideas, not just on the economy but also education, culture, religion and environment, off the ground. When I came here 14 years ago, there was no such thing as community colleges. Many school leavers went into factories without skills. Now we have community colleges in every district here and to date we have produced 10,000 students with a wide range of skills. Moreover, this community college concept has been expanded to national level. Similarly, when I was the Youth and Sports Minister, I initiated the Rakan Muda programme and until today it still exists. Now, into another four or five years, I will definitely be working harder. Especially now with IDR, I am fully charged up and motivated to ensure its success. There is a lot at stake. So what do you mean a tiring face?
Q: Certain quarters say that with you staying back in Johor, you may have missed the boat to be back in Kuala Lumpur as a federal minister. Any comment on this?
A: Politically, I know that I am quite isolated being state-bound. I accept it. I know what this implies as I used to be a federal and deputy minister. I know political networking is easy at the national level. I also know that after the general election, there will be the party election. Nevertheless, my focus is ensuring IDR is on the right footing.
Q: What do you think about the present Barisan line-up for 26 parliamentary and 56 state seats?
A: I think we have a combination of candidates who have been serving over a period of time plus some who have come into the scene since 2004 and there are 24 new faces this time. The combination of these people will definitely benefit Johor. The important thing is that the wakil rakyat must serve his constituency well and also come up with good ideas when highlighting issues at the state assembly.
Q: There is talk that you did not get your way and the list of candidates for the state is more of the Prime Minister’s list than yours. What are you views on this matter?
A: You must remember that I submitted a few hundred names to the PM including those submitted from the divisions. No one was left out. It does not matter where the list comes from, ultimately it is the PM’s decision and that definitely makes it the PM’s list.
Q: How is the elections machinery in the state? I heard there were problems and there were even busloads of people who had gathered outside your home in Saujana on the eve of the unveiling of candidates to express their displeasure? Is this a norm?
A: Of cause there will be minor hiccups especially when a candidate is not selected. Luckily, there are not many, just in two or three places. These are normal problems which will fizzle out within days as our people know that the party always comes first. Once these problems are ironed out, the election machinery will be in full force. As for the two bus loads of people, that is not the norm, but in this case, they were misled. When they heard that their candidate had actually not been dropped, they decided to go and have some late night supper before returning home.
Q: In the 2004 election, you had 25 candidates who were in their 60s and this time the figures have drastically dropped to only 12. Why is that so?
A: We are introducing new faces to replace those who have served many terms. It has also helped when leaders from component parties have also stepped aside to give way to new blood.
Q: This time around, you dropped four incumbent medical doctors from your list as assemblymen and MPs. Any particular reason?
A: I can only say that this was done after taking into consideration feedback from local divisional levels and also people from the community.
Q: This time, the number of seats given to Barisan’s Wanita wing has increased from seven in the last election to nine. Any reasons why?
A: This is an acknowledgement to the contributions made by the Wanita in the party. It cannot be denied that they have been doing a lot of hard work, especially in persuading people to vote for Barisan.
Q: You always mentioned that each election is unique in its own way. Do you expect this to be a tougher one compared with your previous times?
A: Yes, I agree each election is unique in its own way but my toughest election was in 1999 when I had to lead the state Barisan Nasional team for the first time. As you know, that election was a challenging time especially when Barisan lost two states (Kelantan and Terengganu) to the Opposition. That was also the time when there was a strong Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim factor. Nevertheless, we won all the seats in Johor.
Q: It is an open secret that Bantayan and Skudai are the two hotly contested seats in Johor? How are you handling this?
A: I agree that these are grey areas and I am focusing a lot of my attention there. Luckily, there are only two such places in Johor. In fact, I am personally looking into these areas and reading reports about them daily. You will also see me more often in these places.
Q: Any personal advice to all 82 Barisan candidates statewide?
A: Do not take our voters for granted even if our area is considered a Barisan stronghold. Try and reach out to as many voters as possible and also try to avoid personal attacks on the Opposition, as we do not want to stoop to their level. Also, all candidates must strictly observe all rules and regulations set by the Election Commission as we (Barisan) were told that the Opposition was looking for excuses to win seats on technical grounds.
Q: For the first time, the Opposition has put up four Indian candidates in Johor, who are standing on PAS, PKR and DAP tickets. What do you think of this trend?
A: I think the Opposition is just trying to take advantage of the Hindraf demonstrations to gain political mileage. I am confident that the majority of voters here will be loyal to Barisan. Even during the height of the Anwar factor in 1999, we (Barisan) won all the seats in Johor. I do not think the Hindraf issue will sway voters.
Q: What is your personal goal in this election?
A: One is to ensure 100% victory and at the same time maintain the more than 70% popular votes for Barisan this time around. I also want to make sure that Umno receives 80% of the Malay votes. This means that in areas like Skudai, where the Malays only make up 27% of the electorate, 80% of them must vote Barisan. That will truly ensure that Johor continues to remain a Umno stronghold. This will also not give the Opposition a chance to grow here.
Q: Johor has an unusually high number of spoilt or unreturned votes. In many places, these votes ran into the thousands in the 2004 election. How are you tackling this?
A: We have noticed this and are getting out vote conversers, especially from our Wanita wing, to teach the people how to vote properly. While some may not know how to vote, there are people who deliberately spoil their votes after taking the trouble of going to the polling stations. Nevertheless, we will not give up and will continue to educate people by going from house to house and persuading them to cast their votes properly.
Q: Security is included as part of Barisan’s manifesto. How do you view this in Johor’s context?
A: I agree that security has been of some concern, not just for urban citizens but also for those in rural areas where we have seen a rise in petty crimes. Generally, they do not like it. The manifesto makes a strong commitment to address the security issues for the well being of the rakyat and the community. So, the inclusion of security in the manifesto shows the Government is concerned and is committed over this.
Q: The Opposition has been saying the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) has a lot of flaws and the Malays will lose out in terms of land ownership. What is your view on this?
A: This is totally not true. In fact, we want to enhance the value of the present ownership. It is strange for the Opposition to create fears and restlessness on matters pertaining to development. This is how they do things. I am confident that Johoreans are open to growth and development. I can assure that IDR is for everyone. A lot of infrastructure projects are also expected to kick off this year worth billions of ringgit. There will also be announcements about new investments coming into IDR.