Of Eight Who Got Involved : Seeing Democracy In Action

Can you be a Polling Agent/Counting Agent for the opposition? They are desperately short of people.” I had been getting several such SMSes and e-mails about two weeks prior to the elections. I chose to ignore them.

But when I started thinking about how I wanted a change to the country’s corrupt, inefficient and unjust system, I realized this would never come about if there were no PACAs acting for the opposition to observe the voting and counting. How to ensure there was no cheating in each of the polling stations?

I’m just an ordinary Malaysian who wants justice, equality and fairness for every citizen. There shouldn’t be any discrimination based on race, religion or gender. Malaysia is so rich in natural resources and human capital. If we could all work together for the good of the country instead of for narrow and vested interests, this would be a great country to live in.

Day by day I grew increasingly disgusted with the arrogance of the ruling party and the unfair coverage of the campaigning in the mainstream media. When I received the same SMS again about a week before March 8, I decided I’d become a PACA.

The job itself was quite boring and tedious but the satisfaction is in seeing democracy in action, that is, the people are free to choose their representatives and their choices should be respected.

IT WAS OUR FIRST TIME by Eunice & Krishnan

It was our first time. We took our job seriously, went to purchase torch lights, mineral water and ruler (missing in the file) so that we would be prepared.

When we went to see the KTM (head of the polling booth? ), he tried to give us some problems saying that he doesn’t have our names and that he needs further documents but we managed to clear that first hurdle after some clarifications.

There was some miscommunication; KTM thought we were taking over from PAS rep and sent the PAS rep out. And the PAS rep who waited for someone to replace him didn’t even know that his PAS rep had come in and sat at the vacant chair left by BN rep till one and a half hour later!

Maybe it would be good to put a label on the table or chair “PAS”, “PKR” and “BN” so that there would be no misunderstanding.

PAS at our booth were very organised; they had a few other forms to fill such as the breakdown of how many males and females of each race that came in to vote.

Somehow we worked very well with the PAS representatives, covering and checking for each other.

Sharp 5pm, the doors were never closed; in fact KTM and staff asked us to go out for a break which we never did. The counting only took place half an hour later. That was when we kept asking them to start early so that we can finish early.

There is truly a need for counting volunteers because EC staff were mostly BN supporters and did show their bias by their actions and tone of voice as the counts increased for the opposition.

There was one balloting paper which was shaded in pencil on the black spot of the logo with the boxes left blank. It was almost counted as spoilt vote till I noticed the X crossed in the BN symbol.

In another incident, the voter had marked on the number portion ( which should not be marked ) and also marked at the PKR candidate box. That vote was almost counted as a spoilt vote but I objected to it as the voter was clear in his marking as to which candidate he/she was voting for. Good thing the KTM decided in our favour.

We were so hungry at the end of the day and our team commented that the BN and SC staff all had fried noodles and teh tarik packed for them to eat at the booth.

Generally, we all felt good that we were involved in ensuring that there was fairness at the centre.

I WAS A POLLING VIRGIN by Jonathan Chew

I was a polling virgin. I had never voted before, and to take it a little step further, I even became a newly minted polling-cum-counting agent. Give me a songkok, and you could even call me patriotic.

My memories of Elections Day were of two extremes. On one hand, there were the images of old grandmothers, unfussy housewives and eager professionals crammed into a room, learning how to tell a spoilt ballot from a good one. I’ll never forget the group of 20 PAS supporters outside my school in Paya Jaras, shouting fervently at the Protons prepared to take the voters to the polling centre that there had better not be any ‘funny business’ along the way.

On the other hand however, there were conversations with close friends who would rather spill blood than wake up at 7am on a Saturday to cast their vote. Friends who stood idly by as their nation went through the wringer, and came out unrecognizable. Friends who, until now, don’t see how Elections Day had changed a nation.

Both images were timely, and both made me think why I should have been involved in the first place. And it came to one choice: the choice to care.

Not caring is easy. Not caring absolves us from responsibility. Not caring seems part of our DNA. But not caring also means I can never claim to have a Malaysia to call my own. To not care would mean that all the finger pointing on who should be to blame for our country’s woes can stop. Really. Because all your fingers should be aimed squarely at me.

But for one Saturday, I believe we did care. We cared enough to raise our hand to object at a suspect voter waltzing into the room. I cared enough to miss half of a wedding dinner I was meant to attend, making sure every vote was tallied, every form signed, every box sealed. And horrors of all horrors, to care actually felt… good. It felt significant. I could get addicted to caring.

And if Elections Day gave that to me, then I can smile and say: “Hallelujah”.

DOING ALL THIS FOR FREE by Peter Daniel

This is what I can remember since it was over a month ago. It was with much eagerness that I woke up on the 8th of March. I was up at 7am which is unusual for me as being a Saturday I would usually sleep in. Nevertheless I was eager to do my duty and went to vote at around 8am. I then went around to pick my mum up and brought her to vote. I met up with a friend later on and we headed to Sri Damansara where we were on duty as PACA’s.

As I walked into the school I remember feeling that wow I am actually going to observe an election being carried out. As I entered the classroom, I introduced myself to the polls officer and was asked to sit down. I also introduced myself to the UMNO-BN observer who was quite friendly. The process went quite smoothly except when the polls officer said only one of us could be in the room. It was all a misunderstanding and after I was allowed back in everything went on smoothly.

The polls officer was quite amazed that we were doing all this for free whereas the UNMO-BN guys were being paid for it. The counting went smoothly and the polls officer signed our Form 13 with no qualms.

One thing I learned is not to be a critic until you have been part of the process.

MEETING SOME INTERESTING FRIENDS by Johnny Ong

I was informed that there was a request for volunteers for PKR in Kota Damansara, Selangor, 10 days before polling day.

To me, I would volunteer for any party except BN because of their injustices and corruption which is destroying our nation.

Anyway, I was instructed to go the Bilik Gerakan PKR at Kota Damansara to help out. I arrived there not knowing what to expect. I asked around and was given a job of packing CDs (Makkal Sakti). Everybody was busy at that time. I met some interesting friends there as well.

Time flew by fast for a few nights of helping out in the Bilik Gerakan and we were informed to go in for PACA training. It was an interesting bunch of people. We had people from PAS (friendly people), Indians and Chinese. The first night, the trainer was from PAS and he briefed us on our duties as well as a crash course on the laws and rulings of the elections. The meeting lasted about 2 hours.

Another interesting event was the campaigning at Subang New Village for R Sivarasa. We were supposed to meet there at 6.30am – 7 am. It was very bad weather that morning but our spirits were high. I arrived first despite very heavy rain. The other members from PAS and Steven, my friend, came about 7am. There were a few Indian ladies as well who came in another car. Quite a muhibbah bunch. After breakfast in a restaurant nearby, the owner (a PAS member) refused to accept our payment and we were touched by the kind gesture. It was still raining but we remained in high spirits. We proceeded to the market nearby and we met up with R Sivarasa and some others who had already started campaigning in one of the coffee shops. The people there were very supportive and appreciative when we ask them to vote for PKR. We left after one and a half hours there.

Prior to the election day, I was also involved in the leafleting in Bangsar. We met up in Peter Daniel’s house and together with Steven after a short prayer we went round that area. We came across many people who gave us the thumbs up when we told them we were campaigning for PKR (Nurul Izzah). Some even requested for more leaflets so that they could give them out to their friends and relatives. Despite being very tired going from door to door till late night, we were very encouraged by the indirect support by the residents.

The second day, we did leafleting with Rev. Sivin, Tricia, Steven, Peter and another friend in the surrounding Bangsar area too. Many residents there were supportive of us. This gave us a lot of hope for the opposition at that time as well.

Came polling day, I was stationed at Aman Puri, Selangor as a Polling Agent and Counting Agent, or PACA. I came in late by 10 mins because I forgot to bring my identity card. Fortunately, I was allowed in after rushing home to get it. The ketua bilik saluran was a friendly Chinese lady. The voters in my saluran were mainly young first timers and there were some hilarious moments like not knowing what to do in the election booth. Anyway, the SPR staff were a friendly lot too. It was a bit slow till 5pm and when we were instructed to stop and after resting for half an hour we were told to standby for the counting session. After a quick bite, we started the counting process and I was encouraged to see many young Chinese voting for PAS and PKR. I was very motivated and praying that PAS (state) and PKR (parliament) would win big. But alas, PAS lost by a small margin to BN but PKR won. After finishing the counting process at the saluran, we were taken aback by a commotion at the gate of the school. It seemed that the police refused to let a PAS member escort the car carrying the ballots boxes. The PAS members refused to let the cars leave the school gate which I feel was the right thing to do. At last, the police relented and I was told to go to Bilik Gerakan in Kota Damansara.

When I arrived there, everyone was very ecstatic and excited. I was dumbfounded and relieved that we had won 5 states. I stayed on and we went to the Main centre in Bandar Utama but was refused entry into the hall by the police. We stayed outside the building to hear the official results till 1 am. I went home tired but happy.

All in all I was very glad that I was able to participate in our country’s electoral process.

WANTING TO DO MORE THAN THE USUAL by Rev. Michael Jalleh

I always get excited when it comes to elections. I guess it comes from my very first awareness of elections way back in 1969. I vividly recall that some opposition parties had won, there was a lot of celebration followed by some unpleasant events, but the best thing of all (as a primary student then) was the longer break of holidays that we got to enjoy.

After attaining the right age for being a registered voter, I have never failed to fulfill my responsibilities as a Christian and a loyal citizen of Malaysia to cast my vote at every general election.

In this year’s General Elections, I had decided to want to do more than the usual. I availed myself to be a volunteer with the Democratic Action Party – Seputeh constituency operations centre. I was given the opportunity to be one of their trainers for Polling and Counting agents. Besides that, I also had the opportunity to be both Polling and Counting Agent representing DAP on polling day itself.

So why did I decide to be more involved in the General Elections?

At the end of the training session, I would mention to each agent that the role they play would be an important part in the actual undertaking of the polls. In fact it would be the most vital part of the entire process ensuring that elections were conducted in a clean and fair manner. I would remind them that it was for this very purpose, every agent should know their functions clearly, carry them out well, proudly and effectively, not only for the Party they were representing but even more for the country as loyal citizens of our beloved land, Malaysia.

VOLUNTEERING MY TIME AND ENERGY by Theresa Wong

I am from Cheras and used to live in the squatter area there. These past years YB Tan Kok Wai (DAP) has helped us tremendously with our housing problems. The community and my family are very grateful to DAP. Since I am not able to contribute in monetary terms, I thought to myself that I could volunteer my time and energy in the last March elections.

I was a PACA, a polling and counting agent, from 1pm to 7pm. The whole process was smooth going with no untoward incidents. From 1pm to 5pm I was the only one there. The BN MCA counterpart did not turn up till 5pm. He was an older gentleman in his 60s. When I asked how come he was not there earlier he said, ‘No need to come, just take the money enough lah’. He then started to question me, ‘How much are you paid?’ I answered that I was a volunteer, I was doing it for free. He was very shocked and went on to ask me, ‘How come your YB cannot even pay you RM20, she is so rich, her salary is over RM10,000?’. He was given RM100 for that 2 hours he ‘worked’.

At the main counting place, there was much excitement as the results kept coming in via phones and SMSes. At one point, a BN MCA man shouted to the crowd, ‘Aiya we lost so badly, you people only know how to eat, when it comes to voting you vote for the opposition’. The MCA candidate had previously treated the residents to a magnificent 10-course dinner, a good spread of 100 tables. Someone replied, ‘We give you face by attending, if we don’t attend, it is even more demeaning’.

It seemed that after the big loss some agents were not paid their dues as promised earlier.

I learned that allegiance cannot be bought… in the end the righteous (just) will triumph.

INVOLVED IN VARIOUS TASKS by Lee Soo Choo

Having been away from the country for over a decade, I had missed 3 elections (1995, 1999, 2004). On returning from the field, I was impressed by our newly-elected PM Abdullah Badawi, who when officiating a World Council of Churches (WCC) Interfaith dialogue on 3rd August 2004, announced that he was not a leader of Muslims but a Muslim leader of ALL Malaysians. I was very hopeful, I mentioned about him in all my talks (that year), how he, in the midst of tears, had called for people of all faiths to work together towards justice and peace.

The years passed and I was disappointed. I became increasingly disturbed by the erosion of justice and respect for human dignity and rights, especially among the marginalized poor, migrants and refugees, fuelled by blatant and shameless corruption, cronyism and unaccountability. Secondly, I was also troubled by the apparent apathy of Christians (evangelicals) towards such socio-political issues. My involvement in the recent elections, therefore, was a reaction/response to the above concerns, sincerely hoping and praying that God will bring transformation to both entities (myself included).

I was involved in various tasks – recruiting volunteers, organizing the PACA database and as a polling agent myself. In ‘fishing’ for recruits I came across some interesting responses:-

1) ‘Do I get paid for this work?’, to which I answered no, but lunch will be provided. I never heard from those few Christians again.

2) ‘I do not want to take sides’, to which I answered that one need not take sides, it was just to ensure a clean and fair process. No deal.

3) ‘You sure I won’t get into trouble?’ – the fear factor (May 13, etc.) raised its ugly head.

But by and large, the majority of the volunteers were committed, some traveling many miles to attend PACA trainings, etc.

At the PKR Kota Damansara Bilik Gerakan (operations room), it was heartening to see people of all races and religions working and toiling together with common aspirations for justice and change for a better homeland. There was a sense of comradeship. For the first time, I realized that there was so much work behind the scenes: the preparation and distribution of leaflets, flags, posters, maps, the organizing of campaigns, rallies, walkabouts, websites, news portals, PACA trainings, transportations, food, etc. Volunteers work day and night to arrange leaflets, to stuff posters into plastic bags before clipping them on to raffia strings. I cannot help but notice a director of a HR NGO, not only at his laptop but also on his knees helping to clip posters. It was also a stressful time for all concerned. Some did not get to sleep till 3-4am every night for that 2 weeks. My latest was 2.45am. But somehow, despite the exhaustion and sicknesses as a result of it, the leaders and workers displayed a resilience and sacrifice that made a deep impact on me. They pressed on for something beyond themselves. Could it be the ‘shalom’ we read about?

Polling day – I never left my seat from 7.30am till 1.15pm, despite a full bladder! My BN counterpart, a young Malay man, came back after a 2 hour break and was surprised to see me still around. We had some interesting conversations about the difficulty of survival. The KTM, also a young Malay man, was very conscientious and kept asking me for advice in every discrepancy. All went well, except for 4 people who were of that stream but whose names were not on our list.

The morning after: A brief mention about my mentor and friend Rev. Peter Young. Despite being ill in hospital he took an hour off to go out to vote! When he called me at 1.30am on March 9, it was excitement and joy beyond words. Sunday morning, Rev. Sivin (pastor of BLC) was very gracious to give us space to share about our experiences and to debrief after an exciting night.

The exodus has begun – the exodus of liberation – it is now up to us to walk that journey faithfully.

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