The Sarawak state election was in many ways an exhilarating and unforgettable event not just for the participants, but also for the bystanders. I was fortunate to be counted as one who witnessed the week-long drama unfold in Sibu, seeing a thousand faces and emotions being displayed.
Nomination and ceramahs
April 6 the nomination day saw a record number of 200 plus candidates vying for the 71 state seats offered. I was on duty with the DAP entourage that turned up to support the DAP candidate. More than half of the 200 plus volunteers marched together towards the Dudong nomination centre, matching the BN’s entourage. This was a previously unheard phenomenon. By a seasoned local party member’s reckoning, this was the biggest and most representative crowd that DAP has ever assembled for the Dudong state seat nomination.
Incidentally the Dudong state seat held by BN’s SUPP and which is situated partially in the Sibu town, has close to 48 percent of native population represented on its electoral roll. The campaign seems to have hit the right note early on for DAP, who put up Yap Hoi Liong as its candidate.
The election campaign started with the ceramahs in the night. The first night ceramah saw a 3,000-strong crowd gathering in an open-air car park, a typical venue for opposition rallies. The crowd’s receptiveness toward the speakers’ diatribe against the ruling party was shown clearly on many a nodding faces.
As the campaign days drew on, the crowd size increased. In fact, astounding numbers turned up for ceramahs across the big cities and towns in Sarawak. Miri and Kuching registered record-size crowds that numbered in the tens of thousands almost from the start of the campaign.
The crowd’s enthusiasm was shown when DAP’s party merchandise were snapped up like hot cakes by the avid listeners. Party newspapers, books, drinks and T-shirts were ringing up big sales in ceramahs and amongst walk-in visitors to the DAP service centre. But the star of the campaign was clearly Ubah, the cuddly hornbill doll. Many were fighting to get hold of the toy; near scuffles were reported to have taken place in one of the Sibu ceramahs.
The banners and poster wars were no less colourful. Ubahs and dacings were going head-to-head adorning the streets and trees were lined with many humorous witticisms.
There were also side dramas that stole the limelight for brief respites. A helicopter ferrying the Deputy Prime Minister crashed in front of the Wisma Sanyan on the day postal voting began there, killing the pilot in the process. Raja Petra’s supposed recant of Najib and Rosmah’s alleged role in the Altantuya murder case and Anwar’s alleged role in the sex video was splashed prominently across the mainstream media. It was all in a day’s work for the news spinners.
The final night of the campaign ceramah in Sibu, usually drawing the biggest turnout, saw a downpour that threatened to dampen the crowd turnout. The BN’s tactics did not help either; SUPP workers were playing an anti-Pakatan video at full volume to distract the DAP ceramah attendees.
Finally the weather let up; the police finally got the BN’s provocateurs to leave the place. And the crowd finally turned up, registering a record 20,000 turnout. The organisers promised the audience a rock-star concert; the crowd was entertained throughout with the speakers’ speeches and DAP’s own volunteer band belting out the spirit-lifting song of the Taiwanese singer Roger Yang’s hit song “I do believe”. The crowd seems all roused for the elections.
Amidst all the sights and sounds, I was reminded of the resemblance of this campaign to the March 8 general elections in Peninsula Malaysia, especially in Penang. How the crowds were coming out in droves, braving rains to listen to political novices like Hannah Yeoh and Teoh Nie Ching speak. Everyone seems fired up to bring change. Would Sarawakians do the same?
Polling day was deceptively peaceful. But the real drama began as the results came in. In the Dudong postal vote counting centre, a blackout took place. The familiar script of certain political parties, who when losing by a small margin would turn off the lights to sneak it a few stuffed ballots and steal the election, seems destined to be replayed again in Sibu.
But the DAP supporters would have none of this. Arguments ensued; the tense atmosphere was finally defused when the Election Commission officers brought in spare light torches to proceed with the counting.
Sibu folks were all excited for the results and for DAP. As night fell, a few hundred enthusiastic supporters gathering at the DAP operations centre to witness the latest election results. Even the drizzle could not keep them away. Every time the results flipped positively for DAP, the crowd would roar.
After the final results were announced, the crowd lingered patiently for their candidates to return. Almost 500 people had gathered to wait for the DAP’s candidates. By 10.30pm DAP’s favourite four for Sibu, Richard Wong, David Wong, Alice Lau and Yap returned to heroes’ welcome at the operations centre.
Tears of joy and dejection could be seen on the faces of the supporters. The only candidate that lost, Alice, was consoled and greeted with tender embraces by anonymous supporters. It was as though they were raring for her to have another shot at the elections. It was a sight I could never forget.
The election campaign, a first for me, was in many ways an eye-opener. To see people freely donating to the campaign’s cause, the enthusiastic supporters embracing the fight and party volunteers coming from Peninsula and afar to contribute to the cause certainly reminded me that this campaign is a lot bigger than just helping one political party to win the elections. It is about change, a change we all have a stake in. As the Ibans would say it, Aram kitai berubah, Malaysia! (Let us change, Malaysia!) -The Rocket