In the past week since the election date was announced, I have taken part in numerous rallies held by the Pakatan Rakyat political parties in Perak.
During these ceramahs attended by thousands of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Orang Asli and other supporters of the opposition in the large and small towns, and at the grassroots level, I had the opportunity to watch at close quarters and to see for myself the response of ordinary Malaysians who are throwing themselves into the political battle, many for the first time in their life.
I can honestly say that of the elections which I have participated in or observed since 1957, I cannot recall any election that has stirred up so much energy and excitement among opposition supporters and the fence sitters attending these rallies.
Based on crowd behaviour and conduct, it seems to me that there is something extraordinary that is taking place in the Malaysian electorate. This is the building up of a strong multiracial unity and solidarity amongst ordinary Malaysians attending these rallies or viewing them through YouTube and other media channels.
What Malaysian voters want
Malaysians want not only regime change and to throw out the crooks and cronies who have been in power and looted our national treasury for so many years but they also want a change in the disastrous way in which Barisan Nasional has messed up our race and religious relations. These relations have sunk to their lowest level ever, according to most observers.
This transformation in the Malaysian collective mindset is visible in several ways. It can be seen in the way in which the Pakatan’s message of trust and faith in the ability of ordinary Malaysians to rise above racial and religious differences is resonating with audiences.
Equally moving is the fervour and cheers from all sections of the crowd when the Pakatan speakers – including PAS – call for the rejection of racial and religious extremism. This is such a contrast to the BN’s inclusion of notorious racial and religious extremists such as Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Noordin in their slate of candidates; and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s insistence that Umno is better off with the support of Perkasa and other extremist elements.
In rally after rally I attended, the solidarity and unity of the multiracial audience, and the enthusiasm and passion with which they are echoing the need for change in the country is truly a sight to behold. It is so different from the triple cocktail offered by the BN emphasizing racial and religious differences of the PR parties and seeking to instill fear and insecurity amongst voters should they vote for the opposition.
BN’s dirty tactics on hudud and fear
It is not surprising that the dominant message – beside the portraits of Prime Minister Najib and the local candidate – in the sea of BN buntings and posters that have sprung up in their millions all over the country is “kestabilan”. This is a crude threat aiming to strike fear in voters that all hell will break loose should they vote in the opposition.
Besides fear, the two other key BN messages playing on race and religion are visible in the way in which the government supportive media, especially Utusan Malaysia, The Star and the New Straits Times, have been playing up the hudud issue. Some of the dirtiest political front pages are now appearing in The Star which has repeatedly focused on the hudud issue and election violence to frighten and coerce its primarily non-Malay readers to voting to vote against Pakatan.
Can the BN’s triple cocktail work again in this election as it has in the past? I do not think so.
One factor is the recognition that PAS has treated minorities and non-Muslims more fairly than Umno.
Kelantan Chinese Assembly Hall chairman Oie Poh Choon has this to share: “Once, I attended an official event where (Kelantan Menteri Besar) Nik Aziz was the guest of honour. The attendees included mostly Malays, Chinese and 10 Thai monks.
The Thai monks started to recite Buddhist chants after having the meals. Not only did Nik Aziz not stop them, he even asked for microphones ro be provided for them, and sat through the sessions, in full view of 1,000-plus Muslims. He has a favourite phrase: 'If PAS has ever forced anyone to convert to Islam, please show me the proof’".
Contrary to the mainstream media’s demonization of PAS, Kelantan’s other religions get equal treatment. Among PAS supported religious sites are a 450-year old temple which has a 108 feet Guan Yin statue and a Buddhist temple which houses a 100-feet sleeping Buddha statue.
Some of these temples are even built on Malay reserve land, and churches and temples are not subjected to the ridiculous policy restriction of not having buildings taller than mosques as in west coast states.
Freeing Malaysia of BN demons
It is clear that the hudud issue is simply a scare tactic and there is no way hudud law can be passed in Parliament as it will require a two thirds majority as pointed out by Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself recently.
Moreover, I am sure that the younger and better educated PAS members – many of them professionals and more secular – will themselves reject a medieval system which is out of touch with modern legal philosophy and practice.
For me personally, when I see young and old Malaysians of different ethnic groups in the opposition rallies urging on the speakers and applauding their condemnation of the politics of fear and racial and religious baiting, it is truly a heart lifting experience and the strongest evidence that hudud law will never be legislated in our country.
I look forward to the morning of 6 May when I see the rejection of the BN’s triple poisonous cocktail and the arrival of a new dawn in Malaysia.
And drawing from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, I am sure many Malaysians will join in saying: “Freedom must ring from every mountain side…. And when that happens we will be able to go out and sing a new song: ‘Free at last, free at last, great God almighty, I’m free at last’