The 13th general election is over and the result showed that the majority of Malaysians wanted to ‘Ubah’, that is, to see change. Many who have worked hard for it are disappointed with the outcome but we realise that we must move on and prepare ourselves for GE14.
We salute the tireless efforts of politicians and civil society leaders at the forefront of this push for change. Many of them travelled the length and breadth of this country, keeping an insane schedule for the past few months just to make themselves heard at the hundreds of ceramahs or rallies across this nation. It was almost a superhuman effort. Though they have lost the battle to take Putrajaya this time, they are still heroes of this struggle for a better Malaysia.
But this struggle is not theirs alone. Throughout these last few years and especially in the last few months in the run-up to May 5, it has been my absolute privilege to have served together and to have known ordinary Malaysians from all walks of life who shares a common passion for this country. To me they are no less heroic in their efforts and their sacrifices are no less significant. I want to sing the praises of some of these unsung heroes of GE13.
- Felicia is a Malaysian who has lived in Singapore for many years, never registered and never voted before. Just after Parliament was dissolved and election called, she checked her voting status at the Election Commission’s (EC) website and found herself registered not only as a voter but as an advance voter in Putrajaya. Not wanting anyone to cast her vote on her behalf, on April 28, the day advance voters were supposed to vote, she got into her car very early in the morning and drove the 340km from Singapore to Putrajaya to cast her vote by 9am and then turned around and headed back to Singapore.
- I met Boon at the campaign office of a candidate. He had volunteered himself to help out with some of the administrative stuff there and we got talking. I found out that Boon and his family have been living in the UK for many years but have keenly followed the political developments in Malaysia and decided to fly home with his wife to cast their votes, for the very first time.
There were probably thousands of folks just like Felicia and Boon, Malaysians who live and work overseas who came back to vote. Some thoughtless individuals might have considered these overseas Malaysians unpatriotic but I challenge them to find me more committed people than these, who came home at great personal expense to cast their one vote. For them it was more than a vote but a stake in the future of this country, a country they love.
- When the call went out for volunteers to serve as polling and counting agents, literally tens of thousands of Malaysians came forward to be trained and deployed on polling day to do their part for a clean and fair election. Many came out with no expectation of payment and if they received any allowances for their services, they donated back these allowances. Money cannot buy such people and they can’t be bought, they are priceless.
- Thanks to the news of foreigners being flown in to vote in our election, thousands of citizens came forward to volunteer as election observers or as “ghostbusters”, standing guard under hot sun or rain outside polling stations. At several of the polling stations I visited that day, I saw between 30-50 residents standing outside their own polling stations until polling ended and for some, they followed the ballot boxes all the way to the main counting centres. All this they did on their own accord without anyone telling them what to do.
- Ariff and his friends were some of those who stood guard outside a main counting centre. At around 10.30pm they saw a taxi bringing in additional ballot carriers with a uniformed but unnumbered policeman in it. They stopped the taxi and challenged the legality of such last minute additional ballots. The taxi turned around and sped off with them in pursuit by foot.
- In the early hours of May 5, a factory manager in Johor found out from his human relations (HR) manager that 100 of his foreign workers were not turning up to work. They told the HR manager that their agent was coming to fetch them to collect ICs so that they could vote. The factory manager rushed to the police station to make a report, and with the report he managed to stop the workers from voting. But he didn’t stop there. He made copies of the police report and passed it to as many election observers as he could find so that they would be on the lookout for foreign voters. A true patriot!
- Ben and his wife went to cast their votes early and decided to stay back to help those who were queuing up to check their saluran (channels) number. They told those who already knew their numbers to go straight to join the queue at the saluran so as to save some time. But their efforts to help were not appreciated by the EC officer-in-charge who insisted that all must check for their saluran before queuing again to vote. They were ordered to leave but they remained outside the school gate to continue assisting those coming to vote till the end of polling at 5pm.
- I know of a young man whose life was miraculously saved from the burning wreckage of his car seconds before it exploded on April 8. He was hospitalised for more than three weeks and still suffered serious spinal injuries when polling day came. He insisted on casting his vote and was wheeled from the hospital to the polling station to cast his vote for change. A life spared, a vote counted.
- Then there were the probably hundreds of ordinary citizens who became social activists after the previous election in 2008. Many of these post-GE12 activists willingly made huge sacrifices to organise others to be involved in new voters education, polling and counting agent trainings, organised and participated in various protests and forums and did street ceramahs. For many, their business and work suffered and marital relationships strained. They are not household names but they are heroes to those whom they have served and led.
The above true stories are just a very small representation of the many unsung heroes strewn all across Malaysia and the globe. You would have many stories of your own to tell and of people you know. We salute them all.
There is no doubt in my mind that with the highly questionable way Barisan Nasional has won this election and subsequent divisive statements by Najib Abdul Razak, his ministers, and Umno loyalists, and the unjust crackdowns on Adam Adli, Haris Ibrahim, Tian Chua and Tamrin Ghafar, we can expect to see even more citizens rising up to play a direct and active role in the political process of this country.
To me, this is the true Malaysian Spring, the uprising of ordinary Malaysians who are determined to have a say in how our country is run and to hold elected officials accountable for their service. Like a tsunami, it is an uprising that is unstoppable, and irreversible, it is an uprising that will eventually achieve its intended purpose - Ubah!
THOMAS FANN blogs at http://www.newmalaysia.org