By Fahmi Fadzil
SUNDAYS are always tough – you don’t really want to overwork yourself because it’s your last off day, but you also don’t want to miss out on the action wherever it may be: the pasars (markets), the malls, and this being election season, the weekend ceramahs (political rallies). And the ceramah in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) on March 2, the final Sunday before polling day on March 8, proved to be worth the work!
I first caught sight of a DAP banner in Bukit Damansara, in the parliamentary constituency of Segambut (P117), on Sunday morning and after several frantic phone calls found out that the list of speakers attending the ceramah next to Sek Keb (1) TTDI was quite a formidable one: Lim Lip Eng (the DAP candidate for Segambut), Teresa Kok (Seputeh, P122), Gobind Singh Deo (Puchong, P103), Tan Seng Giaw (Kepong, P114), Tony Pua (Petaling Jaya Utara, P106), Nurul Izzah Anwar (Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s candidate for Lembah Pantai, P121), and even enfants terrible, Raja Petra Kamarudin and Haris Ibrahim.
When I got to the small field, Kok, the Seputeh incumbent, was already warming up to the crowd. Emphatic, emotive, charismatic: Kok is definitely not one to be dismissed quickly as all-talk-no-walk. Eloquently conversant in Bahasa Malaysia, English and Chinese, this two-term parliamentarian was pointed in her reflections about sexist MPs, the inadequacies of the watered down IPCMC [Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission], and the caretaker Prime Minister’s website urging people to e-mail him. The crowd lapped it up, and I would not be surprised if the people of Seputeh returned her to her seat.
Next came Lim. A DAP member for the past 11 years, this lawyer unfortunately did not cover as many issues as I had hoped he would. No doubt, the difficulties he has had to face are no mean feats to overcome (his campaign manager was arrested and detained for unknown reasons hours before his nomination; and more recently his car was splashed with acid and paint), but these seem to be his only running theme thus far. Yet after listening to him recounting complaints from the longhouses in TTDI (we have longhouses in TTDI?!), I felt that he’d make a good warrior-type-parliamentarian, unafraid to carry issues forward beyond placating the crowd.
Blogger and founder of the very popular website Malaysia Today, Raja Petra was the crowd favorite. He gave the crowd a gut-busting roller coaster ride through the history halls of Umno lama perisa asli (old, original flavour) and spoke of how the ties within the Parti Perikatan (the Alliance, the precursor to the Barisan Nasional) were frayed after the establishment of Umno Baru with an interesting aside about how Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn refused to rejoin, until they “meninggal dunia di luar Umno” (died outside of Umno). Definitely an entertaining chap with a lot of things to say, with a lot of guts, and good oratory skills.
At this point, I became aware that these ceramahs are not really just about bringing up facts and figures (I mean, if you really wanted to, you could just read the paper or go to MalaysiaVotes.com). You really go to a ceramah to experience the politician, to witness his/her performance and presence. It’s just like how theatre isn’t like watching the movies because one’s live and the other is on a screen. It’s not that one’s more effective than the other, but that each can achieve what the other cannot: tactile/tangible vs mass reach.
Returning to the night, Nurul Izzah took over right after Raja Petra. A green leaf and the to-watch-for underdog in the three-cornered fight of Lembah Pantai, Nurul Izzah still has much to learn in terms of being a public performer/politician. It made me think about how we cannot dismiss the notion of political dynasties. Maybe it is something people just do – yearn for something of the father/mother in the child? I don’t think people see her for herself yet; they see her father Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, or at least they so really want to see him there. Nurul Izzah has two great shadows to overcome: that of Anwar and of her mother Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (PKR president and incumbent MP in Permatang Pauh).
By now the crowd had swelled to around 3,000 people. The rain did not dampen spirits; instead people offered to share their umbrellas with those without them. An analogy that was surely not lost on many who were there.
Dr Tan, who has been in Parliament since 1982, reflected the presence of the old guard in Malaysian Opposition politics. His arguments about MAS being the twin of SIA that never made it far, and of Proton and the government being overly protective of poorly-run government-linked companies were on the mark. But he was very dry. It wasn’t hard for people to say “Cukuplah!” [Enoughlah!”], and it was in fact, wonderful to hear him say, “Ok, the people have spoken. I will stop.”
Then came Haris. This charismatic blogger and lawyer, who came dressed in the hard-to-miss Bersih yellow, reminded the crowd of the importance of the Internet, and of the coalescing of a Barisan Rakyat. He stressed that the people possess the power to effect change like what was demonstrated in the Bersih (the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) and Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) rallies. A timely reminder that it is in fact the people who are the bosses of the nation.
After Haris, the people assembled that evening called for Raja Petra yet again, and he did not disappoint. This time round, Raja Petra embarked on issues related to public expenditure and the misuse of public funds. He spoke, for example, about how Tunku Abdul Rahman took six months of unpaid leave to campaign as a public citizen; how [PAS spiritual adviser Datuk] Nik Aziz [Nik Mat] lives in an old hut compared to a lot of Umno politicians; and about the Prime Minister’s jet. And, oh, of course, about how “makan rasuah lagi teruk dan haram dari makan babi” (being corrupt is more sinful than eating pork).
The second last speaker was Gobind, son of Karpal Singh, the veritable opposition leader from the DAP. Now here was an orator! His presence rivaled his father’s, and I do believe that in time, he will grow to become a prominent figure in the Malaysian political landscape. One of my favourite jokes of the night: Gobind was sitting with a Malay friend somewhere in
The last five minutes before midnight belonged to Pua, who was about to get started when he was informed that we had to end [because all ceramahs must end by midnight]. Ah, another sorry sight, after the last letter about the DAP ceramah in SS2! But from what little I got out of him, he seemed an articulate person, although five minutes is hardly enough time to write even this paragraph!
After all is said and done, for the 3,000 people who stood in the rain and stayed for the full four hours in TTDI in the Segambut constituency, it was a Sunday night well spent. A ceramah has to be entertaining, spirited, electric! Otherwise, one could just as easily peruse a manifesto or a website. It’s all about propaganda, but at least let’s have some laughs along the way. And at the end of the day, the night showed that if we don’t like whoever is talking, we can always, always ask them to stop.
[Note: DAP’s Lim Lip Eng is contesting against Gerakan’s Ma Woei Chyi for the Segambut parliamentary state. Total voters: 59,690. Malay (35.1%), Chinese (49.4%), Indian (14.5%), Others (1%)]
Fahmi Fadzil is a performer, writer and second time voter.