HAVING spent 10 years working in Pahang, one of the most popular questions posed to me is what my experience has been like covering Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his home state and Pekan parliamentary constituency.
In 2005, I was transferred to Kuantan, a year after Najib assumed his post as the ninth deputy prime minister.
I had no problems covering him as I had been doing so for many years, when he was at the helm of various ministries.
But there was a huge difference covering Najib in his own constituency.
Even though he was the deputy prime minister and later went on to the No. 1 post, there was less protocol during media events with him in Pekan.
Press conferences were more casual and less tense than the ones in Kuala Lumpur or Putrajaya.
He would sometimes tease the more “veteran” reporters, especially those still using the now “vintage” tape recorders.
There were times when he would inspect the recorders while giving a statement, causing panic among us journalists for fear that he might accidentally turn them off.
Luckily, such a dreaded incident like that never happened.
For us working on the ground, the most touching moments usually occurred when he visited rural areas.
It was always a heartwarming experience to see how his constituents would approach him during his visits to traditional villages and Orang Asli settlements.
Many a time, senior citizens would come and hug their beloved leader as if he were their own son.
It came naturally to many of them, especially those who also knew Najib’s father, the country’s second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
Some also remembered him from when he was the state’s menteri besar from 1982 to 1986.
A senior local Umno leader once told me that the people in Pekan loved Najib as he shared the same traits as his father.
Although he was the son of a prime minister, he remained at ease mingling with the people and listening to their problems.
In his speeches at many functions, he would also share his experiences both locally and abroad, to the amazement of the crowds.
Najib always reminded his constituents to be grateful for what they were bestowed as God might take those things back if they were not appreciative of them.
As among the few leaders who have ever visited Palestine, he would also share his experiences during his time in the war-torn and occupied territory.
He preferred to narrate his experience there to the people in Pekan during Ramadan, the fasting month.
Sometimes, he would say in jest that the people in Pekan were “golden citizens”, as they enjoyed various forms of aid from the government, private companies and non-governmental organisations.
I can still remember his favourite joke that left many villagers in stitches: “Those who have eyesight problems will get free spectacles, while those who have no teeth, I will ensure that they get new ‘pagar’ (fence).”
At first, most of us did not know what he actually meant by “pagar”.
We only realised later that he was referring to dentures when we saw toothless senior citizens laughing their heads off.-nst