Many of my friends have pretty passport photos of theirs on the tags issued by SPR, while mine is not quite the case. This is related to the following long post of my #GE14 story.
The first time I heard about elections was back in 1995, the year Barisan Nasional won big in GE9. I remember my late father telling my mom about Lim Kit Siang losing the Tanjung Bungah state seat bid to Koh Tsu Koon, that people wanted stability, development and other stuff like that.
Of course I didn’t know much about politics then, being a child of only nine years old. But it fascinated me nonetheless, and I started to read the newspapers, learning the interesting political developments around the world.
Fast forward to the eve of GE12 in 2008. I was not a registered voter then, having missed the registration deadline – I turned 21 in October the year before.
I watched with confusion the Hindraf protest. What did they want? Is this our culture, our budaya? Why were they so ungrateful? You see, I had only access to the mainstream government-controlled media back then, and alternative information wasn’t readily available even on social media.
Like many young minds (and old ones too), I believed what I read, seldom questioning the information fed to the public.
GE12 was a watershed moment. I was horrified with the possibilities that the Pakatan Rakyat denying BN the 2/3 majority in Parliament would cause civil unrest, like May 13 in 1969.
Days came and went, there was no unrest, but a lot of bickering. When the Pakatan Rakyat government in Perak fell due to defections, I felt strongly it was not just and outright unfair. I started to think more critically. I also started to ask myself if everything I thought was right, was indeed right?
Then came Bersih 2 which I watch from the comfort and safety of my house. The photo of a drenched Auntie Anne shook me, and inspired me to get involved.
With a group of like-minded friends, I got more involved in civic movement activities. I attended talks, read news from different sources, and participated in acts of civil disobedience.
After many sunburns and having experienced the sting of teargas, we went to the polls in GE13. Like many Malaysians, I woke up the day after in shock realising the elections we thought could have been won was lost. Like many Malaysians, I was angry, frustrated, and in despair. But above all, I was ashamed.
I was ashamed of myself, an able-bodied man, 27 years of age, expecting so much but did so little for the country, allowing an election to be stolen. I was ashamed that I always speak more than I do. And I was ashamed that I have expected others to do what is necessary to right the wrong, and put the country on the right track.
I realised that our acts of civil disobedience, which at times resembled carnivals, would not bear fruit if we did not do anything more than that. And that had to start with me.
Many disappointments and heartaches later, GE14 was finally happening. I attended the PACA training again (I went for training before GE13 but did not serve), with the resolve that I must serve at my home constituency which was a marginal seat narrowly won by BN in 2013.
I wrote to party officials, calling them, asking to volunteer, but to no avail. In the end, a cousin of mine got me the contact of a local PKR coordinator who was recruiting PACA, and I was finally registered as a volunteer.
Because I was traveling for work, I did not have the opportunity to go for more training. Worried that I could make a mistake during the crucial hours, I did revisions on my own, familiarising myself with as many procedures and documents as possible, learning especially the format of Borang 13 and Borang 14 by heart, just in case.
A lot of Malaysians were facing difficulties getting home to vote. I was heartened to know many sites and funds were set up to provide financial assistance and to match drivers with riders traveling to their respective hometowns for the GE.
One of those ride-matching sites was created by a fellow Taipingite, Calvin, who added me as an admin to help manage the page (honestly he did almost all of the work though).
A week before GE14, I flew back to KL. As I had registered for the Viper Race in JB, I went for the race in the morning, and attended a ceramah at night. I was thrilled to listen to 77-year-old Lim Kit Siang speak live on stage for the very first time.
After coming back to KL, I managed to drag Alan to go to a ceramah in SS15, which was great because Michelle Ng gave a very positive speech without attacking her opponents, while Wong Chen explained about three policies which Pakatan Harapan planned to implement when they came into power.
These ceramahs, together with the ones on social media, painted a picture of what the issues were at stake, and how we could move forward. The messages certainly made many of us messengers of change.
Monday, May 7, I drove home after work. I didn’t sleep well from that day onwards, anxious with what could and might transpire in the days after.
The PACA briefing took place on Tuesday in a town where I attended school for a few years. Frankly, I was surprised to see the state of the bilik gerakan, and the unreadiness of the volunteers. I didn’t know my duty schedule until 9pm.
The final briefing which was scheduled at 8pm was delayed, with many volunteers not able to arrive on time. Many of them had not even attended any form of training. Can you imagine the horror I felt? When I raised this matter to one of the persons in-charge, he simply said, “It’s ok, they will be trained later.”
I then waited for my SPR tag, worried, after hearing from friends in other areas who did not receive enough tags because they were “out of stock”. When I finally got mine, there was no photo on the tag. Of course there was none. Why would there be one when no one seemed to have a clue who’s supposed to do what?
We then had our photos haphazardly taken on a phone, and printed out using a portable colour printer. Then there was the issue of my surat perlantikan with wrong information, and confusion over the duty schedule.
Originally, I was told that I would take the role of PA1/CA. Instead, I was scheduled to become a PA2. That would be fine, except my duty-mate was a young lady, who had not voted in elections before, had not attended any training, and was there because her friend’s father was the wakil calon.
I protested. So much was at stake I couldn’t remain silent anymore. I requested to change the schedule but to no avail. Regardless, after the briefing, I gathered the lady and her friends and shared as much information as I could with them, praying that they could understand as much as possible. There was only so much I could do in a few hours.
I then drove to survey the polling station I was stationed for duty, in the middle of a heartland where PAS seemed to have a very strong presence. It was almost midnight when I got home.
The following day, I went to cast my ballot, and turned up for duty immediately after that. When I handed over my shift at 3pm, there seemed to be even more confusion about who would continue to be a CA in my saluran. The lady suddenly said it was not her. No one seemed to be able to sort that out, so I decided to stay and take over at 5pm. Thankfully the KTM was a nice lady who wasn’t very hard on us.
Witnessing the ballot counting was an eye-opening experience. Despite what the opinion polling said, nothing delivers a deafening voice as much as the ballots.
We were told by those polls that we had a chance to win, with PAS being the spoiler. WRONG. We did so bad, I only heard “PKR” called out three times continuously ONCE during the session. It was a close fight between BN/Umno and PAS, and it seemed we were the one spoiling it for PAS instead.
There are also many other lessons I learned on that day. Like the importance of being respectful to everyone, especially elders, in the heartland area. Give greetings or salam to everyone, because they are so used to knowing everyone in the area.
One voter left her IC in the polling station, and the PA from BN even knew who she was, who her father was, and where they stayed. And he also sent the IC back to the owner after the polls.
With so much negativity painted about PAS, they were actually the most organised ones in the area. The CA raised more objections than I did. And it was done in a respectful manner. He was the one most vocal when the KTM refused to provide us with a copy of Borang 14, while I tried to negotiate with the KTM. I left the polling station with newfound respect for the opponents.
Whoever said that PAS would be wiped out? Oh yeah, the one who planned the Kajang Move.
I got home to dinner on the dining table. Mom was obviously worried – the spectre of 513 never really fades away for the older generation. After dinner, like many Malaysians, I stayed up until Tun Mahathir Mohamad’s press conference, not daring to fall asleep. None of us dared to, not after what happened in GE13.
The rest, as they say, is history. The story is still being unfolded, but one day, we will tell this story to the future generation, the story about how a nation of peace-loving people overcoming all sorts of obstacles, against all odds, created history.
Until then, we have work still undone. We are only at the beginning of a new chapter, and it is our duty to ensure that the story is being written in a way that good triumphs over evil, the playing field is levelled, and no one ever has to be subjected to unjust treatment ever again.
Peace be upon my beloved country.
Ang Poi Lim is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.