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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The 75th Candidate

At about 11 am on the morning of the General Elections, I spoke to Haris Ibrahim.

I was due to be interviewed by Al Jazeera and was trying to get a sense of where things stood on the ground. In his tireless campaign for reform through change, Haris had spoken at a ceramah almost every day since the commencement of the campaigning period. In almost hushed tones, Haris told me that he thought that the Barisan Nasional might be denied two-thirds majority. The feeling on the ground, he said, was electric and voters seemed to have reoriented themselves around issues.

His impression echoed that of Azmi Sharom. The night before Azmi had recounted his experience at a ceramah in Lembah Pantai at which Anwar Ibrahim and Raja Petra had spoken. As he told me how the largely Malay audience had erupted into cheers as Raja Petra had declared that Indians and Chinese would be defended with Malay bodies if they were victimised, the hair on my arms stood. He too thought that there was a real possibility of the two thirds majority being denied.

I was hopeful but uncertain as I drove into the city for the interview, perhaps because I was afraid to allow myself hope. A denial of the two-thirds majority would change the political landscape significantly, reintroducing a semblance of balance and forcing accountability.

A telephone call to Farish Noor, who was in Kota Bharu, fueled the uncertainty further. Though, as he observed, celebrations by supporters of PAS had begun even before polling was completed, claims of phantom voters being bussed in were causing anxiety. Tensions were running high, justifiably so in the context. A few days earlier, the Election Comission had mysteriously revoked its directive on the use of indelible ink. The lack of a coherent explanation for this extraordinary step, and it should not be overlooked that the Abdullah administration had show-cased the use of indelible ink as proof of the Government taking the matter of free and fair election very seriously, cast the situation in a very ominous light.

I was still in an uncertain frame of mind when at about noon that day, I was asked during the interview whether I thought the matter of irregularities in the electoral process, as some claimed, was going to be even more pertinent this General Election.

Looking out onto an unusually deserted KLCC park, it struck me how empty the city was. And as it struck me that people were away voting, I realized that there was a fighting chance. For many, the future could not get any worse. It could however get better if there was will to make it better.

And Malaysians were going to fight for that opportunity.

I was concerned though. The slim margin by which the two-thirds might be denied did not allow for irregularities. These irregularities would define the future of Malaysian. A strong mandate for the Barisan Nasional would have been politicized, allowed for a perpetuation of the state of denial and been used to reject much needed reforms.


The voter turn out was approximately 80 per cent, the highest it had ever been.

Malaysians have much to be proud of. On the 8th of March, 2008, they reclaimed the nation. It did not matter who they voted for, each candidate and political party had their strengths and weaknesses. It mattered that they voted, conscious of their choices.

They planted the seed for a new democracy.


I started watching the results come in at a friend’s place over dinner.

On they way there, I had stopped by Blog House where Haris Ibrahim and friends had set up camp to monitor the results. A white board had been co-opted. The team was going to list down the parliamentary seats that the opposition captured. Haris pointed to a space for the 75th candidate. That was what it was going to take to safely deny absolute control.

He told me, a mad gleam in his eye, that we were going to get there. And this time, I had no doubt that we would.


Civil society paved the way, giving shape to the hopes of Malaysians and forging a voice for the disenfranchised.

Its efforts took many forms. In fighting their causes, NGOs highlighted areas of concern. In its road show, Article 11 brought into sharp focus the way in which the Constitution was being undermined in the name of religion but for the cause of politics. Almost 900 people turned up at 9 am on a Sunday morning for the first forum in Petaling Jaya. Looking out over the crowd, I remember feeling that we were at the start of something very, very big. And perhaps if I had been listening more closely to the cheers that morning as we spoke in turn about equality and the right to equal protection under the Federal Constitution, I would have heard the whispers of a wind of change.

Other NGOs showed how various aspects of our public lives had been compromised through corruption, political appointments and incompetence. The marches and the demonstrations made the rakyat see that we could no longer leave matters to others. The fearlessness of the organizers, the unflagging efforts of all concerned, were strong and very visible reminders of why each and every one of us had to start being responsible.

Malaysiakini, Malaysia Today and bloggers filled the information gap, providing essential information and critical opinion, their unrelenting commentary helping undermining illusions and delusions. In doing so, they became the conscience of the nation.

Individuals banded together and explored ways in which the rakyat could be empowered. Haris Ibrahim’s ‘The People’s Parliament’ started off about a year and half ago as a means to help voters understand that they could do much more if they organized themselves. Its ‘pick a candidate’ campaign was aimed at creating awareness that the power to change lay in ourselves.

As Haris thundered from many a stage these last two weeks, it was apparent that ‘The People’s Parliament’ had become so much more. As a prime mover behind the ‘People’s Declaration’ and the Barisan Rakyat, it forged the way for greater cohesion amongst the then opposition political parties. In persuading these parties to collectively endorse the Declaration, I believe that Haris and his team created the glue that will keep these parties together as they face the challenges of the future.

This is not to say that the political parties did not play a pivotal role. They did, and they did so remarkably. They were the political underdogs who were fighting for our survival and this time they were recognized as such. While many have described the result as a protest vote, I would rather think of it as a demand by the electorate of a viable alternative. The maturity of the Malaysian voter had surpassed the very average and uninspiring candidates that the Barisan offered. That the opposition had chosen to field committed, dynamic, younger professionals with little or no vested interest was a move that paid off richly. Malaysians are going to benefit tremendously from having Gobind Singh Deo, R Sivarasa, Charles Santiago, amongst others, in Parliament.


The unofficial results came in fast and furious. Samy Vellu, Zainudin and Sharizat had lost, along with a host of other Barisan candidates. Penang, Kedah, Perak and Selangor had been seized by the opposition.

Laughter took on a hysterical note, the giggling was almost maniacal. I found myself wondering about that list at Blog House.


Farish Noor and I spoke at a forum held by Sin Chew just after Merdeka last year. It was aimed at understanding where we stood, 50 years down the road. We spoke at length about the political landscape and both us of, in our ways, looked at the question of racial politics.

During my presentation, I asked why it was that Malaysians were so complacent about their future. We all saw how things were going so wrong. Race politics had allowed for a monopolizing of political control by an UMNO. Power sharing was notional at best. The way in which the submission of the memorandum concerning religious freedom by a faction of the cabinet had been handled and the incredible justifications offered for the keris waving and supremacist posturing at its annual assembly was reflective of UMNO’s intolerance of any views but its own.

The Barisan Nasional operated on the fiction that as the component parties were constituted along racial lines, these parties spoke for all persons of these races. And yet it had become increasingly evident that these parties did not speak for all members of their particular communities. If at all, they largely spoke for the members of the party, and even then only for those who wielded influence. Malaysians all of ethnicities were suffering as a result of this elitist, self-serving presumption. As HINDRAF was about to show us, the consequences could no longer be suppressed and hidden.

In the face of these obvious truths, we had to ask ourselves why is it that Malaysians had allowed, and continued to allow, the Barisan to continue as it did with obvious consequences. Malaysians either did not vote or voted for the Barisan to an extent that not only did the Barisan form the government of the day but controlled parliament almost absolutely.

Security and stability are important considerations. Making a government accountable through the ballot box does not in itself necessarily create discord nor destabilize a community. A government did not have to be returned with an absolute majority to the extent that it considered itself beyond the reach of not only the opposition but the rakyat that voted that government in. Whether external factors – racial tensions – would lead to chaos was something that we had to confront. Malaysians had to start believing that we had matured since May 13th 1969 and if we had not despite the immense resources that had been invested in measures aimed at reducing disparities amongst the ethnic communities, then there was all that much more reason not to vote the Barisan in again.

Grand promises of reform made at the 2004 General Election had gone unfulfilled. The justifications offered for this failure were mainly political. If the system did not lend itself to reform, then it was the Government’s responsibility to change the system. If the politics of the parties that constituted government impeded the changes, no matter the nobility of the aspiration, those parties did not deserve to be in government.

Change would however take time, stepping out of comfort zones and embracing an uncertain future were undeniably difficult things to do. We had to be shown incrementally that deviating from what had almost become a Malaysian tradition – the return of Barisan to power - was a constructive thing for the nation. Nothing was going to happen however if we did not take that first step.

I asked the audience that night to deny the two-thirds majority, to give the opposition 49 per cent of parliament if they were uncertain. The laughter my suggestion generated made it seem a very distant possibility.

Farish and I spoke at another forum on the 2nd of March this year. The mood was different. And when I suggested that Malaysians should vote the opposition to help the government, the laughter had a very different ring to it.


It was almost 4 am when we got to the 75th candidate, Loh Gwo Burne.

The official results were slow in being broadcast. They trickled in, heightening the excitement those of us there felt as the number of candidates on that list slowly increased. Some have suggested that the late declaration and broadcast of official results was aimed at downplaying the shock result so as to avoid untoward incidents. The directive by the police that there be no victory parades supports the theory as does the calls by the DAP for calmness when it learnt of its victory in Penang.

I have a different view. As useful as these efforts were in helping maintain order, if there were going to be clashes that night there would have been. The simple truth is that there were not going to be any clashes that night and the nature of results were the strongest indicator as to why this was going to be. Throughout the country, Malaysian of all communities had voted in support of a multi-racial opposition. They had voted on issues and not on race. There was no reason for any clashes, neither was there a context. Malaysian politics had matured.

And as a friend suggested two days later, perhaps we had laid to rest the ghost of May 13th. I would like to think so.



myop101 said...

Dear Imtiaz,

It is unbelievable. Honestly, even on that day of voting itself, I only know that I have to cast my vote for PAS and PKR in hope it might register my dissatisfaction. I know my 1 vote matters but I also realised the insurmountable challenge posed by the ruling party. Will those candidates win? I wondered too. On the faces of the voters, they seem so content. Sigh...

So when I found out the results, I was esctatic. I only hope the opposition will do a very good job. They are still the underdogs...

lanaibeach said...

The ripples had disappeared
Life leads into normalcy
The country has to move on
The objectives achieved

Barisan Rakyat mustn’t be forgotten
It has to be there to watch for the people
The organizers and the bloggers
They are the people who make the difference

The election manifestos
It must bring to life
It is a trust a believe for the people
Now it has to turn to reality

No government and its representatives
Forget the promises to make changes
And introduce new chapters for the country
Everybody is watching………………
A new light in the sky

Anonymous said...

The election results show that the Rakyat has finally woken up to the fact that THEY determine the Government and the Government is to serve the RAKYAT, no the other way round.

The Interview of the BN candidate by Kota Damansara Resident's Association exposed the mentality of BN candidates when Zein Isma Ismail rudely told the resident off stating that he will follow BN orders rather than Resident's orders.

The Rakyat now must not become complacent but continue to take an active role in constantly reminding their elected representatives to serve effectively, keep abreast of latest development and issues and be responsive to the Rakyats needs.

We the Rakyat have finally acquired the power and we must not easily relinquish it back to the Politicians.

elorajah said...

I was eighteen and in Penang when May 13 erupted !!!!

Your last two paragraphs gave me goose pimples!!! And hopefully the event of March 8, would give rest to those, who died that day and sound the death bells of racial politics in Malaysia.

Peter Yew said...

Hi Malik,

I am soon 60 and I take this election result as a birthday gift. Eversince Badawi took over the government in 2004, my very first impression of him was that of a reformer of the mistakes Mahathir created. He said things that made me feel really good, he spoke words that endeared Malaysians to him. Even when he did not perform in the first year, I overlooked that because I felt he needed time to get over the grief of losing his wife to cancer. After that I began to look for signs of performance. All I got were silence when there were supposed to be leadership, and even when he spoke the substance of a leader was lacking. Anyone down the street could have said what he said, and said better. I thought Mahathir was bad but he really was incapable as a leader, and we really needed a strong leader to undo all the damages causwed by the previous administration. Vocalizing them was all he did. Not only did he not resolve some of the problems, he allowed matters to get worst. He did nothing to correct problems as they arose, he stood silently and watched and maybe hoped they would go away.

Perhaps I am like many people, asking questions like what are you doing? What kind of PM are you? And then we use the power to sack him. Jokingly I said to a fellow voter on March 8 that today we tell the government what we want while the rest of the 5 years they tell us what to do. I guess the results was very telling. To say that we are angry is half the story, we are also ready for change, after being under the same regime for 50 years that had believed that they own the country.

The Internet, more particularly the blogs, gave me lots of alternative news that I never get before. It made me understand the real situation. I believe many people were similarly educated. For all its evil, the Internet gave back the right to choose to the people and things will never be the same.

I have some anxiety over the immediate future. While I congratulate the opposition parties for taking some states, they are also making statements that we like to hear. For awhile things may change this way but after 10-20 years will they mutate to the same behaviour like the BN? I am worried about the Animal Farm syndrome. It is a real threat and we need a very strong check and balance system to prevent this degeneration. Over to people like your goodself, Haris, Raja Petra, Farish, etc.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

The article was most informative and very measured in outlook.

I agree with the blog author that the delay in release of results was not due to an effort to reduce shock. It also meant that efforts were being made to twist the true results partly by bringing in boxes of "postal votes" but also to create riots, declare emergency so as to render void the losses by BN as had happened in May 1969.

Shanghai Fish said...

You sum it all up so simply. Goodman ! Yes to a new Malaysia !
Cheers !

farida said...

Beautifully thought out and explained. Somehow, because the nomination of Loh Gwo Burne created a ruckus in some quarters, I find it heartening that he is our 75th Candidate.

Anonymous said...

Well written and well thought out, well done. From goodbye SAM.

Unknown said...

I've always been passive and have never commented so I think its about time. Just to let you know that you are doing a great job. Yes, your postings can be lengthy but I know you put in a lot of thought and effort in it. The quality of your posting despite its length makes me come back for more. Just like to thank you for you great postings, something would be missing in the Malaysian blogosphere if not for "Disquiet". Keep up the good work! The next 5 years is going to be very interesting for Malaysia. We can already feel the vibes!

Anonymous said...

I'm misty eyed reading this. Thank you, Malik for playing an integral part in rebuilding our country. Malaysia is reborn.

aku yang dah mati said...


Not a frequent visitor to your blog. But I'm glad I did drop by today. And yes, I hope we can finally say to whomever who threatened MAY 13 1969 to anyone ever again, that perhaps they should remember MAR 8 2008 as well. As someone who's born only in 1977, I'm glad I now have a date too. MAR 8 2008. Thank you for one beautful post.

Anonymous said...

A very beautiful written piece.
The rakyat must be ever grateful and appreciate the hard work put in by the bloggers, especially Haris Ibrahim. His speeches were simply beautiful, and his effort should never be forgotten by the various BR parties and the rakyat.

Anonymous said...

..."Word is, Uncle Sam lost!"..
I practically screamed with joy when my uncle blurted out that statement at a spanish restaurant in Subang.

At least, now more scholarships would be given out. Not empty promises.

Terrible blow to the Goverment. They would have probably learned now that overconfidence and overspending are bad, bad, habits. Tsk tsk.

And did you hear the part where it was said that BN's great downfall was caused by the Indian voters?! My lord. Apparently sense hasn't gotten into these BN candidates. The Indians aren't the majority. Are you trying to say that all Malays voted for BN? In which they are indirectly pointing out how they moulded themselves into racist fools. They probably forgot about the Malays which have not been getting what they deserve after all these years.. and the Malays who thought that the nonsense the minorities were putting up with was just a little too much, unfair? Or maybe their kids just realised that the history books they use for school had gooten their facts wrong. Of course, there was no mention of Tun Sambathan being a PM for a day. Why would they want to do that anyway? Ohh. Yeah. I forgot. Our PM has to be a Malay.


Your few last words probably got to me more than anything else there. The people have left their 'democratic fantasy' behind and have begun to face reality. They're opening up to accept that the country they're in has a foundation. And that foundation is all of us living and residing here.

Anonymous said...

i have never had any real interest in politics wether local or international. thankfully my line of work dose not mandate it. however this election swept me up and got the juices flowing in me.
for the first time i felt an urgent need to cast my vote and i drove more than 300 km from KL to penang to do so. when the results came through i really felt that i have made a difference.
now all that is left is for the newly elected government in penang to prove that i have made a wise decision. thanks for the thoughtful post.

Anonymous said...

Before retiring in the wee hours of the morning on election day, overcome by emotion, I gave my sleeping four-year old daughter a kiss and whispered to her, "Darling, maybe you have a future in this country after all."

The 8th of March - the day May 13th died...what a soundbite!

Anonymous said...

We must take our hats off to Koh Su Koon. He was the most gracious and professional of the BN politicians. He publicly conceeded, informed the governor and promised a smooth transition. The others were shameful in their behaviour, no concession, hiding in their official residence probable shreading documents and packing their cash. Shameful

Anonymous said...


You, Haris Ibrahim, Hindraf and many others contributed towards the rakyats political awakening.

Thank you.

My mum (73 years old) and me was chasing after the ceramahs. The spectators gave both of us a good feel that the tide is going to change.

However, on the 8th evening - I told my mum tonight could be a night of disappointment or rejoice.

Thank God it was a night of rejoice - as my friend, Khim put it - the Opposition coalition had put on a sterling performance !!

With the GE12, Malaysia has hope that our future generations can expect a place under the Malaysia sun fairly.

The GE12 can also lay the May13 ghost to rest as it can no longer be use as a weapon to intimidate us !!

We need strive and work towards a fair and democratic Malaysia for all Malaysians.

Hidup Bangsa Malaysia !!

meesh said...

I must admit, I teared a little reading this. Excellent summation. Now Kit Siang, after PAS agrees to reform the NEP, goes on to snub Raja Nazrin's pick of Nizar in Perak.

Seriously, five days? That's all we get? Before the puerile behaviour resumes?

I simply cannot believe this. But judging from the comment boxes in all the blogs, the rakyat isn't going to take this DAP snub very kindly, especially since Ngeh from DAP Perak can be so 'adult' about it.

Seriously, our politicians need to grow the hell up.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your personal journey with us. What a roller coaster ride ... from despair, to a glimpse of hope to well-deserved jubilation. I would like to think it is sustainable and not just a triumph of hope over experience. But recent sharp turn of events give a cause for concern, don't you agree?

Anonymous said...

You guys must read up a bit of world history before making silly comments.Learn from Iran on how the dawn of the revolution witnessed a coalition of many ideologies and sectors..but slowly when power was consolidated within and position strengthened -then it was ayatollah and his ultra fundamentalism all the way.Its was the same in Pakistan and even India where a protest against the Congress brought in the Hindu fundamentalist BJP to power and chaos in race relation in India.

Now its happening to Malaysia and sad to learn that PKR is the Trojan horse for PAS and their fundamentalist soldiers or PAS manage to capitalise the weakness of PKR as a party that have no cloud whatsoever as a party beside being a loyal fans of Anwar.

In the next 5 years many many Malaysian will regret the choice and will pay the price of making the inevitable possible.It will be then all too late.

Any govt can be corrupt and abuse their power.All it takes is a strong civil society and strong enforcement and transparent media.

Lets talk about real change as in structure and mindset and not just change of flag and individuals..worst still with the one who are driven by a very exclusive and fundamentalistic transcendental ideas that stand above all worldly ideas like democracy,rights and even freedom.

People have warned about this for the past few years and the narrow minded politicians attacked this concerns and defended their fundamentalist counterparts well and many even managed to camouflage it well till the people failed to notice.

Now-the truth is out and we will see it very very soon and many of you guys will start to regret and will even work for this situation to be reversed in a matter of time.Who gonna win? BN.This is what makes me sad.The people are always at the receiving end both by the political parties.

Anonymous said...

Your article echoed my feelings on the days leading up to and on Saturday, March 8. The tension, the fear, the prickling sensation that things were going to change gave way to relief and joy by the time the results were announced.
I was planning to leave the country to pursue my studies and I wasn't planning on returning; even my parents agreed there was nothing left for a non-malay here. Saturday's results however, gave me hope that perhaps i may be able to live a life of equality here. I feel proud that our people have woken up to their power and have chosen to use it so wisely- and thanks to you too, for doing all you can to raise awareness in the public. Perhaps now the days of cronyism and race-based monopolism are over.
The Star has written about the fledging problems caused by the clashing of personalities in the parties under Barisan Rakyat (notably, Perak's problems) but i have confidence that like all rebellious teens that get their new cars, they have to crash it a couple of times before they drive well.
May they sort things out amiably and not fight like kids over candy now, especially with BN longing to poke holes in their power.
Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Is March 8 a Political Campaign or a Democracy Reform?
Emotionally, does it differ from that of the previous or 2004 GE?
The differences only by who were behind and the targets set to achieve!
The Election remains under manipulation and emotionally guided!
The People were driven to vote Party with abuse of not knowing who they were voting for!
Not even providing the Truth that little can actually be done to change this country when 1/2 of the Parliament Seats have to be in one hand for the Change of Constitutions and Laws before any change can move forwards!

The Shock should be seen from the points that there are more "Professionals" involved and more time than last at least to tell a better truth of the Future!
Can it be Changed without amendment of Constitutions and Laws?
Can the State go ahead the Local Election without amending the Constitution?
Can Oppositions fulfilled their manifesto when the above change cannot be done?

Why RCER be a campaign and not the job of those elected Oppositions?



Professionals, and Politicians, please have mercy on Rakyats to have time and mind for their Butter and Bread!
Remember what had been promised and please deliver before any further demand of Political Campaign!

More legal professionals are put to the stage!
When Constitutions and Laws been amended so often with abuse of Rights to the Rakyats
Had any of those Legal Professionals in Parliament been complaining or warning the Rakyat those amendments were ABUSING?

Unless, after this "emotional" GE, the respective parties are telling the Whole Picture, there is more to worry than to celebrate!!
The roads ahead is still with Dust and haze by Politicians and those involved!!

The worry of Anon 1:52 holds!

TP said...

Thank you for the well-written piece.

The biggest winner in last week's election result is .. all Malaysians!

This political maturity will happen at some point, in my thoughts, maybe 20 years from now.

Not having a 2/3 majority is a good thing for Malaysia. It means that the ruling party will need to work harder at convincing the people in terms of deeds, not just words.

The opposing parties will also be judged on their performances, both in parliament, and at the state levels.

In short, checks and balances.

We have arrived at the current state of affairs because three factors are all in place:

1. A viable opposition (or at least seen to be viable) that is seen to be able to form an alternative government.

2. A receptive and informed populace who are prepared to give (1) a chance.

3. A means where (2) can read, discuss and debate the facts and decide for themselves.

All the above were in place for this election. All parties (ruling and opposing) play a part in fostering it - whether intentionally or not.

Where we go from here will depend on how the incumbent carries itself, and how the opposition work out their ideological differences.

For the ruling party, it will need to work harder at wining the minds and souls of the populace.

For the opposing party, it will have to prove that they say and mean the same thing, and be able to get past the "annoying" habits of their newly-found house mates, and prove that it is not a "your enemy's enemy is my friend" relationship.

Yes, the winner is all Malaysians - and democracy!!

Umran Kadir said...

Well said, Imtiaz.

And may that ghost rest in peace...

Anonymous said...

Dear Imtiaz,
Indeed Malaysian people have matured in their political thinking.
I had actually postponed my trip from the 4th to the 9th simply because I thought my VOTE espeacially this time is significant. I had some sarcastic friends and relatives - ' your vote really matters?' I am glad i proved them wrong. Something really funny which happenend to me which i want to share, as i was walking towards my polling centre, there was this young indian lad must in hid early 20s in his motorbike riding out of the centre. we were actually in the opposite direction, as he rode pass me he very quietly said 'akka, dont ever vote for the BArisan fellows' though he was a stranger and its not right talking to one, i turned and said 'I KNOW' and went on to perform my duty. I left KL the next day pretty contended and thoughout my journey i was enjoying the thought that there is still some light at the end of the tunnel.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Imtiaz,

Thank you for putting in words, what I believe all M'sians felt on that day.

Its Malaysians such as yourself, with your faith and hope that has led me to believe that indeed there could be a better tomorrow for the nation.

Anonymous said...

Now that the people has made their choices; it is time that DAP, PKR & PAS unite to face a common foe. Instead of accepting the reference of OPPOSITION PARTIES, maybe the people of Malaysia who have voted for them on March 8, 2008 should be encouraged to refer to them as BARISAN RAKYAT. This can be the first step in setting up a Shadow Cabinet. Sujan

WY said...

lovely writing MIS. Simply lovely.

You captured the feeling i had on the night of the election results. Being oversea, i stayed up whole night by my laptop, refreshing the news on malaysiakini and various blogs. As the news came in, the jubilation in my heart has already began.

Thank you for being part of this amazing "REVOLUTION".