Judging by the number of election talks held in churches across the country and the enthusiastic response to critical speakers and opposition candidates, it appears likely that Christian voters will swing to the opposition this time, in sharp contrast to 2004. Our special correspondent reports on a lively forum held at the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Petaling Jaya during which the BN candidates were heckled and jeered.
I attended the closed-door debate
between the Incumbent and Opposition parties at Loyola Hall, St.
Francis Xavier’s Church (SFX) in PJ on Wednesday, 27 February
2008. The speakers were Margaret Martinez, chairperson; Hee Loy Sian,
the PKR Candidate for the PJ Selatan parliamentary seat; Donald Lim
Siang Chai, the BN (MCA) candidate for PJ Selatan; Dr. Lim Thuan
Seng, the BN (Gerakan) candidate for the Bukit Gasing state
constituency; and Edward Lee Poh Lin, the DAP candidate for Bukit
Now, this isn’t the first time that
there has been such a debate at SFX. I also attended the one in
2004. But what a sharp contrast. In 2004, the SFX parishioners asked
a lot of questions in a very civil manner. Although the PKR candidate
outshone the DAP candidate plus the two BN candidates in the debates
then, it would be the two BN candidates, Donald Lim and Lim Thuan
Seng, who would actually win in the 2004 election.
This time, in 2008, the DAP candidate
outshone the PKR candidate, plus the same two BN candidates. But it
remains to be seen who wins the actual 2008 election. The crowd,
which consisted of more than 300 SFX parishioners, was very vocal.
People clapped when Thuan Seng mentioned that the Opposition lawyer
who campaigned against him in the 2004 election won 40 per cent of
On the other hand, Lim Thuan Seng and
Donald Lim were booed, heckled and even laughed at. It reached a
point where Lim Thuan Seng commented that this was "not a
sympathetic crowd"! At one point, he was so flustered by the
questioning that he even handed the microphone to the DAP candidate
Now, a lot was discussed, but let me
highlight a few issues, though not necessarily in chronological
“Compared to Myanmar..”.
Donald Lim, who is also the Deputy
Minister for Tourism, attempted to explain how Malaysia had gone from
an agricultural to an industrial and now to an information-based
country. He spoke about how per capita income was increasing. While
he was saying this, someone started heckling him saying that "A
vote for BN is a vote for corruption".
But this wasn’t the worst. Donald hit
a raw nerve when he started comparing Malaysia with Myanmar. The
audience started booing him over this, and told him to compare
Malaysia with Singapore! To make matters worse, Donald made the same
mistake of mentioning "Myanmar" a second time, later in the
debate. This time, the audience laughed.
Thuan Seng tried to explain that oil
prices were increasing globally, giving statistics on oil
prices/barrel from 1971 to 2008. He explained that this was beyond
their control. Still, he said that Malaysia was doing better than
"other countries". (He obviously learned from Donald not to
mention "Myanmar" to this crowd.) He said that while
Malaysians may not be happy, "to outsiders we are doing well"!
Now, one of the parishioners mentioned
that the BN candidates were making "fantastical" remarks
about how the country was doing, but highlighted that many people
have migrated, and this was causing a brain drain. He asked the
candidates what they would be doing to retain talent.
Donald brought the house down in
laughter when he said that even his two sisters-in-law had migrated!
He also said that many migrated leaving behind those who are "not
so well qualified". He later tried to say that many foreigners
do come to Malaysia via the "Malaysia, my second home"
programme. By this time, the audience was laughing at poor Donald.
Thuan Seng did say that migration was a
loss to the nation. He did try to back Donald up in the "Malaysia
my second home" policy, but this didn’t go down too well with
the audience. At some point during the debate, I did record Thuan
Seng as saying "If you put Lim Kit Siang as Prime Minister, even
I will migrate!"
Edward Lee mentioned that all this
reflected a crisis in leadership, integrity, honesty, and good sound
Rising crime rate
Thuan Seng acknowledged that the crime
rate is increasing and said that he himself had "felt scared"
as he himself was a victim. He said that he would fight for this
issue to be addressed and that it was in his manifesto.
Edward Lee mentioned that the solution
was not CCTV cameras or Rakan Cop (which is what I assume the BN is
proposing), but rather a better-qualified police force. He said that
the low salaries made cops hungry for bribes, and that one way to
counter it was through better salaries. This met with audience
Hee Loy Sian spoke about the Royal
Commission report for police reform and the need for the Independent
Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to be set up.
Jalan Gasing jam
Now, all politics is local. Given that,
questions about the constituency were clearly going to be raised.
Sure enough, there was the issue about how some new highway that was
leading into Jalan Gasing was causing a traffic jam. I am not sure
if Thuan Seng had anything to do with the decision to allow the
highway through or not, but one thing was for sure: he came late for
the debate, as he was stuck in the jam on Jalan Gasing!
Edward Lee did say that the authorities
did not take into consideration the views of the people when they did
that. He then asked the parishioners if they agreed there should be
an elected council system in the country. Thunderous applause
greeted his statement.
Gasing Hill development
One lady highlighted that they had been
fighting against the development of Bukit Gasing for the past few
years, but that their pleas were being ignored. Note that Bukit
Gasing is viewed as a green lung. The BN candidates gave some evasive
answers, but promised to look into it.
Later, an elderly man came up and said
that a study of Bukit Gasing revealed that it comprised mostly of
soil and sand, and not granite. It was therefore unstable for
development. He added that any development in the area could
potentially result in another Highland Towers-type tragedy.
This old man then asked the BN
candidates to take a pledge – not a verbal pledge but a written one.
He whipped out the document and passed it to the candidates to sign.
He received a standing ovation for his actions!
The BN candidates responded that they
would not sign it, but pledged verbally to speak to DBKL about it.
Donald told the old man that he’d have a private talk with him and
that he would teach him how to go about it! This brought some
heckling from the audience…"close one eye”!
A blogger named Bernard Khoo, who was
not an SFX parishioner, made a few comments about corruption at Port
Klang. He asked why BN had listed many things as price controlled
items, but not pork. This brought laughter from the audience.
Bernard also said something to the
effect that BN was about to lose. He therefore wanted to address the
candidates in the losing party. He then asked why the BN had not
endorsed the "People’s Declaration" when every opposition
Thuan Seng made some noise over the
fact that this was a blogger who was gate-crashing an SFX do, to
which Bernard gave him a piece of his mind that this was a free
This rattled Thuan Seng, who could not
even remember what the question was. Once the question was repeated,
Thuan Seng said that he’d "try to bring it up". It was
obvious to Thuan Seng that his answer didn’t meet with the audience’s
approval, as many in the audience could be seen shaking their heads.
Another lady in the audience again
brought up the People’s Declaration, stating that had the BN adopted
it, then it wouldn’t belong to any party but to everybody. She then
went on to try and explain why the BN should endorse it.
People in the audience demanded that
Donald answer her question as he was a Minister and that this was a
Donald did respond to this, but it was
such a lame answer that I didn’t bother to record it.
I did however record Edward Lee’s
response. He said that DAP had endorsed the People’s Declaration.
He said something about the ACA being a lame duck and that the
Judiciary was under the government’s control, to which the audience
loudly responded, "Correct, correct, correct" (you may
recognise those words from the Lingam tape)!
Breaking ranks with the official party
Another parishioner summed up
everything by saying it all boiled down to the erosion of individual
rights. He then asked whether BN candidates would break ranks with
the official party line, if it were in the public interest.
Thuan Seng said yes. It would have
been interesting to see what position Thuan Seng and other Gerakan
member took when their fellow colleague, Paramjothy, broke ranks with
the BN over the Hindraf issue.
Someone in the audience asked why he
should keep voting for BN, if they continue to take away his rights.
Donald started his answer with "In life…”. He said something
about some people being comfortable and uncomfortable…whatever.
The few parishioners whom I did speak
to in the audience after the debate weren’t at all impressed with the
BN. It’s obvious where their vote is going.
I picked up a copy of the Catholic
Asian News special on Elections 2008 after the debate. It’s
pretty clear where the Church stands on whom to vote for – just based
on the articles written in the magazine. I sense from speaking to
quite a few Christians that the Christian vote, irrespective of
whether it is Catholic or some other denomination, will swing to the
Opposition this time around.