By Kee Thuan Chye
The purest and most heartwarming feature of this upcoming general election, predicted to be the dirtiest ever in Malaysian history, is the solidarity of the Malaysians who are calling for ubah (change) and proclaiming, “Ini kalilah!” (This is the time to do it!)
In the course of a year, it has swelled into a movement. Partly from the Bersih rallies that brought people closer together because they went through adverse circumstances together. Partly from the rallies organised by the Opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, that gave hope of a viable alternative to Malaysians disenchanted by 55 years of Barisan Nasional (BN) rule.
No one person or party organised the movement. It evolved naturally and organically, thanks partly to the new media. Everyone in this loose fraternity is drawn to the movement by one single goal – kicking out BN and bringing about ubah – and there is a passionate zeal in their quest. It came from the fact that many of them became politically sensitised after the 2008 general election, which was a wake-up call for Malaysians to take an active part in shaping their country’s destiny.
What they stand for is change for the better, change for a country rid of a corrupt and deceitful government, change for a brighter future for themselves, for their children. And what drives some of them is the anger they feel against BN for the indefensible wrongs it has committed.
Converting this into action, they have thronged the Pakatan ceramahs in the current election campaign, mobilised fence-sitters to attend them, contributed funds to Pakatan parties, helped out directly with Pakatan’s campaigning, volunteered to be polling and counting agents for election day.
In informal ways, they have helped to indirectly campaign for Pakatan by circulating e-mails exposing BN’s excesses and abuse of power, blogging, posting comments on media websites, tweeting and Facebooking.
On Facebook lately, their statement of change has seen expression in many like-minded Netizens adopting the ubah mascot as their profile photos. This gives ready recognition of themselves as comrades for the same cause, as well as a group identity.
The more creative ones have contributed towards creating greater awareness by producing videos to spread the message of change and sharing them on social media. Landscape artist Ng Sek San came up with the idea of planting ‘flowers’, dubbed “Malaysian Spring” and made of small flags in the colours of Pakatan’s component parties, in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. They have since sprouted in other locations, planted by other comrades for change.
Out in the streets or in public places, strangers warm up to one another and behave as if they were old friends when the subject of politics comes up and complaints about the BN Government surface, followed by the theme of the need for change. I have encountered this myself a few times.
So have a few of my friends. One was in a taxi coming back from the airport when he and the driver started talking about politics. It seemed like the natural thing to do. It also seemed natural that the driver condemned the Government, and when my friend arrived at his destination and was getting out of the taxi, the driver said to him, “Remember to ubah ah?”
A friend in Singapore reported that while he was waiting at a bus stop, a middle-aged man who must have recognised he was Malaysian, suddenly came up to him with a frown on his face, gesturing to him to look at his smartphone. It was showing a news update about the DAP’s decision to contest under the symbols of PAS and PKR because the Registrar of Societies (ROS) had derecognised the DAP’s central executive committee.
“Stupid idiots! So damn dirty!” the man shouted. Then he grinned at my friend, and my friend grinned at him, and they both shook hands.
Another friend told me that as she was walking out of the consulate in New York City after casting her overseas vote on April 28, a fellow Malaysian who had done the same but whom she didn’t know from Adam turned to her and asked, “Have you done your part?” Without a moment’s pause, she replied, “Definitely!”
Clearly, the comrades for change are candid about their choice and have no qualms about declaring it openly. They don’t abide by the precept that one’s vote is a secret. They even go about to share their sentiment with others to get them to join the cause. They are proud to state their stand.
In contrast, BN supporters appear more muted. Er … probably with the exception of actress Michelle Yeoh. But she found out, to her exasperation, that her public endorsement of BN chairman Najib Razak for prime minister was ill-advised. It incurred the wrath of many Malaysians who bombarded her Facebook page with devastating diatribes. In the course of it, she lost many fans.
Among the comrades for change are Malaysians residing overseas. Some of them have resolved to come home to vote, from even as far as the United States of America.
Those across the Causeway in Singapore have been organising even before the dissolution of Parliament was announced to come back in groups, by car-pooling or chartering buses. A group of about 20 Malaysians resident there were even going around an MRT station bearing placards urging Malaysians to go home and vote.
Their major concern is that every vote is going to count, taking into consideration the allegations of expected widespread cheating through the participation of phantom voters and foreigners illegally given identity cards. And now, as BN secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has admitted, voters flown in by his coalition from Sabah and Sarawak as well. The numbers arriving, alleges Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, are in the tens of thousands.
If Pakatan Rakyat still manages to win the general election despite the odds, it will owe a great debt of gratitude to the comrades for change. It can also be certain that they will expect Pakatan to deliver on its promises. And that they will continue to assert themselves and voice their dissatisfaction if they are disappointed.
On the other hand, if BN wins, they will remain a strong pressure force. BN will face an even tougher time ruling the country being watched closely by these people who have now stepped forward to take responsibility for their country.
A new spirit has arisen in Malaysia. And the clamour for change will continue to resonate. The best scenario is for the wave for change to sweep the entire nation and carry along with it fence-sitters and even BN supporters as well. In fact, it is now growing in momentum and may peak on polling day in a Pakatan victory if the election is free of fraud. But there may yet be many a slip ’twixt the prediction and the result.
As the proverb goes, nothing is for certain until the fat lady sings, and she’s still two days from singing.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!