Now that things have quietened down a bit, I have to admit that I'm quite surprised how swept up I was on election day last Saturday.
It all happened when Pang called me up on Thursday asking me if I could help as a PACA (Polling Agent cum Counting Agent) for PKR's Subang Parliamentary candidate R Sivarasa (who is also husband to the highly talented stage actress and former schoolteacher Anne James, who I had the honour of working with on Ops Ophelia
). I had no idea what a PACA's duties were, but I guess to allay my guilt for not registering in time to vote (and for losing faith in the electoral process and moaning about it), I said yes. I had nothing planned for Saturday anyway and I wanted to be part of the process just to see for myself what it's like.
Pang was quite pleased to hear that. Apparently, Siva didn't have enough PACA volunteers. So, on Friday night, Pang and I rocked up to the very chaotic bilik gerakan
for PKR Subang somewhere in Kota Damansara. You know, PJ for me is like another universe. I had no idea these places existed. Anyway, I walked up to the makeshift "reception" desk which was manned by Chee Seong of Five Arts. (As it turned out, I think that half the KL theatre/arts community had turned up to show support for Siva and PKR's Bukit Lanjan state assembly candidate Elizabeth Wong's campaign who shared the same bilik gerakan
space.) As it was merely hours away from polling, it was hectic. Chee Seong took one look at me, smiled weakly and scrambled among his papers trying to look for a space to put me. They needed people for sure but I was a bit problematic since I didn't have a car. LOL. He tried to put me in SMK Kota Damansara first. I went into the office to look at a map of Subang to see where it was. OK. But then there came the problem of me having missed the PACA briefing sessions. Jeez, Jerome, what kind of a volunteer are you?
Meekly, after dodging the other volunteers who seemed like they were preparing for battle, I asked one of the Ketua PACA to give me an informal briefing. He looked at me, asked me if I've been given "the folder". What folder? He shook his head... anyway, he explained it to me. (Actually while they were using the term PACA, I was trying to figure out what it actually stood for. I didn't figure it out until much later. Jeez, jerome, what kind of an airhead are you?). As PACA, we were supposed to monitor the polling process, watch out for any irregularities in regard to the voters, so that the proceedings were in line with the Election Commission rules. Basically, we were there to make sure no hanky panky went on. Usually Polling Agents and Counting Agents were carried out by two different people, but since Siva didn't have enough people, we did both.
Ah... I began to understand it more. But it was still hazy what I was supposed to do. Out of nowhere, an Indian woman came looking for me. Her name was Bhawani and she asked me if I could be one of her PACA underlings at this polling centre at some godforsaken place in Sg Buloh. In my mind, I was thinking... oh dear... but since I was already committed to do the job, I said yes. Bhawani seemed so relieved. So my name was moved from being PACA at Kota Damansara to Dewan MBSA in Sg Buloh. And I was given my folder! I would be monitoring and counting Saluran 2 for that centre. Hurray! Although initially beaming, Bhawani's happiness was soon exasperated by my admission that I didn't know anything about being a PACA. LOL. She then sat me down for twenty minutes taking me at lightning speed through my duties. Thank God someone blessed me with a quick mind to absorb all these things. By the end of her quick briefing sesh, I got a rough idea what I had to do. At the time, all I needed was to actually do it to understand what it was that I would be doing at the polling centre... at the time, it felt like I was going to sit for an exam... there was even a checklist of what we were supposed to bring... passport photo for the PACA ID card, flashlight for unexpected blackouts, etc...
Set. I returned home that night feeling mighty anxious... I found a photo of myself, cut it out as a makeshift passport-sized photo for the ID card... which explains why I'm smirking in the photo... I think it came from one of those photos I'd taken to put on a gay chat site... LOL...
I woke up early the next day. 9:30am. I had to meet Pang, Hazri and Zedeck in Brickfields cause I needed a ride to the bilik gerakan
where I would be getting a ride from Bhawani to get to that "godforsaken place in Sg Buloh". LOL...
Anyway, after meeting up with Bhawani and the other PACA who would be monitoring Saluran 3 (oh I forgot her name...), we set out for this godforsaken place, which Bhawani informed me was a BN stronghold... where us PKR people would not be so welcomed...
It was, I must admit, in the middle of nowhere. A kind of a Chinese village situated in the shadow of a half-dead industrial area. It reminded me of places like Tuaran or Tamparuli back in Sabah... which is kampung
territory. The area bustled with life, however. And it wasn't too backwards... or too undeveloped... but it definitely felt removed from the urban polish of places like 1-Utama. Even Brickfields seemed cosmopolitan by comparison. We reached there at about 12pm, after some deft manouevring by Bhawani in her car... it was a miracle we didn't get lost. (Bhawani had actually scouted the area the day before). We found the Dewan MBSA, which was a multipurpose hall. It was different from the usual polling station, which is usually held in school classrooms, where the different saluran would've been separated. Here, all three saluran voted in the same hall, albeit separated by Election Commission ticker tape.
There was a bit of a problem when Bhawani and I tried to enter the hall at 1pm, because apparently we had to wait for the current PKR Polling Agents to retire their shifts before we could take over. We tried to explain to the Election Commission people that we were there to monitor for Sivarasa, the parliamentary candidate, while the PKR Polling Agents who were already there were doing it for the State candidate Nasir (of Parti Sosialis Malaysia, who eventually won the seat! It's the first time we have socialists in government!). The Election Commission people were adamant in saying No. So Bhawani and I had to wait a full hour until our shift were up. The PKR-PSM guy from the nearby pondok panas was none too happy about this. But we had to respect the Election Commission's authority.
While waiting for our shift change, Bhawani and I sat outside the hall in the shade near the table where voters were greeted by Election Commission people who directed them to their respective Saluran, according to their age and number on the voter gazette. A cop came up to us and chatted a bit.
Settling down, it was really interesting to see the voters streaming in past the gate. This was not a posh community. A lot of them came in simple clothes, some even in dusty, shabby workclothes, obviously fresh from some construction site. Since it was also quite a heavily Chinese and Indian community, some had trouble communicating with the Election Commission people who were mostly Malay. One elderly Indian woman was wheeled in by her husband on a makeshift wheelchair... that was very touching. My mind drifted in parts as I observed these voters filing in, trying to imagine what it means to vote, especially if one's station in life is not up there... these were truly working class voters... I wondered if they understood what they were doing... of course, they did. I was checking out how much they resembled what my family used to be (my family back home is a working class family that over the years became a lower middle class family). As all these things ran through my head, I cried a bit... feeling a bit emotional. It was an amazing feeling though. I knew then I was glad I volunteered... it was worth it.
In between all this, I even managed to check out a cute Election Commission personnel. I smiled. He smiled back. Nothing happened...
At long last, we entered the hall. I took my seat on a desk in the middle of the hall next to the BN Polling Agent. A few feet away was another desk of Election Commission people reading out the names of the voters who came through our saluran. As they read out each person's gazette number, name and IC number, us PACA (representing our respective parties) crossed out their names on our copy of the gazette. This is so we can keep track of how many people and who had passed through, keeping an eye out for anyone who doesn't fit the age or race description, or voting twice, basically checking for phantom voters. It's a bit of a mundane task, I must say. And the hall is poorly ventilated. It was a hot, humid afternoon.
After three hours... I even took pity at the Election Commission people who had been there all day - they had to take their lunch while working... us three PKR PACA took a little break for coffee (we were relieved by our PKR-PSM counterparts)... and then returned before 5pm when the voting stopped and the hall closed for the all-important vote counting. This was when it got really interesting.
First, the hall was secured. I was a bit surprised that the hall doors were not fully closed... but then again the ventilation was poor. If the doors had been shut completely, we would have suffocated. The tables and chairs were rearranged so that each ballot box were placed in front of the Counting Agents, with the respective boxes for untallied votes, BN votes, PKR votes, Undi Ragu and Undi Ditolak in plain view. The Ketua Tempat Mengundi of each saluran
first counted the number of ballots that were given out by referencing the ballot books which had the controversial serial numbers on them... that way they can total how many voters had turned up. My saluran
had 518 voters. Then the ballot boxes were opened, the seals broken, and the ballots poured into the untallied votes box. The counting began with the Election Commission personnel diving the ballots into stacks of ten, to confirm the number of ballots cast. After this, one of them held up each ballot, announced the party which got voted and placed it in their respective boxes.
I was very surprised by how many PKR votes there were. Eventually, it was 292 PKR, 214 BN and 12 spoilt votes. Bhawani who monitored Saluran 1 tallied 121 PKR and 121 BN. Saluran 3 totaled even more votes for PKR. In the end, at our polling centre, PKR got most of the votes - this in a traditionally BN area! We were happy, of course. But even happier that we managed to get our copy of Borang 14. The Borang 14, Bhawani couldn't stress more sternly, was our safeguard against any funny business that Election Commission were capable of doing. On the Borang 14 were details of the vote tallies from the preliminary count done at the polling centre. When all the tallies from all the polling stations are taken into account, they should add up to the same results as what the official results announced at the main counting centres. Borang 14 is the key to guarantee that the election results are clean.
There was a "technicality" at some of the polling centres in the Lembah Pantai constituency where 14 of our PACAs refused to release the ballot boxes to the main counting centres when the Ketua Tempat Mengundi of those centres refused to give out the Borang 14. Good on those guys for keeping the election results clean!
So, after we got our Borang 14, we got the hell out of there as fast as we could! And back to the bilik gerakan in Kota Damansara where we caught up with the rest of the PKR supporters and got news of the opposition swing! It was an amazing sight. People were smiling, laughing, uproarious as each new SMS and phone call came in telling everyone of the good news, announced on the loud hailer (aka megaphone) by Fahmi, alongwith his gentle humour and witticisms... ah... afterwards we went to Dewan MPPJ near Puay Chai school to hear the official announcements that Siva, Elizabeth and Nasir have won their respective seats. I had another emotional moment there... LOL... but it was quite moving, to be among such a mixed race throng... people of all races and ages and class huddling in a quiet neighbourhood just waiting for a change to come.
I even wrote a poem about it... LOL... how predictable...
Here it is unedited...
As we wait in such light
drizzle it feels like angel kisses
on this night in front of
the MPPJ multipurpose hall,
the crowd who have come
to hear the official announcements
are talking, peacefully,
talking across their barriers,
in front of the fence
keeping us out
of the results we are waiting for,
the people are talking,
laughing, in awe, in shock,
in their uncontainable surprise,
the people are talking
families, the elderly, their young,
wives and husbands,
daughter and sons,
the common and the uncommon,
fathers and mothers,
the colour of their skin
indistinguishable in the low
orange light of the streetlamps,
each face beaming,
each voice wanting to voice out
just so the voice is heard
because that is why they're
talking, discussing, conversing,
whispering, crying out in fits of joy,
because what is a voice
good for if it cannot
scream, shout, sing, explode
with the anticipation
that it deserves.
The people are talking.
The people are talking.
8 March 2008
Told ya it was a bit silly.
That goes out to all the people who worked so hard before and during the campaign period. They deserved the victory much more than this last minute volunteer who was just there for the final stretch.
Anyway, it remains to be seen if these elections, the second most historic in Malaysia, will really make a difference. I hope so. I hope that people won't forget that it was them who made it happen. That it was their decision to want change. And I hope the opposition parties do not forget. I guess it's up to the people now. People like you and me to make that change means something. The people have spoken indeed.