“He has defeated the lion, he is our dragon” – Sungai Siput voter
Probably the most-watched general election battle was the Sungai Siput contest in which underdog Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj sensationally upset the MIC strongman Samy Vellu. Kumar’s sister, Prema Devaraj, provides an enthralling account for Aliran Monthly of her involvement, alongside the people of Sg Siput, in this amazing campaign.
It’s 4.00am. I stagger to the window and glare at the sleeping cockerel next door in its cage. For the entire campaign period, this miserable fowl started his day beneath my window when it was still dark outside. No amount of reasoning or threatening to call KFC deterred this feathered foe from either post or responsibility. A secret and loyal employee of the BN? Well, we’ll see who has the last squawk. If my brother can take on Samy Vellu, I can handle sleep deprivation. Bring on polling day.
Formidable logistics for Polling Day
The Sg Siput parliamentary constituency covers both Lintang and Jalong state constituencies which have a total of 36 polling stations. Ninety-four polling agents are needed to cover all the streams (classrooms) per polling station per shift. The logistics of recruiting, briefing, equipping polling agents and getting them to their destinations on time was no easy task for the campaign team.
There were moments of exasperation when for instance some polling agents did not turn up (yarrghh!!!) or got lost (sigh!) or when food meant for the second batch of polling agents accidentally went to the pondok panas people instead (oops!). But the day progressed and soon we waited to hear from the counting agents.
Excitement mounts as results trickle in
Who could have predicted the outcome of the day? The results started to come in via sms from the counting agents but nothing was recorded until Borang 14 (official documentation of the vote count in each stream) was brought back to the office. Some counting agents were in tears as they handed over the forms. They said, “Doctor is in the lead”, “He is winning”, “He has beaten Samy” and so on. One told me he was not returning his file as it was proof that he was part of this historic moment. Other counting agents from the Lintang polling stations did not look so sure.
There was just so much excitement with people shouting and jostling for news. Mobile phones were ringing incessantly. People wanted confirmation of victory. With my voice gone, I could not speak. I could not hear either. The crowds outside and inside the office were jubilant. My calculator gave up at a crucial moment (***@!!***). The count was so close. I could not add properly. I could not think of defeat and yet I dared not think of victory. A group of us accompanied the calon to the Dewan shortly after.
At the Dewan: Kumar in the lead!
At the Dewan, camera lights flashed endlessly as the calon walked in. People whispered, “Dr Kumar, Dr Kumar”. Many were smiling and giving surreptitious thumbs-up signs from behind pillars, their folders and under their coats. The board at the front of the Dewan showed the calon in the lead by 2,400 votes. I heard my mother’s voice in my head “O ye of little faith!” But, doubts still remained. Having been through the last two elections with the calon and crying my eyes out by a longkang each time he lost, I was a little more than cautious. Would mysterious postal votes or a box from a polling station we had not heard of suddenly appear? “Watch that board. If the figures change I want to know and I want to know why,” said the calon.
Palpable tension before SPR’s announcement
The results on the board were truly final. Kumar had actually won!! The math had been done but the returning officer (RO) postponed the official announcement. The speed with which the PSM team moved was amazing. Rani, the campaign manager shot out of her chair proclaiming injustice. The lawyers produced and quoted the appropriate sections of the election laws which clearly stated that the RO had to announce the results dengan serta merta. ‘What’s the problem? Just do your job!” said the calon. The calon’s supporters got very restless. We all smelt a rat but whether it would appear and what form it would take remained to be seen.
The tension was palpable as we all waited unnecessarily, fidgeting, tired, thirsty and irritable. The RO hid in various corners in the front of the Dewan and whispered into a hand phone and waited for a mysterious phone call or fax. The police tried to soothe the situation. It was obvious that if the tables were turned the announcement would have been made immediately. Finally, after much pressure, the RO made the announcement close to midnight. The calon was officially declared the winner. Up went the clenched fist. The roar from his supporters was deafening.
Celebration time – “God has watched over him”
I made my way back to the bilik gerakan with Rani. She was simply ecstatic. What a joyous moment for Kumar, the PSM team and their supporters not only in Sg Siput but all across the country. As we walked towards the bilik gerakan I saw Kumar on stage with supporters around him, hundreds more on the ground listening to his words. Kumar spoke to them of the work ahead for the PSM team and the people of Sg Siput and how disciplined they had to be to deliver the promises they had made. He had been garlanded, petals of flowers falling off him. The sounds of music and drumming filled the air. People were laughing, cheering, hugging each other and doing little jigs – the PSM team and supporters, Makkal Sakthi people, Sg Siput citizens, people from Ipoh and elsewhere.
At the bilik gerakan entrance, a group of women, faithful PSM supporters, people whom I have come to know through previous election campaigns and from their many struggles for justice, stood. Their faces were so radiant.
We hugged each other in heartfelt embraces. “We have won,” they told me in Tamil, “God has watched over him”, “Your brother has walloped him nicely”, “He has defeated the lion, he is our dragon”. These women were just incredible.
I laughed and cried at the same time. My tears mingled with theirs. There are no words to describe the emotions of those moments. I was simply overwhelmed.
The morning after: Pinching the “dragon”
The phones hadn’t stopped ringing since the night before. I pinched the ‘dragon’ at breakfast to make sure that what happened the night before was for real. He laughed and left to meet the people. My feathered opponent next door was silent.(No, I had not called KFC !) I packed up. My job was over. It was time to go home and let the PSM team and Sg Siput citizens get on with the job at hand.
As my husband, son and I left Sg Siput, the sky seemed so very blue and the Perak hills never looked more spectacular. On the way back to Penang, my thoughts went to the many people of different faiths, from across the country who had called us and prayed for Kumar’s safety and his victory.
Victory dance in Penang
When we reached my parent’s house, I saw them standing in the porch, waiting for us. I got out of the car and as I walked towards them I did a ridiculous victory dance, complete with the hip shimy and the shoulder shake.
They started laughing. He said,” Ya, now you can dance! You were not so sure on Friday!” She smiled serenely as she always does.
I walked straight into their arms. No further words were necessary.
PSM’s quest for Sg Siput was a mission many of us had considered as impossible given the opponent and his machinery. Nevertheless we went into battle. Many analysts have put the results of the recent general elections down to the people voting the BN out and not so much as the people voting the opposition in.
I think that in Sg Siput the result was due to a combination of factors including a) enough people being thoroughly fed up with the BN candidate for a valid number of reasons b) the calon being credible, respected and trustworthy c) PSM’s track record in Sg Siput was known to the people and d) the support from the people. Support came from so many different groups – Pas, PKR, Makkal Sakthi, DAP, old Labour veterans (kawan karib) and many, many ordinary individuals. Apart from the locals, people came from up north and down south to spend a day or two with the campaign. Some stayed even longer. There was a mixture of middle-aged folk and young people. People were generous not only with their time but also with their financial support. The commitment and dedication shown was just amazing.
The campaign itself had a daily programme of early morning market visits, followed by visits to breakfast coffee shops right up till lunch time. In the afternoon, car convoys headed to more rural areas. We carried out door-to-door visits in residential areas in the hot afternoon sun, evening walkabouts in different pasar malam locations, and at least three to four ceramah each night. Many of us were lucky to get to bed by 2.00am.
Posters, banners, postcards, T-shirts and VCDs were created and distributed. They cut, sewed and hung up flags. Bill boards were made. Songs were sung and recorded on YouTube. Reading material on the calon, his promises and analyses of the current issues facing Malaysians was distributed in three languages. Recruitment and briefings for polling agents in both Sg Siput and Ipoh were ongoing.
Reporters came and went. The calon declared his assets and signed a contract to ensure the fulfilment of his promises with 10 representatives including farmers, villagers, urban settlers, youth, etc. from the community. The campaign was full on for 13 days except for one day mid campaign when we took a morning off (i.e., we got up at 8.00am instead of 6.00am).
And yes, there were challenges too.
• Deep frustration and antagonism over seat allocations had to be overcome but people put aside differences and worked towards a single objective. To the credit of all groups involved – PSM, PKR, Pas and DAP – a united front was achieved.
• Flags and posters put up were removed mysteriously in the middle of the night. Just driving around Sg Siput one would think that only the BN candidate was standing for election. Nevertheless the flag troupe valiantly persevered.
• The Biro Penerangan Kuala Kangsar erected a stage less than 50 feet from the calon’s bilik gerakan and blasted music nightly with various artists and dancing girls from day one of the campaign. Nevertheless, people gathered at the calon’s bilik gerakan night after night despite the migraine-instilling noise.
• Voters from certain communities openly asked for money as campaigners went around. Where had they learnt this habit from? We handed out leaflets instead.
• Sg Siput SPR dithered about their role, election rules and regulations. The PSM team knew the law and the requirements.
• BN propaganda in the media went overboard but people had access to alternative media.
A people’s victory
Despite everything, everyone involved with the Sg Siput campaign just got on with the work at hand. There was no financial remuneration but there were meals, generously donated and cooked by caring individuals. One just had to be there to experience the tremendous amount of goodwill and camaraderie which came from the respect people had for the calon, his team and their efforts for the quest at hand.
The Sg Siput campaign was a people’s campaign and the victory, a people’s victory, the permanence of which, however, only time will tell. I hope the PSM team will be able to further build on the links they have with so many groups and committed individuals. They have the task of not just seeing to the diverse needs of the people of Sg Siput but also of breaking the culture of money politics in certain communities. My wish for them is that they continue to do a Che’, that is be realistic and do the impossible!! (Aliran Monthly)
Rakyat Sungai Siput semua, mari jemput perubahan baru
Kobarkan semangat jua mu, kesaksamaan pasti menunggu
Sudah, cukup lama kita terbelenggu,
Satukan kekuatan buruh tani, perubahan mula sini.
(adapted from Mars Rakyat Miskin Kota, Indonesia)
Hidup Rakyat! Hidup Perjuangan!
Vaalge Paatali! Vallerge Varge Poratum!
Ren Min Wan Sui! Dou Zheng Wan Sui!
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