On the campaign trail with Siva Rasiah

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Agnes James looks back at Sivarasa Rasiah’s campaign and finds herself struck by the sheer diversity of Malaysians who were determined to help him win the Subang seat.

It was a frantic SMS from my sister, Anne James, to friends and family to volunteer at Sivarasa Rasiah’s campaign centre in Subang that spurred me into action. I quickly got my leave from work planned and the plane tickets from Penang to Kuala Lumpur booked.

Anne, as some of you may know, is married to Subang’s newest opposition Member of Parliament who was shuttled from his previous seat of PJ Selatan to a new area that sadly had minimal volunteer support.

My stint with Siva – as the family and friends fondly call him – was only going to be for four short days. But from the conversation with my frazzled sister a day before my arrival, I already had my work cut out for me.

I’ve never directly worked with any party during general elections; my brushes with politics have always been as a journalist in Penang who held a dispassionate view about any electoral outcome. I’d seen the winds of change occur in the 1990s and how Penangites had stuck by the BN government through thick and thin – despite the continuous predictions of political swings over the years.

Political swing

This time, however, things were different. I knew it was different because I felt it within myself. The time for the political swing was nigh and everyone who had even a minuscule ear to the ground could feel it. Stories on issues ranging from crime rates, corruption and race relations were exchanged between friends, neighbours, colleagues, family and gym-mates.

My first day on Siva’s campaign trail began at 6.30am, and after a hurried breakfast we rushed out to the bilik gerakan to meet up with other volunteers. Totting an idiot-friendly camera, I headed out with the team to Bandar Baru Sungai Buloh accompanied by several Pas vehicles carrying their candidate, Mohd Khairuddin Othman, who was vying for the Paya Jaras state seat. I asked about the vehicles and Siva said that they were on loan from well-wishers and friends.

The group, which included a number of Pas women, made a short stop at a workshop along the main road where the candidates gave short speeches after which we moved into a small shanty town occupied predominantly by Indians Malaysians. I was truly amazed that in the midst of Malaysia’s thriving development, there are so many who have been so obviously left behind by the much-touted developmental strides made by this nation. 

I was also surprised to see that the houses were pasted with BN logos but when Siva enquired about it, we were told that several people claiming to be from the MIC came into the area and pasted the logos on the houses without even asking the residents permission. The inhabitants also told us that they were scared to vote for the Opposition, and feared reprisal from the BN. Siva had to really work hard to convince them that the ballots were secret. Many looked doubtful despite his assurances.

We then move further into the area to greet parents from an Islamic school who were at the school gates to pick up their children. It was interesting to note the number of people in tudung and ketayap who recognised Siva. I didn’t realise that Siva was a hit with the Malays as well. Many of them knew him either as a social activist, as Anwar Ibrahim’s lawyer or as one of the central figures in the revelation of the V K Lingam tapes.

After a quick brunch with the volunteers, we then headed back to campaign headquarters where I quickly churned out a few stories ranging from the possible destruction of the Sungai Buloh Forest Reserve, the crisis in the police, racial woes and also the privatisation of projects under the BN government.

By the time I finished, a number of volunteers had already converged to either slot pamphlets regarding Siva, PKR and Anwar into a jacket or work on placing Siva’s posters into plastic bags. The task was mind-numbingly dull – but I guess someone’s got to do it, and thank goodness a number of people, primarily from the PJ and Ampang area turned out to help. More volunteers, mainly professionals, came to help out after working hours but I had to abandon them to join  Siva on his night-time campaign trail.

 
“Tell your father, mother, sister, brother…”

I joined Siva’s entourage at a Buddhist centre in Bukit Rahman Putra where he was asked to speak about the police and issues pertaining to security. It became increasingly clear that the people were concerned about the ever-increasing crime rate in this country. Siva explained that the authority’s inability to cope was because most of the police resources were not being channelled into crime-fighting.

By the time we moved to the next destination at Taman Desa’s night market, it was raining heavily. Siva’s volunteers had already done a wonderful job of handing out the pamphlets to residents living in the area and also at the pasar malam. In his speech, Siva outlined PKR’s manifesto and told the crowd to become the “message-bearers” as the mainstream media had almost completely blacked out Opposition news.

“Tell your father, mother, sister, brother, your colleagues – this is an important election.

This election will shape the future of our country. The Opposition parties have no access to television, newspapers and the radio. You need to be our voice. Each and every one of you must turun padang and bring this message to everyone you know. We only have five days left and its time to let them know that the winds of change are occurring right now.

“There is growing momentum to bring about a big change and its happening this Saturday. I’ve seen a clear change in the winds and we will win this election with your help,” he said in flawless Malay.

Siva continued his punishing campaign trail to other areas that night including Sungai Pelong, Damanasara Perdana, Kampung Kubu Gajah and Kampung Melayu, after which we returned to the bilik gerakan at about 1.00am. We reached the office to find that the daily post-mortem that was conducted by Siva’s key personnel, who included the famous Irene Fernandez, had already started. The group also outlined duties, the programme and requirements for the next day.

By the time the family crawled back to PJ it was almost 4.00am and we only had less then three hours of sleep before another full day of campaigning began once again.

One thing that struck me most during my time volunteering at the centre was the diversity of Malaysians who were determined to help Siva win his campaign for the Subang seat. They had come from various racial, religious, intellectual and social backgrounds. I guess his intelligence, integrity, and his passionate desire to promote basic human rights for all finally rang loud and true among fellow Malaysians.

Agnes James is a corporate communications manager with 12 years’ experience as a journalist.

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Stay connected, current and committed to justice. We deliver the truth right to your doorstep every month for only RM30 a year — which is far less than your newspaper bill each month. All you have to do is click here.

Justice was never won without personal sacrifice – whether measured in time volunteered, energy devoted to a cause, or financial support generously given. We need your support in our struggle for justice. Your contribution no matter how small will be like a droplet that builds up into a wave of change. Click here if you would like to contribute financially.

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