Committed politicians like Rafizi Ramli are a rarity, striving tirelessly to overcome the almost insurmountable odds to bring about change in the the political landscape of the country, writes Benedict Lopez.
Prior to the 2013 general election, many watchers of Malaysia’s political landscape had not heard of Rafizi Ramli even though he had been active in politics for 20 years.
Elected in 2013 as the PKR MP for Pandan with an overwhelming majority of 26,729 votes, Rafizi began to stamp his mark on the political scene immediately, by becoming a staunch critic of the ruling Barisan Nasional through his exposés of leakages and mismanagement in the public sector involving tax payers’ money.
Rafizi is well known for the revelation of the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal, which involved former Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s family – RM250m in public funds planned for a state cattle ranch in Gemas, Negeri Sembilan, was misused. The minister was nevertheless unscathed from the allegations when she was cleared by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
Not only BN, but PR, too, has been the target of Rafizi’s disclosures. Rafizi publicised derelictions and unnecessary expenditures, including the awarding of over-priced closed tender projects and the acquisition of exorbitant assets. Rafizi’s also exposed the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor state government officials and former Menteri Besar Khalid’s Ibrahim’s out-of-court settlement with Bank Islam over a RM70m debt. This negative publicity subsequently led to Khalid’s removal as Menteri Besar and the ‘Kajang Move’, which culminated in Azmin Ali being made the Menteri Besar of Selangor.
Rafizi was a passionate campaigner for lower petrol prices as he believed that it would ultimately benefit Malaysian consumers. In 2014, he slammed the government’s decision to scrap petrol subsidies, saying such a move would only benefit oil companies and petrol station owners and hurt ordinary motorists and road-users. He criticised the way petrol prices were fixed by the government, especially the way petrol station operators were shielded from the adversities of fluctuating global oil prices.
The Pandan MP paid a heavy price for his tireless pursuit of justice and whistleblowing. He was charged under various laws such as under the Official Secrets Act and the Banking and Financial Institutions Act. But he was not been deterred by these setbacks in his continual endeavours to expose wrongdoings in the country.
Hardship was not unfamiliar terrain for Rafizi. The son of a rubber tapper from Besut, Terengganu, he did not let poverty hinder him from excelling in his studies, becoming top student at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar in 1994. He moved on to Leeds University in England, where he graduated with a degree in electrical and electronics engineering in 1999 and subsequently qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2003. Along the way, Rafizi won numerous student awards.
Invoke, the organisation he founded in 2016, is perhaps closest to his heart and synonymous with Rafizi’s name. His pet project, it catapulted him to political fame as a leading campaigner for a change of government in Malaysia. Invoke incorporated modern campaign techniques to include micro-targeting, analytics and digital apps to gauge the mood of the Malaysian electorate.
Malaysians from all walks of life came forward and served in Invoke’s army of volunteers. Many of them, like my friends and me, used our own mobile phones to contact hundreds of voters in the Lembah Pantai parliamentary constituency to support PKR’s Fahmi Fadzil in the 2018 general election. We worked in a place without proper ventilation and under humid conditions but we had no regrets or complaints. We were dictated by our moral conscience – that it was a calling we needed to do for our country and the people of Malaysia.
Generous Malaysians donated considerable sums of money, supported Invoke’s activities and and fundraising dinners and bought Invoke’s merchandise including T-shirts with the Invoke slogan “Volunteerism, Valour, Virtue”.
At all the fundraising dinners which we attended, I was amazed at the enthusiastic response from those present. They donated generously when the Invoke volunteers came around to all the tables with their collection boxes. I noticed from the collection boxes most of the money collected were in the form of RM50 and RM100 notes – and when the announcement was made later, the amounts collected were substantial. This burning desire, this yearning among so many Malaysians on evident display suggested that change at the 2018 general election was possible.
Invoke also trained thousands of volunteers as polling and counting agents to ensure that no malpractices took place during the general election. I was a polling agent for PKR/PH at a school in the Lembah Pantai constituency – and I have to give credit to the professional manner in which the Election Commission staff on the ground, at least where I was, discharged their duties.
Only once at a fundraising dinner did I have the opportunity to chat shortly with Rafizi. I could detect his unyielding commitment and dedication towards Invoke and his vision for a better Malaysia, not only for us but also for posterity. Rafizi and Invoke’s hard work finally bore fruit on 9 May 2018 when PH won the election against formidable odds. The rest is history.