web counter The Madness of MokcikNab: Last Weekend
The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Thursday, December 23, 2004
Last Weekend

Last weekend, I was in Ipoh. For some people, that’s information enough to elicit a knowing look. I wasn’t going to blog about it, but because nothing exciting has happened to me all week and also because Elisa requested it, here you go.

You see, also in Ipoh last weekend was Anwar Ibrahim. Yes, the the. It was the first time the iconoclast appeared before a crowd in his official capacity as Advisor to Parti Keadilan Rakyat, and many saw it as a barometer of his support for the Opposition. Every little word, gesture, wink, turn of head will be interpreted and analysed to second-guess what the man will do next. Will he back the people who stood for him during his incarceration or will he turn his back and take the easiest road to Premier league? Do you suppose his options would be so limited? We’d probably be surprised by the choice he will take.

At any rate, this is not a political piece, this is a fly-on-the-wall, I’ll-tell-you-‘cos-you weren’t-there piece. The last thing I want to do is tell people what they should believe in.

My job in Ipoh was to emcee three events for the National Congress of Parti Keadilan Rakyat. This was to be their first grand meeting after the marriage of the two parties, Keadilan and PRM. The venue of the Congress was Dewan Tow Boo Keong, on Jalan Tokong, essentially a pair of halls built around a Buddhist temple. Apparently, no other venue had the guts to host Anwar Ibrahim. Given the aims of the party, perhaps a Buddhist temple is indeed, apt. It was heartening to see temple workers in the flurry of activity, working hard to ensure everything turns out right for a party that is still largely dominated by Malays.

Despite the “Malay-ness” of the event (same crowd, posh surroundings; and you would be forgiven to think this was the UMNO General Assembly) I could see the seeds of the Malaysiana that PKR wants so much to sow. Particularly impressive is the Angkatan Muda, the youth wing which I think reflects the road ahead for PKR. Breaking away from the men-only membership of the “Pemuda” template, Angkatan Muda is slowly being populated by the idealistic twenty somethings, who I have to admit, are cleverer and more well read than my generation. These people, young men and women of various ethnic backgrounds, are the antithesis of those too caught up in the quest for a quick buck to think about principles and philosophy; those still toiling on the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Admittedly, the old guards are still there, and some still hold sway in party elections, while these young turks, they look more comfortable in the KLUE office than political office. But at the Congress, they were the ones doing the work, and soon enough I’m sure their spirit and enthusiasm would just steam-roll the hitherto aimless Angkatan Muda into the right direction. I just hope politicking won’t kill them before then.

But enough boring stuff, what of Anwar? On Saturday morning, the Congress held its Officiating Ceremony, and guest of honour was the President, Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah. The place was packed to the brim; every one expected Anwar to make an appearance, even though that wasn’t part of the proceedings. After a needless “pemeriksaan perbarisan” ,which I thought was a silly relic from an UMNO past, Kak Wan and the rest of the party officials took their places on stage. The crowd was invited to sing Negaraku, and the party song. The lights were then dimmed, and a screen drifted down as the crowd heard an aural reminder of the evening of September 20th, 1998, the commotion of police and pleadings. Then the pictures : his arrest, the black eye, people on the streets. In the dark I quickly made my way to Datuk Salleh, the major domo for the event. He was on the far right of the stage, next to huge speakers.

“What now?”, I whispered.

“Tengku”, Datuk Salleh said, “have you met Anwar Ibrahim?”

He gestured towards a man in the shadows. It was Pak Sheikh, indeed. We greeted, but Anwar Ibrahim was understandably, more interested in the visuals on show. He was looking at the fire he started, with furrowed brows.

“This is the first time he is seeing this”, explained Adlin, his aide. “He never knew the extent of what was happening outside”.

Without announcement, Anwar made his way on stage, and a small light illuminated his presence. The crowd went mad. He held up his right hand. Old women wept, dabbing their tears with the edge of their tudungs. If the purpose of this drama was to remind Anwar of the sacrifice of these people, and to make him feel guilty about any plans of abandoning them, I would think they hit the mark.

Anwar spoke a few lines and then sat down among the delegates to hear his wife speak. I saw that they were making googly eyes at each other at some points.

The Advisor to PKR was however, scheduled to speak at a dinner later that night. They roped me in as emcee for that event, too. “It’s going to be a casual affair, but build up the momentum”, said Datuk Salleh. .”People would be eating beginning 6.30, but Anwar would be here only at nine”.

Thinking that we had time, my husband and I decided we’d buy a meal somewhere else. When we arrived at the temple at 8 pm, Anwar Ibrahim was already working the crowd, shaking hands with delegates on the floor. My head was screaming panic, and it got worse because there was a launching of a website that I had no idea about, which I only knew about as Kak Wan was about to climb onstage. Anwar was calm about it : “you don’t know anything about it? Then we relax.” Egads, it’s hard to relax when I still saw him as the No 2 and Minister of Finance, smugly testing reporters on economic theories.

Things were eventually sorted out, and after speeches by Dr Wan Azizah and Dr Syed Hussin Ali, the Deputy President, it was time to introduce the man himself. I made it short, and he literally took over. There was no doubt, 6 years in captivity has not doused the blaze that is Anwar Ibrahim. His speech was peppered with snatches of old songs and quotes from French philosophers and Chinese wisemen, and a good dose of charisma. The cynic in me would call it political posturing, but I do believe he was genuinely trying to bring his audience to another level, this time. And his audience never diminished. The function was held in an open-air site, and apart from PKR members who packed underneath huge tents to listen to their equivalent of Che Guevera, others stopped in the streets and stood on road dividers to catch a glimpse, reeled in by his words. You can read the estimation of an objective journalist here, and read the comments, too, if you want a reality check. You can download his speech somewhere on the same website.

I really don’t know if the appearance marked the Return of Anwar Ibrahim, because really, nobody knows where he wishes to return to. (When reporters asked if he would go back into government, he reportedly replied “Sure, which government?) In my introduction that night, I read a fatuous pantun which goes :

Manis sungguh gadis Permatang
Pipinya halus pauh dilayang
Gembira kami Kak Wan nak datang
Datang membawa Abang tersayang.

The assembly roared its approval, and he turned towards me with a genial, conspirational smile. Ah, that’s Anwar Ibrahim all right, just as I remembered him as Deputy Prime Minister.


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