by: Boon Kia Meng
SEPT 2 – Much has been said and countless analyses had been made since PAS trounced Umno in the recent Permatang Pasir by-election by a majority of 4,551 votes.
The result has proven that Pakatan Rakyat was resilient enough to fend off the BN’s propaganda onslaught on three fronts: painting PAS as the puppet of DAP, alleging that the DAP insults Islam and compromises on non-Malay life-style rights eg. alcohol consumption in Selangor, and attacking PKR supremo Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as a traitor to the Malay community. All this for a measly decrease of a mere percentage point in PAS’s share of the popular vote which still stood at a commendable 65.1 per cent compared to 2008’s 66.4 per cent.
Statistics and results can often be used to spin different narratives to suit political goals, both for the BN and also for Pakatan Rakyat. As such, I am content to share my simple personal experiences on the ground, as a party worker/researcher, without any pretensions of objectivity or non-partisanship.
We all know pure objectivity is a mirage, so the sooner we articulate and come clean of our espoused political allegiances and assumptions the better. Lest we fall into the blind naivete similar to the 1 Malaysia propaganda, a public relations mega-campaign with a veneer of Malaysian “inclusivity”, but betrayed by hard-core racialist electioneering by Umno in the fields and streets of Permatang Pasir. As the byword of Malaysian political-speak goes, “cakap tak sama bikin” (talk is not the same as action). That is the tragic fate and reality of PM Najib’s 1 Malaysia sloganeering, devoid of truth and substance.
From the early hours of the nomination day, through the 8 full days of hard door-to-door campaigning, until the frantic final hours of last-minute voters turnout monitoring, this by-election was by no means different from the last one I participated in at Bukit Gantang. The daily pressures, coupled with the highs of buzzing ceramahs and also the lows of hearing negative feedback, is bread and butter for election campaigners. We, in the DAP, knew in our heads that we have solid support among the non-Malays in key areas such as Kampung Cross Street 2, Permatang Pauh and Sama Gagah, where the total number of Chinese voters numbered about 4,000.
Our strategy was simple, to maintain at least 70 per cent of the total votes in these areas. Anything less would be a failure on the part of DAP in our efforts to assist our Pakatan Rakyat counterpart, PAS. As the days of campaigning pass by, we are aware that the biggest challenge for us is whether the non-Malay voters would feel sufficiently energized and enthusiastic to actually come out and vote on polling day. The sheer number of by-elections in the area has not done us much favours, by-election fatigue is clearly felt by all, voters and campaigners alike.
This reminds me of the pure simplicity of certain fundamental commonalities that we share as human beings, regardless of our political affiliations, ethnicity and religions. We, party workers, get tired, travelling the dust-beaten roads from kampong to kampong, ceramah to ceramah. Underneath all the political rhetoric, we are all mere flesh and blood, with hearts and minds plagued by the same temptations and weaknesses. Our human condition, as famed political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, called it.
To me, what stood out most is not the hype, glitz and clamor of political campaigning or the impressive array political celebrities thronging the peaceful country towns in Permatang Pasir. What counts are the priceless, seemingly ordinary conversations that I shared with my co-workers in PAS, the countless thousands who worked with utter simplicity and absolute fidelity to their party’s cause, fueled by an admirable piety for Allah.
Though I belong to DAP, a party committed singularly to upholding our Merdeka constitution of a secular democracy with Islam as the official religion of the Federation, that does not mean that I am unable to accept or understand the ideological stand of our friends and partners in PAS. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect and admiration for PAS, for their dogged and unwavering determination to bring about a more fair and equitable Malaysian society.
The DAP and PAS, are two parties rooted in their respective histories of struggle and marginalization in the Malaysian political landscape. As such, the admiration is mutual, for how we have stuck to our principles even if it means losing popularity or being demonised by the BN propaganda machine.
When the mainstream media or the Prime Minister plays up the issue that Pakatan Rakyat will not last because the DAP and PAS are at odds ideologically, I can only say that so-called ideological differences does not spell the end to common political enterprises or coalition-building. We, human beings, in spite of our many failings, have an enormous capacity to rationalize and build on what is good for all citizens, in spite of our physical and philosophical differences. I can even point to my concrete personal experiences to dispel such simplistic conclusions by the PM and the media.
I have experienced the simple sharing of nasi, sambal and lauk, during buka puasa, squatting by make-shift tables, eating, interspersed with casual exchanges of how DAP and PAS party workers have worked during a day’s campaigning. We have laughed, joked and ate together. We have also shared our worries and concerns as well. We have observed our friends in PAS perform their solat, while we, though non-Muslim, expressed our pieties differently. All without a single hint of disrespect or insincerity.
These common experiences beat any amount of political sloganeering and media-spin anytime. The attacks by Utusan Malaysia that the DAP insults Islam, troubling and defamatory as it is, remains a cold, abstract allegation. For those with eyes to see, and ears to hear, I can testify that my fellow DAP and PAS members have the utmost respect for one another’s convictions and political struggle.
Permatang Pasir is a case in point, an indubitable, undeniable, veridical experience of common solidarity and friendship between PAS and the DAP. What we have built over the course of 18 months, since March ‘08, cannot be underestimated. On the ground, ordinary party workers have a wisdom beyond the years of purported leaders of the nation. That wisdom can best be expressed as our ordinary faithful dealings with our neighbours, and a common hope that our humanity transcends our ideological divide. Put differently, disagreement is not the final word, but rather an invitation to understand and appreciate each other’s convictions better. All this because we, in PAS and DAP, believe in the more fundamental demands for a fair and just Malaysia for all.
As I take the long road home from Permatang Pasir to Petaling Jaya, I received a text message from one Saudara Rashid, a Penang PAS party worker. In response to my congratulatory message to his party, he replied in one succinct word: “Jazakallah”. Unschooled in Islam, I was at a loss. Then I was told by a Muslim friend what the word meant: “May Allah grant you goodness” (this is said to someone who has done a good deed for another).
That to me is the true spirit of Ramadan, one that binds us together in Pakatan Rakyat, and hopefully will bring much good to this country who we all love.