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Article by Boon Kia Meng on Wednesday, 2nd September 2009:

Working with PAS

MUCH has been said and countless analyses have been made since PAS beat Umno in the recent Permatang Pasir by-election by a majority of 4,551 votes. Statistics and results can often be used to spin different narratives to suit political goals, both for the Barisan Nasional (BN) and the Pakatan Rakyat (PR). I, however, would rather share my personal experiences on the ground, as a party worker/researcher, without any pretensions of objectivity or nonpartisanship.

From the early hours of nomination day, through the eight full days of hard door-to-door campaigning, until the frantic final hours monitoring voter turnout, the Permatang Pasir by-election was by no means different from the last one I participated in at Bukit Gantang. The daily pressures, coupled with the highs of buzzing ceramah and the lows of receiving negative feedback, is bread and butter for election campaigners.

We, in the DAP, knew that we had solid support among the non-Malay Malaysians in key areas such as Kampung Cross Street 2, Permatang Pauh and Sama Gagah, where the total number of Chinese voters numbered about 4,000. Our strategy was to maintain at least 70% of the total votes in these areas. Anything less would have been a failure on the DAP's part in assisting our PR partner, PAS.

As the days of campaigning passed by, we were aware that the biggest challenge for us was whether the non-Malay Malaysian voters would feel sufficiently energised and enthusiastic to come out and vote. The number of by-elections in the area has not done us any favours. By-election fatigue is clearly felt by all, voters and campaigners alike.


This reminds me of the fundamental commonalities we share as human beings, regardless of our political affiliations, ethnicity and religion. Travelling the dust-beaten roads from kampung to kampung, ceramah to ceramah, all party workers get tired. Underneath the political rhetoric, we are all mere flesh and blood, with hearts and minds plagued by the same temptations and weaknesses. Our "human condition", as political philosopher Hannah Arendt called it.

For me, what stood out most was not the hype, glitz and clamour of political campaigning or the impressive array of political celebrities thronging the peaceful towns of Permatang Pasir. What counted were the priceless, seemingly ordinary conversations I shared with my co-workers from PAS, the countless thousands who worked with simplicity and fidelity to their party's cause, fuelled by an admirable piety for Allah.

Though I belong to the DAP, a party committed to upholding our Merdeka constitution of a secular democracy with Islam as the federation's official religion, that does not mean I am unable to accept or understand the ideological stand of our PAS friends and partners. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect and admiration for PAS, for their dogged determination to bring about a more fair and equitable Malaysian society. The DAP and PAS are two parties rooted in their respective histories of struggle and marginalisation in the Malaysian political landscape. As such, the admiration is mutual for how we have stuck to our principles even if it means losing popularity or being demonised by the BN machinery.

Mutual respect

When the traditional media or the prime minister plays up the issue that the PR will not last because the DAP and PAS are at odds ideologically, I can only say that these so-called differences do not spell the end to common political enterprise or coalition-building. Human beings, in spite of our many failings, have an enormous capacity to rationalise and build on what is good for all citizens, in spite of our physical and philosophical differences.

I can even point to my personal experiences to dispel such simplistic conclusions by the PM and the media. I have experienced the simple sharing of nasi, sambal and lauk during buka puasa, squatting by makeshift tables to eat, while casually exchanging notes on how DAP and PAS party workers worked during a day's campaigning. We have laughed, joked and eaten together. We have also shared our worries and concerns as well. We have observed our friends in PAS perform their solat, while we, though non-Muslim, expressed our piety differently. All these without a single hint of disrespect or insincerity.

These personal experiences beat any amount of political sloganeering and media-spin anytime. The attacks by Utusan Malaysia that the DAP insults Islam, troubling and defamatory as that was, remains a cold, abstract allegation. For those with eyes to see, and ears to hear, I can testify that my fellow DAP and PAS members have the utmost respect for one another's convictions and political struggle.

Permatang Pasir is a case in point, an indubitable, undeniable, veridical experience of common solidarity and friendship between PAS and the DAP. What we have built over the course of 18 months, since March 2008, cannot be underestimated. On the ground, ordinary party workers have a wisdom beyond the years of the nation's purported leaders.

That wisdom can best be expressed in our ordinary dealings with our neighbours, and in a common hope that our humanity transcends our ideological divide. Put differently, disagreement is not the final word, but rather an invitation to understand and appreciate each other's convictions better. All this because we, in PAS and the DAP, believe in the more fundamental demands for a fair and just Malaysia for all.

As I took the long road home from Permatang Pasir to Petaling Jaya, I received a text message from one saudara Rashid, a Penang PAS party worker. In response to my congratulatory message to his party, he replied succinctly: "Jazakallah". Unschooled in Arabic, I was at a loss. Then I was told by a Muslim friend what the word meant: "May Allah grant you goodness."

That, to me, is the true spirit of Ramadan, one that binds us together in PR, and hopefully, one that will bring much good to this country we all love.

* This article published on September 2, 2009 | The Nut Graph

* Boon Kia Meng, DAP National Headquarters Research Officer



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