I never thought I would live to see that day so soon. Some had waited for less than eternity but my generation only had to wait less than a decade for March 8 2008. It was a wonderful feeling and it still is. It feels so good that there is an urge inside of me to share my part of the journey to many others that made this new political reality possible.
My election-Saturday-day started early. I fulfilled my civic duty with an ease that would have surprised me months ago: I voted for PAS without any hesitation despite my misgivings of the party. With help from friends, I managed to rationalize such move by appealing to my ideal rather than crude pragmatism.
The situation in my area was obvious: PAS was going to win. In retrospect, PAS would win regardless of my decision. I did not know the tempo in the Titiwangsa parliamentary seat as a whole but for my area, UMNO suddenly found itself in a hostile territory while once, this was their fortress in Kuala Lumpur.
As a bonus to me, Dr. Lo’lo’ Mohd Ghazali of PAS lives just a street away from me and the UMNO candidate Aziz Jamaluddin is a clear outsider as far as I am concerned. That helped a lot in justifying my decision because I have always believed in local representation rather than parachuted candidate from outside any area. I am relieved to discover later in the day that Kampung Baru joined us hand in hand in rejecting UMNO.
After the casting of ballot, I found myself empty in the inside. I was anxious. That emptiness brought me to drive across the city to support a friend, Nik Nazmi whom was running for the Seri Setia state seat of Kelana Jaya in Selangor. After all, I was part of his campaign team, however small my role was. I thought it was only right for me to be there.
The whole episode started about three or four weeks before the election. My cell beeped to a message from him; he wrote to me as well as to a few other friends that he might run for public office: he needed opinion. He called for a private meeting at his place.
This caught me by surprised because he had earnestly spoken of running in the next general election to me earlier countless of times, not for the 2008 edition. When he spoke of it, I came to realize that Parti Keadilan Rakyat might not have enough candidates and thanks to that, he was on an accelerated track.
At a dinner of friends, he clarified the matter but uncertainty still loomed: parliamentary or state seat?
For a moment, the prospect of running for Parliament was dominating the scene. Immediately, the drama West Wing popped up in my mind. That, embarrassingly, was the final push I needed to say yes to Nik Nazmi. Reality turned out much less glamorous than an Oval Office with a Prize in Economics winner Democrat President as well as a top adviser from Michigan (Go Blue!) but still, it felt great.
Days later, PKR decided that he should run for the state seat and from there on, the campaign concentrated on local issues. I am absolutely overjoyed with the focus because I could never agree to economic populism espoused by PKR. Throughout the campaigning period, I listened to some speeches made by people from PKR and I frowned each time there was a hint of populism; economic populism an irresponsible policy which suffers from severe myopia. But Nik Nazmi did not touch much of it and I have no problem explicitly expressing my support of him and becoming involved in his campaign. On top of that, he already accepted the need of a gradual reduction of fuel subsidy during one of several friendly conversations I have had with him.
While driving to Seri Setia, I was playing several scenarios in my mind and the scariest of all was one of disappointment. Not for Nik Nazmi or Budu as he is known to friends, but for the whole country in general. Honestly, I was hoping for a new government but as the Election Day drew nearer, that hope seemed excessively optimistic. It was an illusion of grandeur and there was a serious requirement for an expectation realignment. With expectation reset downward, I stepped out of my car and walked toward PKR’s operation room in Seri Setia.
The usual suspects were there, as well as Budu.
The atmosphere of the space was celebratory and I understood why. Before I had gone into my car, I had logged on the internet to read the latest update. From the looked of it, Penang was in for a new administration led by DAP.
But the real news was this: Budu was leading against the incumbent from UMNO, Noli Seripah Syed Hussin. The politician from UMNO had earlier ridiculed Budu by saying “buduk kecik nak jadi ADUN” to her supporters – a kid wants to be a state representative. A number of Budu’s volunteers and supporters retaliated by calling her “nenek”, or grandma but Budu took the high road. Instead of trading barbwire, he requested for a debate. Noli Seripah did not respond to the challenge, possibly because she knew she would not last long in a debate on issues.
Regardless, I soon found out that Kelantan remains out of BN’s reach while news of the DAP-PAS-PKR loose coalition’s marvelous performance all over the country started to spread as early as 21:00 hours.
As news favoring DAP, PAS and PKR developed, the RTM and TV3 only aired results for the Malaysian Borneo which favored BN. Clearly, both channel refused to acknowledge a new ground breaking reality in Peninsular Malaysia. And then, the news came: Budu unofficially won the contest. The key word is unofficially but that did not stop everybody present from being ecstatic. Calls were made and wishes were exchanged. Budu won. We won.
Eager to listen to the official announcement, we made our way to Kelana Jaya’s counting station in Subang Jaya. The Election Commission however was not ready to release the results but we were willing to wait. As the hours crawled passed us by, more people joined us and soon, all three candidates within Kelana Jaya – Budu, Hannah Yeoh dan Loh Gwo Burne – as well as their supporters filled the area just outside of the center’s gated compound.
More news came after that. The infamous former Information Minister was out of office. So were Samy Vellu and Koh Tsu Koon while rumor of Ong Ka Ting’s defeat started to spread like wildfire. Former Minister Sharizat Abdul Jalil was trailing Nurul Izzah Anwar in Lembah Pantai. In Rembau, rejection, however slim it was, of Khairy was being celebrated though a recount was called which later overturn the result while in Titiwangsa, Dr. Lo’ Lo’ was set to be my next MP. One of the crazier rumors was that Rafidah was on her way out. As we all know now, Rafidah Aziz is still in control of Kuala Kangsar and in fact, with Sharizat out, Rafidah is alone at the top, possibly unchallenged among women.
We kept on standing at the gate and became restless. A friend and I hated the spread of unconfirmed news being shared among the crowd and we hate getting wet; it was starting to drizzle. Hoping to validate the information and run away from the rain, we took a kilometer walk to find the closest free hotspot area. This was at about 22:30 hours.
I had not been to Subang Parade for a very long time and there I was, drinking coffee with a friend while logging onto the internet. With a connection to the virtual world, a flurry of verified and up-to-date information hit us and we were astounded at the path voters nationwide were taking Malaysia to. Penang and Kelantan now possibly had a new government while there were real competition in Kedah, Perak and Selangor. Though it has become a cliché now, political tsunami did indeed describe the situation aptly. This was way better than 1999.
But a laptop’s power last only for so long and we found ourselves walking back to the counting center while registering Malaysian new political landscape.
It was midnight and suspiciously, the result had yet to be officially release. Words on the street had it that this is part of BN’s strategy to frustrate supporters of DAP, PAS and PKR in hope to light up a powder keg. In 1969, the Alliance suffered almost the same magnitude of defeat but riots erupted. That gave UMNO and its allies the opportunity to declare martial laws and nullify the result of the election. Many of the more educated supporters were mindful of this and were prepared to ignore any kind of provocation that may happened in which any hostile reaction may rob us of victory.
A police squad was present to prevent any untoward incident but I felt they were there to suppress us. We were not allowed to make noise (!), no loud hailer was permitted and no celebration was allowed. Deep in my heart, a voice told me that this is unfair. I am sure that UMNO would receive a more preferable and realistic treatment. But what was a call for strict discipline for a few hours compared to years of unfairness? We were willing to play along and that was enough to show how badly we wanted change.
Soon, a new day was at hand but the result was still pending and patience was running low. Discontent was visible within the crowd.
Among smaller circles which trust could be easily established, the reason for the delay was made known. Before the official result could be announced, the Election Commission must sign off a document and transmit it over to the counting station. In this case, BN were applying pressure on an EC officer to delay the sign off. Several individuals expressed measured dissatisfaction upon hearing this while some had begun accusing BN as sore losers. I myself had begun to rationalize the implication of this: a cause for a righteous revolution. John F. Kennedy had once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” BN were playing a very dangerous game.
Many had speculated the reason behind the delay but it became apparent to me after I discovered through the internet later in the day that some state documents were shredded and burned. I suspect that BN needed time to erase all compromising details out of public knowledge.
Throughout the waiting whenever I was not hanging around with friends, I found myself chatting with strangers and most of these strangers were those older than me. The theme behind most conversation was this: at long last, victory.
Finally, at around 03:30 hours, it became official. Budu won. We cheered but the cheering was not as loud as it would if the result was announced much earlier. But we cheered nonetheless.
From far, I thought I saw Budu was holding back his tears while giving a short victory speech. I am unsure what was said or done in temporal order but I seem to remember Budu citing Bob’s words: that he, Bob, Shin and Nurul Izzah worked in PKR when morale in the party was at its lowest just after the 2004 general election. Budu said, after all the humiliation and the ridicule, he finally felt vindicated. PKR is now vindicated. I myself am not innocent of ridiculing PKR in the past but I can say in all honesty, I am glad that PKR has risen back up and higher, much like the phoenix.
By the time I got back home, it was 06:30, March 9 2008. A new dawn has arrived, I told myself, before falling into a deep slumber.