Saturday, March 8, 2008

Polling day

The day has arrived. March 8, 2008, polling day for Malaysia’s General Election. There are straight fights in both my Petaling Jaya (PJ) Selatan parliamentary and Bukit Gasing state legislative seats: incumbent ruling party MP Donald Lim against Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s relative unknown Hee Loy Sian in the federal contest; while incumbent Barisan Nasional chap Dr. Lim Thuang Seng comes up against local boy, the DAP’s Edward Lee.

On the drive to the polling station this morning, after breakfast had been nicely tucked away, the roads near the school were lined festively with banners and posters.

Flanking the entrance to the school/polling station were two booths, one for the ruling coalition and the other for the opposition. Crowds milled around the Barisan tent, checking the PCs for their names, I presume. The opposition tent had much fewer folks there, by comparison.

We’ve been living in our house since 1966, so my parents have been voting here for a long time. They could tell you many stories about elections and candidates – it seems to me they are fence sitters, waiting to see the quality of the candidates as much as the party they represent. They have idiosyncratic ways of making up their minds, which I guess is the beauty of the democratic system. Two nights ago, at around 3 am, a convoy of cars and motorcycles zoomed noisily through our neighbourhood, shouting the slogans of one particular party (I’m not naming the party, since it’s not clear whether they convoy was from that party or from the rival group, masquerading and irritating the residents). Mum was rudely woken up and had trouble falling asleep, and spent the whole of the next day grumbling about them. I think they lost her vote.

Despite being in their late 70s, they made it to the polling station, with a little help from Second Sis.

There were a steady stream of voters coming and going – not so busy as to make parking impossible, but big enough to create a buzz. We already knew which room we were voting in, but if you weren’t sure, you could check at the polling station.

Voting itself was painless and fuss free. Ushers and policemen were willing to help you along, and once you got to your room, you joined the queue, which wasn’t more than five deep when we were there. Once you turn came, you entered the room.

One of three ladies checked my Identity Card against the roll, and called out my name, IC and registration numbers once she was satisfied I wasn’t a phantom. The second lady tore the ballot papers out (one magenta; one orange), while the third punched a hole through them, carefully sweeping the punched bits into a neat little mountain on her table, before giving me the ballot papers.

As I was about to X the ballot papers, I reflected on how Malaysia was indeed much better than Myanmar, as Donald Lim strove to remind his voters a week or so ago. With that in mind, I made two crosses, stuffed the ballot papers into the box (with a lady hovering near me with a ruler in case I was incapable of competent stuffing), and exited the room.

There, all done. In 5 minutes. I wonder why we don’t get close to 100% turnout, since voting is so easy and painless (and so is registration, nowadays). Are people so apathetic?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Election feevuh

Just got back from another opposition ceramah in Taman Petaling earlier tonight (Wed, March 5). In the previous rally I attended, I had missed Edward Lee, the DAP candidate for the Bukit Gasing state seat, so I was determined to hear him at least once before polling day on March 8. Incidentally, his opponent, the incumbent Dr. Lim Thuang Seng, was holding an event a few streets away.

Just like that last rally, this one was held alongside the area's weekly night market, taking advantage of the higher foot traffic. The DAP pick-up truck was parked in front of Kam Keng Restaurant, a popular PJ joint, and right next to a Thai restaurant as well. The audience could mill about across the street, or they could have their dinner and quaff a few beers while listening to speeches.

Speaking of speeches, there were quite a number at the rally, of varying quality. The best from the first half of the night was undoubtedly Haris Ibrahim, popular blogger, social activist, and a prime mover of Get An MP, a citizen initiative to kick some political butt.

Clad in his trademark Barisan Rakyat tee-shirt, Haris vowed the crowd with his fiery oratory, his dream of a Malaysia rid of race-based politics, and his call to action.

Preferring not to climb on top of the pick-up truck (“I’m afraid I’ll fall down because I move around too much”), Haris stood at street level and eyeballed the crowd. If there weren’t cars passing by now and again, I bet he would have walked straight into the throngs and roused each one of us individually. The crowd, by the way …

… lapped it all up, punctuating his speech with whoops and cheers.

The highlight of the evening for me was the last speaker, Edward Lee.

Edward took the mike to loud cheers. Amazingly, Edward did not sound like a polished and well-rehearsed orator, a mover of crowds like Anwar Ibrahim. Instead, he spoke like an Everyman.

He used an English that your regular, PJ middle-class neighbour with a steady job would use – simple, plain and straightforward, using a typical educated Malaysian accent of an earlier vintage that is authentic and comforting. One could feel large sections of the crowd connecting with him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of his constituents share his background and concerns.

I had thought some of them would have left before he began speaking, since it was getting late and many had been there for quite a while. Instead, they stuck around to hear Edward speak passionately about serving the people, words that rang true because of his lengthy track record as a neighbourhood organiser and volunteer, away from the self-serving spotlight of politics. When he mentioned how his opponent would pop up at the last lap for a photo shoot after the residents’ committees had successfully fought the council on this or that issue, I immediately thought of the thick and glossy booklet that landed in our mailbox yesterday showing the incumbent in many pictures shaking hands with this and that group! What great timing!

Anyway, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat candidate for the Petaling Jaya Selatan parliamentary seat, Hee Loy Sian, spoke before Edward.

Sensing a need to balance out the English-heavy speeches, Hee spoke in Malay and Mandarin, sounding much more confident than when I heard him last week. His speech was standard Keadilan stuff – rising petrol prices, promises of a minimum wage etc – that appears consistently in all of Anwar Ibrahim’s speeches.

It suggested that the party has some measure of ideological discipline, with its many members staying on message.

The crowd was promised an appearance by Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is standing for the Lembah Pantai parliamentary seat, which borders the Bukit Gasing state seat. Nurul Izzah was stuck at another rally and couldn’t arrive before the approved time limit for the rally had expired, much to the disappointment of the crowd. Could this be why they were hoping for her to make an appearance?

She’s a beaut, ain’t she?