By Debra Chong, The Malaysian Insider
Sunday, 11 January 2009 15:28
Amid a biting wind blowing in from the South China Sea and short but sharp spells of rain marking the monsoon season, a crowd gathered last night in Chinatown here, at an open air parking lot roughly half the size of a football field. They came to follow a series of speeches organised by the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) campaigning for Abdul Wahid Endut in the current by-election here. Young and old, Chinese and Malays, in groups and alone, they came. Some even brought their own plastic stools.
Most, however, stood between the cars and the big puddles, umbrella in hand, listening intently as one after the other, the speakers from DAP, PKR and Pas took to the stump. Foremost among the speakers last night was the princess of reformasi and daughter of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim: Nurul Izzah. She showed up in her bright blue baju kurung, standing in the back of a lorry lit by fluorescent lamp. She lacked the oratory skills of her father. But the crowd paid attention as she spoke to them about the fight for justice. She pointed out the unfairness of the system, recounting how on the same night Kuala Lumpur, police had arrested participants of a candlelight vigil for the Palestinian people in Gaza being battered by Israel. She implored the people of Kuala Terengganu to make a choice for change on polling day on Jan 17. As she spoke, the mainly Chinese crowd listened. Some nodded their heads. After 15 minutes, Nurul Izzah left, rushing off to another ceramah elsewhere. But others stepped up to take her place.
The highlight of the night was the candidate himself. Wahid’s popularity seems to be growing, especially among the Chinese crowd. The five-term assemblyman for Wakaf Mempelam got them laughing with his tale of how Datuk Ahmad Said used to challenge him to boxing duels outside the state legislative assembly before he became Terengganu Menteri Besar. But his tone turned serious in the blink of an eye.
In recounting past incidents at public rallies in Batu Enam, Batu Rakit and Batu Buruk where the authorities had used tear gas and even fired live bullets to disperse the crowd, Wahid drew parallels between the local situation and the Palestine-Israel conflict in Gaza now.
“What is the difference between the people of Terengganu getting shot at and the people of Palestine getting shot by Jews?” he asked. The crowd went silent.
Malaysia Today blogger, Raja Petra Kamarudin, attracted almost as much attention with his talk on racism in Malaysia and how he, too, is a victim, despite being a Malay.
Seputeh MP Teresa Kok almost stole the show with her speech on the politics of fear, heavily punctuated with humour that belied her grave face. She reminded them how last year’s independent candidate for the General Election had campaigned on a bicycle and “cycled away with 600 votes”. Kok asked the crowd not to believe what the BN said. Repeating a rumour that a minister had “advised” the civil servants that action would be taken against them if they voted PR, she pointed out that it was a trick, that every vote was secret and remained so; that the Election Commission burns the sealed ballot papers half a year after election and the MPs from both sides witness the ceremony. She implored the voting community to give their votes to PR.
“So pitiful,” said a Malay lady selling satay nearby.
Noticing the questioning look, she explained, “It’s pitiful that they have to speak on the back of a lorry.”