March 8th 2008 was a very significant date for all Malaysians. It was the date when Malaysians decided enough was enough and they voted for a change. Whether the change will do us any good, well, we will just have to wait and see but nevertheless the change was definitely welcomed by almost all of us, and I say almost intentionally.
The run up to the elections was a very exciting one for me. As far as I know, before this I have always been very complacent about what was going on in the country. I accepted that there always will be those who will continue to be very rich and exploit those who are poor. I accepted that there will always be certain sections of society which will be marginalised because of their race and I accepted that our leaders were corrupt but since the economy was doing well (of course this illusion was promptly corrected as I learnt more) there was nothing much to complain about and anyway – what can we mere mortals do? The corrupt have always been above the law.
However, it was only after the revelations of the infamous ‘Correct, correct, correct’ videotape that it dawned upon me that there was something really scary happening to this country. The very pinnacle of our justice system was being shaken to the core.
Yes we all knew that the protagonist of that video tape did go for a holiday with the then Chief Justice but what was really disturbing was the fact that the very people who were supposed to uphold justice were the ones making a mockery of it and it was not just limited to the politicians who were doing so but it was a whole host of other people, including ordinary citizens who were intent on making their millions in any given way. When did this happen and more importantly, why did we allow this to happen?
Of course we, the Malaysians on the street, had to “Walk for Justice” and from then on, the feeling that we have to right the wrong had already been sown in me. Therefore, when the e-mails were sent out that the opposition camp was looking for PACAs (Polling Agent and Counting Agent) to assist them in the coming elections, I volunteered. The training was interesting enough as even then I was exposed to the many devious ways that can be used to rig votes.
Before we knew it, March 8th 2008 dawned on us and we were off to our “salurans” to take our posts as PACAs.
Yes the process of watching the voters coming in and going out was tedious enough; striking out their names and observing them was tiring; but in the end it was for a good thing – it was for a new Malaysia that we were all working so hard and tirelessly for.
I had an interesting enough experience as a PACA. Our roles were intensified when the doors were closed and the counting process started. Of course minutes before 5 p.m. the BN Counting Agents came sauntering in. Some had the luxury of just being a Counting Agent, but for the opposition camp we had to double up as both a Polling Agent and a Counting Agent.
The first step to the counting process was separating the ballot sheets. Initially, the election officials took out the ballot sheets two by two, but, at my insistence (after I felt I was going cross-eyed) the ballot sheets were taken out one by one and put into separate boxes according to the candidates contesting. After separating the ballot sheets, it was onto the counting process.
Of course again both the PAS PACA and myself insisted that the process of counting each ballot sheet in the separate boxes be done one by one and not simultaneously as suggested by the officials. Of course this irked the BN Counting Agent who was intent on going home as soon as possible and this drew an exclamation of disgust from him because he felt that we would not be able to go home at all because of this. We stood our ground and the official relented and hence the counting process was done slowly; each ballot sheet was taken out and we were allowed to take note of the markings on the ballot sheet and ensure that the votes were being counted sheet by sheet.
I guess the officials at my Polling Station that day were a little inexperienced or it may have been because they were tired but the forms tallying up the votes and ballot sheets were filled up wrongly.
I had to insist again that the forms be filled up correctly and all incorrect figures be cancelled rather than erased by liquid paper since I knew that any use of liquid paper on the forms will negate the validity of the form should it be used as evidence in court if a challenge were to ensue hereafter. Similarly I had to insist that the head official initial and put down her signature next to each and every cancellation that was done on each form because again if this was not done then the validity of the correction made can be questioned. This again drew huffs and puffs from the BN Counting Agent who was again more insistent on going home but once again we stood our ground. We did not relent and our every request was obliged whilst the BN Counting Agent decided to light a cigarette and wait.
Well in the end, when the overall results were announced I couldn’t help but feel that the littlest of effort put in had paid off in a huge way. Before March 8th 2008 friends asked me why I wanted to get involved and whether the effort would be worth it. They were skeptical of the fact Malaysia could ever change. They felt it was a waste of time and that Malaysians would all go to the ballot box and vote the same way and not make any difference. Today I tell them never to underestimate the fact that when Malaysians unite, we unite in a big way and definitely the political tsunami that hit us on that day will go down in history as the beginning of a new Malaysia.