DATUK Seri Shahidan Kassim has never been afraid to face his political opponents and there is no reason why he should be in his battle with Datuk Haron Din, the deputy spiritual leader of Pas, in Arau.
Arau is Shahidan's turf, having served as member of parliament from 1986 to 1995 and from then onwards, the state assemblyman for Tambun Tulang, one of five state constituencies in Arau.
Independent candidate businessman Zainudin Yom, 50, who has joined the fray, is largely dismissed as a spoiler with insignificant support.
Haron, however, is made of sterner stuff but Shahidan would not commit to anything more enthusiastic than a mere "normal" when describing his face-off with the ulama.
In any case, this is not the first time he is squaring off with the 73-year-old Haron. Their first encounter was in Tambun Tulang in 2004 when Haron could only muster a humble 37 per cent support from the voters.
Shahidan's fine form continued in Arau when he obtained 60 per cent of the votes in 1986 and 1990. The outcome of the coming polls is expected to be about the same, if not more. Persistence, on the part of Haron, has not paid off as this will be his third attempt in Arau after failing in 2004 and 2008.
Shahidan needs no introduction to the locals; the people of Perlis have been his concern all the while even after he was no longer the menteri besar.
Those with problems would head to Yayasan Pok dan Kassim, a voluntary organisation named after his parents in Pokok Assam, to seek his help.
"Everybody knows Shahidan in Perlis, people can go see him without an appointment. We have little to complain about him not doing the job of a wakil rakyat," says housewife Halimah Awang, 52, from Tambun Tulang.
Even with many factors appearing to be working to his advantage, complacent Shahidan is not.
In fact, he has been working extra hard covering the ground since nomination day.
He spends an average of 13 hours a day from 2pm to meet constituents to ensure a bigger margin of victory for Barisan Nasional.
"It's a bit tough making a comeback because voters nowadays are more discerning, demanding a lot from an MP even in a rural constituency like Arau," says Shahidan, who is also Arau Umno chief.
Still, Shahidan knows he can serve the people better than anybody else. He is aware of the needs and aspirations of young people like first-time voter Mohamad Hafifi,26.
Having been menteri besar for 13 years and, before that, a mmber of parliament for 10 years, the 62-year-old leader knows the state and the people like the back of his hands.
The young, like Hafifi, would like to see more development and they are banking on political leaders to make that happen. They also surf the Internet and tend to compare.
Hafifi, for instance, would like for Simpang Empat, where he was born and bred, developed into a thriving town although his peers, who had never left their proverbial nest, are contented with what they have.
"I saw a lot of things outside Perlis while working at a factory in Penang for several years and realised how my hometown is lagging behind. If we want development, we have to choose a capable leader," says Hafifi, who now sells watermelons next to a roadside stall run by his young wife in Simpang Empat town.
Zubaidah Abu Bakar New Straits Times Columnists Thursday, April 25, 2013