Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pasar malam and opposition rally

If you want to know anything about the opposition in Malaysia, forget about turning to the mainstream media, more so during this election season. For example, in today’s Star, one had to enjoy 17 pages of pro-government coverage before the first reports, usually negative, on the opposition appeared.

I wanted to hear what Edward Lee, the DAP candidate for my constituency, the Bukit Gasing State Assembly seat, had to say, and so, I made my way to Section 17 earlier tonight (Tuesday) for a rally/ceramah. The opposition seemed to have settled on a strategy of holding their rallies on the same nights as the weekly pasar malam (night markets) around Petaling Jaya. It makes sense – foot traffic is high, and you can rope in locals out doing their spot of shopping. Parking is a b***h though!

The posters are already up, with the better-funded government parties out-hanging the opposition. I was a little early, so I spent a few minutes exploring the pasar malam, getting bags of keropok lekor and apum balik to munch on while listening to speeches. Small groups of party workers carrying DAP and PKR flags (it was a joint rally) trawled the night market, handing out leaflets and urging residents to make their way up the road for the rally.

Edward Lee, well-known to locals in these parts as a community activist, had a slick handout, in English, that touted his background and explained his manifesto. His helpers who handed them out were equally well-spoken in English – Edward knows his constituency well! Pity about the DAP mascot, though. I know it’s supposed to be a cute version of a rocket, the party symbol, but it still looks like a logo for a prophylactic maker.

The ceramah was held along the small road next to PKR’s operations centre. As I approached the rally area, I could hear the MC trying to rouse the crowd up with a PKR song/chant that was simple and earnest, if a little clunky. After the warm-up act had done his job rousing the crowd, the main action began with Tony Pua, DAP’s candidate for the PJ Utara parliamentary seat.

Tony, Oxford-educated, blogger and a successful entrepreneur, got a rousing welcome – I would have said a standing ovation, if not for the fact that we were all already standing on the street! He was smart and eloquent, often using phrasing and cadences not unfamiliar to those regularly exposed to good preaching. When a party worker passed a box around for donations between speakers, I thought I was at Sunday service!! Many gave willingly and generously (I peeked!), knowing how high the odds were stacked against the opposition.

The arrival of PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim soon got the crowd excited, and the former Deputy Prime Minister did not disappoint. Anwar was predictably eloquent and entertaining, in both English and Malay, and had the crowd in his hands for much of his speech. Anwar’s charisma is more readily accessible since his speeches are available on his party’s website and Youtube, and he did not stray much from his standard speech tonight.

I never did get to hear Edward speak though. After Anwar left, his party’s candidate for the PJ Selatan parliamentary seat, Hee Loy Sian, starting speaking, in Mandarin and Malay. I was overcome by tiredness, so I left after shaking Edwards hands and wishing him all the best.

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