FLASHBACK: Losing Candidate P223 Journal

11 June 2011

My lazy Saturday evening was shattered when I received a call from Edmund Bon. He told me that the skit for UndiMsia! that I agreed to be a part of is now no longer a skit but a full blown mock by-election, complete with manifestos, campaigns and a live debate moderated by Wong Chin Huat.

My immediate thoughts were – one week? Will there be enough time to put together a by-election campaign? But at the same time, ideas started to pour into my head. I was certainly intrigued by the challenge.

I was bestowed with two campaign managers, both of whom I have worked with countless number of times before on the MyConstitution Campaign – Michael Loo and See Xien Thean. Both were influential during the Rock4Rights concert in Penang earlier this year. So I knew I was in good hands, at the very least.

14 June 2011

Despite my hectic schedule, a meeting was called. My co-campaign managers turned up, along with MyConstitution members Lingswaran Singh and Cilia Chong, as well as my colleague Melissa Sasidaran (who I assure you did so voluntarily and without coercion).

Edmund attended the meeting as well. He gave us ‘inside information’, purportedly that my opponent, singer-lecturer and folk hero Azmyl Yunor’s campaign team led by Pepper Lim had many interesting ideas that they would execute for their campaign and that they were better prepared than us. We knew it was the infamous #Boncon at work, yet we still let ourselves fall for it. Somewhat.

Spurred by Edmund’s words, we decided on the campaign theme and our gimmicks. I would be a candidate that looks and talks like a right-wing conservative ethno-nationalist but with liberal views and policies. The story would be that I am a reformed pengkhianat and I would have taglines like ‘Untuk Agama, Bangsa dan Negara‘, ‘Jangan Cabar Perlembagaan‘ and ‘Bukan Lagi Pengkhianat‘.

I told my campaign team that I would come up with the manifesto myself and left the rest of the campaign matters in their able hands.

15 June 2011 and 16 June 2011

I utilised Twitter as a platform for my campaign and to hype P223 up. Through our efforts, the Malaysian Twitter community more or less knew about the P223 mock by-election at the Annexe Gallery on Central Market.

On Thursday, during the dry run briefing of the event, we recruited a couple more campaigners, Tee Ming and Izmil Amri Ismail. The latter and Lings came up with a few posters using the photo taken during my nikah ceremony last year.

17 June 2011

I began tweeting pieces of my manifesto. We have been asked to confine our issues to food, housing, water, healthcare, freedom of speech and expression, and government expenditure in terms of education. I came up with what I thought were reasonable policies on the issues, except when it came to the price of foodstuff and goods, an area that I struggled with. On Saturday, I spent an entire morning refining my manifesto. Although it was a mock by-election, I took the manifesto seriously. I wanted to ensure that what I suggested were workable and had the interest of the rakyat in mind. I tried to strike the balance between the responsibility of government towards its people and the responsibility of government to spend wisely and not pander to populist measures. I also wanted to try and not place further strains on the budget that is already in deficit.

For example, providing free healthcare to all would be an ideal policy. But free healthcare is never really free; it would be funded by taxes. Free healthcare would inevitably result in higher taxes. So while I knew free healthcare would be the more popular measure, I opted for a more realistic option – maintaining the current system. But I realised that there is a reason why people would opt for private healthcare rather than the public one, so I pledged a substantial amount of monies to improve the infrastructure and service of public healthcare.

You may read my manifesto here.

Maybe I spent too much time on the manifesto. Maybe I took the by-election too seriously. But I believed that one of the objectives of UndiMsia! is voter education; to create a society in which voters vote based on issues. It was important that voters are presented with clear stand on issues and policies in order for them to make their decisions. It was an experiment, it was a mock election, but it did not mean that we should skip the substance.

19 June 2011

D-Day. I came decked in full baju Melayu. Sampin and songkok included. I met my campaign team at the MyConstitution campaign booth. The posters were ready, laboriously made by Cilia and Lings. Copies of the manifesto were printed for distribution. We discussed final strategy during lunch and I found out that Michael had recruited a few more campaigners for the campaign – Yiing Huey, Boo Su Lyn and Yeoh Tung Seng, a MyConstitution committee member who decided to help out on the day (even though he did not get the memo on traditional clothes).

Led by the passionate See Xien, accompanied by the Izmil’s rhythmic kompang beats, we marched through the Annexe Gallery, shouting slogans and asking people to vote for Let’s Go Parti, my fictional party. I had some experience acting in plays during my school and university days so it was not difficult for me to put on a show and act like a seasoned politician. When I shook the hands of the voters, some were bemused at the charade, some wanted to know more and some actually treated me as if I was a real-life politician.

The debate swung from the serious to the tongue-in-cheek. Azmyl has an everyday working guy appeal and his humour left audience in stitches. I stuck to our game plan – the right wing looking liberal politician. Quite clearly, although I was decked in songkok and sampin, I held liberal views. I tried to reinforce this face with my answers on Article 153, Malay rights and religion.

Some of the questions were tough. I struggled on the question as to where I would obtain funds to finance the projects in my manifesto. On the question relating to cleanliness of the environment by a small boy, my answer was to improve local councils through local council elections. On some issues, Azmyl and I had vastly differing views. On others, especially those relating to race and freedom of speech, we were in agreement.

After the debate, the votes were tallied. The result was announced and Azmyl won by a comfortable majority. A report can be found here.

Was I disappointed with the result? Maybe, a little. But more than anything, I was tired. We were all tired.  I was there from 1pm when the event was only due to start at 6pm. So was my campaign team. By the time the event started, I was running on passion as my energy was sapped away by the performance I had to muster. By the time the event ended, I had nothing to run on.

To them, to See Xien, Michael, Lings, Cilia, Izmil, Melissa, Su Lyn, Tung Seng, Yiing Huey and Tee Ming, who worked tirelessly, my sincerest gratitude. They believed in the cause and were willing to sacrifice their time and effort for it. These are the unsung heroes of P223.

To my wife, my pillar of strength and the better part of me, it was another weekend lost to activism. But she marches on with me with nary a word of complaint. She may not believe in the cause, but she believes in me and that is enough.

It was an interesting experiment. I wondered how many voted based on the manifestoes. How many voted based on the debates? How many voted against me because of my songkok and sampin? How many voted for me because of the traditional garb? How many people voted for Azmyl because he is so likeable?

I hope UndiMsia! interviewed the voters to find out the voting patterns and sentiments of the voters. I do think it would be a useful barometer of the challenge UndiMsia! will have to overcome if its voter education project is to be successful.

Lastly, a note on social media. My campaign relied heavily on social media as a platform. It may be easy to conclude that my loss was the failure of social media as a tool for activism. But consider this – how many of my followers, and the followers of my campaign team, attended the by-election because of our tweets, regardless whether they voted for me or not? How many more became aware of UndiMsia! and P223? While social media presence did not translate into votes in my favour, it is at the very least useful to achieve one of the most basic of goals of activism – awareness.

Time for another LoyarBorak, perhaps? Or FTW?!

Syahredzan Johan adalah seorang peguam muda dan seorang rakan kongsi di sebuah firma guaman di Kuala Lumpur. Dia melihat dirinya sebagai seorang pengkritik politik dan pengulas sosial. Tetapi dia sebenarnya hanyalah seorang warga Malaysia yang mempunyai terlalu banyak pendapat. Dia adalah seorang yang patriotik, walaupun bukan dengan cara biasa seperti mengibar bendera. Dia percaya Malaysia mempunyai potensi yang hanya dapat direalisasi sekiranya rakyatnya belajar bersatu-padu dan bukannya berpecah-belah. Ikutilah Syah di Refleksi Minda.

Posted on 25 August 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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