PERSONALITY FOCUS: Kuantan had been a Barisan Nasional stronghold and not many had expected it to fall into the opposition hands. But fall it did, not once but twice.
Thanks to a gutsy “Kuantan Girl”, the Kuantan parliamentary seat has been under Pakatan Rakyat since the 12th general election tsunami in 2008.
Fuziah Salleh of PKR won the seat for the first time by defeating MCA’s Datuk Fu Ah Kiow with a 1,826-vote majority. She retained it in GE13, beating Umno’s Datuk Mohamed Suffian Awang with an even wider majority.
But it was not plain sailing for Fuziah. She even had to contend with a political giant of sorts in her electoral debut in her hometown Kuantan.
In an interview with theantdaily, Fuziah shared her story of how her years of hard work for the downtrodden finally paid off with the electoral win.
Coming from a humble background, Fuziah was raised by her adoptive uncle and aunt. Her paternal father was a former national coach for the Pahang football team.
Just like any other teenager, young Fuziah studied hard and obtained a degree in counselling psychology from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, followed by an MBA from the University of Wales.
Fuziah, a PKR vice-president, lived in England for 12 years before returning home in 1992.
How did she get involved in politics?
“I became involved with an organisation called the Young Muslims UK. Earlier to that an English Muslim woman headed the organisation, but the youths could not relate to her due to here western cultural values,” she said.
“At that time, I was actively involved in the Malaysian Student Society. We had summer camps, we had children camps together with the adults, I was in charge of organising the events for Malaysians.”
She said activism was already a part of her when she was a student, and her work was soon recognised by civil society groups like Young Muslims UK.
“That was how I got involved (in politics). I learned from them and they learnt from me. I was the only Malaysian, the rest of them were British citizens.”
Her social work did not stop there. Upon her return to Malaysia, she was approached by Hulu Kelang assemblyman Shaari Sungib to head the Women’s Wing of Muslim NGO, Jamaah Islam Malaysia, which was then headed by Shaari.
She was initially reluctant but eventually took the offer and continued with her activism work.
For Bangi resident Fuziah, her life revolved around Selangor and her visits to her hometown Kuantan were just to call on family and friends.
Fuziah’s work with the community did not go unnoticed and she was soon offered to stand as an opposition candidate in the Hulu Langat constituency in the 10th general election in 1999.
“But I eventually turned it down because there was a male candidate who wanted to contest bad enough, so I did not want the party president to be pressured.
“I just had my youngest child at the time, she was three months old and I was out of my confinement. Hulu Langat is easy for me as I can move around there, whereas Kuantan is far,” said the mother of six.
Fuziah was the deputy national women’s chief of PKR when it was formed in 1999 but her elevation into national politics was somewhat unexpected.
“One day before the nomination for the 1999 general election, the Kuantan people said they did not want their candidate Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob,” she said.
“Khalil Yaakob was a political heavyweight then. He was the secretary-general of Umno and also Information Minister at that time.”
“There was also a PAS candidate there, so I did not want to make it into a three-cornered fight against a Pakatan candidate. I had a discussion with my friends in PAS…Somehow we managed to come to an agreement. I had four days to print posters for my election campaign,” she added.
Initially, the people had no idea who she was and introducing herself was not easy but somehow they managed to recognise her and started campaigning for her.
“People started to recognise me, my ex-teachers, ex-schoolmates from MGS (Kuantan Methodist Girls School), so they started campaigning to help me.”
Despite being a newcomer to parliamentary polls, Fuziah fought on despite facing a huge incumbent like Khalil.
“I said to my parents, it does not matter if I win or lose, ‘lawan tetap lawan’ (we will continue the fight). I was breastfeeding my daughter and campaigning as a candidate. There were many challenges and it was not easy.
“I must admit that at that time our machinery was disorganised and that was the reason why we lost in 1999. However, in 2004 we were better organised.”
“But we still lost because they just had the redelineation and gerrymandering,” she said.
Affected by the losses and finding it hard to work in the constituency due to logistics problems, she confronted Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and asked to return to Selangor. But Anwar insisted she stay put.
The party’s belief in her and her perseverance paid dividend when Fuziah won the Kuantan seat in 2008.
The people of Kuantan were simply sick and tired of BN-Umno and were hungry for change. Fuziah just struck the chord.
She has been actively involved in the very issues that affected the Kuantan folks and her presence in her hometown has certainly brought a lot of change.
But, to her, as long as she is able and strong, she would continue to serve the Kuantan people and strive for development and poverty eradication.
“Reviving and strengthening the state’s tourism industry is the key for growth. There is still much that needs to be done,” Fuziah stressed.