Debating the vexed question of non-partisan activists stumping at Opposition ceramahs.

On 29 April 2013, Edmund Bon created a bit of a stir (as he does) on the LoyarBurok and UndiMsia! egroups, as well as on Twitter (and according to him he received many, many phone messages as well). No, this stir wasn’t because he has joined a political party, but because it became known that he was going to speak at a few ceramahs in the coming days.

It is most unfortunate that there still are some (I hope it is just a dim minority) who believe that a human rights activist cannot criticise Barisan Nasional, because that would mean he is partisan. These dimwits would have you believe that if you are an activist who champions human rights, you cannot condemn a party which abuses human rights. Or that if you stand for justice, you cannot condemn injustice by a political party. I suppose it is because these critics are themselves politically partisan (some obviously so) that they cannot accept that it is humanly possible to be non-partisan and praise/criticise based on issues, not personalities or parties. It is these same people who struggle to comprehend that movements like LoyarBurok and UndiMsia! are made up of individuals with diverse views, and yes, include BN and PKR members.

The reaction from the majority of the LoyarBurokkers and UndiMsia! movers was heartening, and shows that we are making little steps towards maturity in discourse, though there is a long way to go. I’m sure many of the hundreds of people who heard Edmund Bon speak at the DAP ceramah in SS2 on that rainy evening, up to close to midnight, may have been surprised to hear him mention that the BN candidate, Hoong Ling, is his friend and also “a good person”. Hopefully in years to come, Malaysian politicians can move beyond bad-mouthing the other side, or giving free rice or cash handouts, and instead stand up and speak up for what is right, no matter who the wrongdoer is. Issues, not blind partisanship.

Anyway, below are some emails from the LoyarBurok/UndiMsia! egroup thread, pre- and post- ceramah, which are reproduced with permission (and one or two I’ve assumed permission isn’t necessary!) and edited for brevity. The ones at the end are particularly worth reading, as they mention a bit of what Edmund actually did say.

Edmund Bon, close to midnight in SS2, speaking about justice, love, sweat, tears, and the power of the people. | Photo by Marcus van Geyzel


Dear friends,

In the abundance of caution, I have been instructed to take a full absolute unconditional and unqualified sabbatical for one week starting from today till 5.5, 7pm as a volunteer/mover at the pusat/undimsia/loyarburok and I shall comply. HSE Lords wish is my command.

If in any event I do appear speaking or sharing my views on the issues of the day on any fora, my views are personal to me as a human person (and a minion), pursuant to art 10 of the FC. None of those statements or views are to attributable to or represents any organisation/group/movement I am part of whether hereinafter or in the afterlife.

Focus is on issues of the day that we need to care about.



Sorry, but what is the point of this email? I doubt HSE Lord Bobo would issue such a command. Is the message that, in order to speak freely about particular topics, we must take a sabbatical from LB/UM/MCCHR? If so, please make it clear so that everyone knows what the “banned topics” are for LB/UM/MCCHR. And so that some of us can take indefinite sabbaticals.

Please don’t turn LB/UM/MCCHR into one of those hypocritical groups which purports to stand for freedom of expression, but then issues gag orders.


Must be distorted dream, then haha. No lah. No banned topics lah. As we all know, for sometime now, political partisanship at the slightest of hints become cannon fodder to discredit or sow doubts in the work of various issue based non partisan organisations.

Just because one has an ideology or political inclination towards right left or centre must not stop one from working with these organisations. The point is to ensure more if not all understand that — and it’s been a political education process for the masses as our democracy expands its wings at this time. It’s dealing with the perception — in view of the now quite toxic nature of politicking.

Looking back at my email, I think you are right — in respect of LB the blawg — which maintains a platform of freedom of expression — that I should not have included LB (where anyone and everyone can write) in the email. I withdraw that.

Now can wear the shirt yeaaah!


Taking a sabbatical does not help your “education process”, in fact it devalues the message and undermines the process. Giving in to the pressure and the wrong perception means you are giving value and power to it.

Glad to hear you will be wearing the LB tee and not giving in to those who want to silence you this time! Lord Bobo will be watching.


We would be lying if we said that the comments and criticisms of others do not affect us, but when it does we need to decide whether what we are doing is right and true to ourselves. And we get the courage to do that with the support of friends (and His Supreme Eminenceness) and family. And based on the emails i’ve seen so far, this LB family is telling you this: “Fuck em la, just go do what you do best.”  I look forward to hearing reviews of the #boncon (versi politik).



Really, what’s the point of saying that you’re on sabbatical? You say its because of perception, but whether you send this email saying you’re on sabbatical or not, the perception will always be that you’re going on the stump for Pakatan and the perception will be that you are connected to LoyarBurok/UndiMsia etc. So really, what’s the point of going on this sabbatical when it makes no difference to perception anyway.

My take — just do what you want to do.


Ok everyone. Thanks for your views. I made this decision after consultation with different people lah. Nothing to do with anyone or any organisation censoring or requiring this. And it’s in the abundance of caution. Mari makan durian!


I’ve always believed that LB/UM etc is a diverse group. That everyone has a right to their own choice or stand, be it left or right, BN or PR, bieber or anti-bieber, ManUtd or Everton or Liverpool etc, is what makes this group unique. And this is exactly the beauty of freedom of expression. I do not want to believe that this group is only make up of a single construct ie pro-PR, pro-BN, pro-Bieber etc. Then we are just shiok sendiri. So no sabbatical needed, you are what you are…


I don’t understand why it is wrong to be partisan. We’re actually giving way to BN rhetoric and brainwashing (the same way they try to brainwash us about hudud) in regards to it being “WRONG” to be partisan. Any NGO has the right to support whichever party they feel supports their ideas and values at any given point and to have the right to discard that support immediately the moment that party diverts from that ideology/value.

I mean just look at how in the UK and US, before each elections, a newspaper endorses a given party. For many years the Times UK had always endorsed the Labour. But in the 2010 elections, because they felt the Labour party no longer represented what they believed, they endorsed the Tories instead.

It shows that NGOs and the media in general HOLD the HIGHER power when it comes to the political realm because they hold the power to choose who they endorse. And because they are most often the mouthpiece and shakers of society, their endorsement shows, reflects and validates the power and capacity they have to influence the people to choose who they endorse, based on their values.

So I don’t know why and understand why it is only in Malaysia that we are striving to be so “neutral” and non-partisan. Its only because of the repeated brainwashing by BN (in which we have fallen prey) that showing any inclination of supporting a given party is a negative thing. Heck it, if BN invited Edmund to speak in any of their ceramahs, i am sure he would gladly go and it is the same with Ambiga and Pak Samad.

I see this ceramah as a platform for Edmund to further encourage Malaysians, and in this case the constituents of SS2 the importance of realising that power lies within them. That democracy does not stop at the ballot box and that there is more to do as citizens of which Edmund continues to inspire people like me to realise. I also do not see it so much as Edmund endorsing Pakatan Rakyat. But more of Pakatan Rakyat endorsing that they believe in what this man, Edmund speaks forth. In terms of his views and beliefs. And they hold this value that Edmund has as well. Which is what they want their supporters to know and hear about.

And it is very important that Edmund gets the chance, whether it be PR or BN platforms, to continue to speak on the need for more participatory democracy. And to ensure PR themselves know that citizens hold ultimate power, and if by any chance PR is in power, they are to listen to the people. And that the people have the final say. And how that can happen, is only through more political education.

It’s no point of 10,000 people coming only to listen to politicians talk cause they have a very one track mind on how democracy should work. We need people like Edmund to speak out as well in these platforms.


Dear LoyarBurokkers and friends,

For some of you who did not have the opportunity to witness Edmund in action at the SS2 ceramah tonight, I would like to highlight some key points for you. Edmund was the last speaker of the night, after a myriad of political speakers who spoke about the things politicians speak about.

From the outset, Edmund had been a stranger in the largely older generation audience’s eyes. He introduced himself as being non-partisan, even though he was speaking on a DAP platform. And unlike the speakers that preceded him, Edmund did something bigger. He took the opportunity to educate the people about their rights as citizens. He spoke about helping the most terpinggir and reminded us that we were all Malaysians despite our different creed. He spoke about the people’s uprising (rakyat bangkit) from the time of Reformasi and how it has evolved and grown to the force that it is today. He congratulated the people for their civil action in joining in the Bersih campaign. He took the opportunity to talk about the injustice that befell Teoh Beng Hock, lest we ever forget. But most importantly, he made the concept of democracy tangible to an audience he would otherwise not have but for this platform.

In short, his speech was political, true; but not partisan.

He has, in one session, come out with a whole battalion of quotes that you would expect from a society leader. He inspired the people that they could do more than root for their favoured parties. I want to emphasise that he had in no way detracted from his stand of being non-partisan but had so masterfully maneuvered the message of hope in our country; a common and neutral message — that has oft been politicised — on a platform that had been politically partisan.

The crowd was glued to him, even late into the night; and even when heavy droplets started the fall, they took up their umbrellas and told him to please carry on. That is a situation that only the best can command. And he did all this without advocating any political party, but just the importance of a vote.

So I think he deserves no condemnation for his sabbatical or whatever he wants to call it. He has stayed true to his roots and has, in my opinion, brought the message we wish to spread even further, even to a mass that would be unbothered about it.


Sorry but I would have to add on to Sara. I have been to many ceramahs, having followed my ex-boss (Tony Pua) all over Malaysia. I have heard so many speakers. And to me no one could ever beat Anwar Ibrahim in his capacity to not only be a good and captivating speaker, but to move hearts and bring out the humanitarian side of the audience. To literally speak to and move hearts. Today Edmund did that.

As I have said, I have been to countless ceramahs. So I was utterly shocked that when Edmund came on board, the audience stayed put in their chairs even though it was way past 11. Hardly anyone trickled out. Working with Tony, we know from our campaigning that a ceramah peak period ends at 10-ish. People don’t like staying that late into the night. The fact that Edmund managed to get the audience glued to their chair way until 12am is in itself a feat I am very shocked he managed to accomplish.

There was pin drop silence when he spoke. The crowd was so attentive, too busy absorbing everything he said. This is not normal. When it started to drizzle, on any other occasion, the masses would start to leave. Instead they stayed put. When Edmund asked if he should stop, the crowd even shouted “It’s OK! IT’S OK! Carry on!” as they put up their umbrellas while many didn’t mind the rain. Of course the heavens then decided it had enough of Edmund after an hour and decided to shut him up by sending the barrage from the clouds.

But this is why I must say Edmund managed to make the crowd engulfed in his words. Because everyone knew he spoke from his heart. He reminded the people that their efforts since Reformasi days was what led to today. He reminded people that simple things we pushed for just a year ago like indelible ink and overseas voting has become a reality today. Simply because the citizens fought for them.

One of my favourite lines from Edmund’s speech was when he mentioned that without informants, without the people putting them in parliament in the first place, people like Tony would not have had the opportunity to reveal all the corruption we know of today. That this was only made possible because the people came out and voted and put them in parliament, or that informants were willing to be brave and stand up. At the end of the day, again, it was the power of the people. Great reminder.

He reminded the people that it was because the people pushed and fought that was what allowed us to be where we are, here before GE13. Although so, there was still more to go. He reminded them about Teoh Beng Hock, about VK Lingam, about the ISA fight. He talked about the injustices of deaths in custody. About how some people were tortured and sodomised while in ISA. That justice was still not sought.

He reminded the crowd  that they must not be complacent. That the battle doesn’t end just by voting on the 5th of May. They would need to continue to struggle. And that they needed to always be active in pushing so that the government, whether BN or PR would listen to them. That as the people, they would remain the kingmakers.

A typical politician speech would have been why vote us. And why NOT vote them. Edmund, in his capacity to be from an NGO involved in increasing awareness of participatory democracy and people power put the limelight where it is supposed to be — back on the people.

The sad thing is that many Malaysians now treat politicians as rock stars, as their saviours or as their demi-gods. They forget that they themselves were the reason why the politicians had the capacity to do so in the first place. Because of the people who worked hard to vote them in there. Because of the people’s continuous support. Politicians were able to achieve what they were able to achieve simply because of the power of the people in the first place. That power of thousands of people coming to vote in March 2008. Edmund reminded them of that.

And I think this is more significant than any other political speech. Because it reminds people the power and capacity they have to make changes and dictate their destiny, if united and in the masses. Edmund reminded of them that.

Because for the last few years, the masses have glorified opposition politicians, or blamed the BN government for all their issues,  they forget they themselves are just as in charge of their destiny. And not politicians, whether from PR or BN. It lies within themselves.

And as long as people think politicians are in charge of their destiny, Malaysia will always remain unmoved. We need to move forward to mobilise the people of Malaysia to realise they themselves are in charge of their destiny, and hence voting is not enough. They would need to constantly be active and participate. We needed Edmund to tell them that.

Indeed, it was one of the best speeches I have ever heard. And I am so glad Edmund took this opportunity to speak on the need for continued and long run participation of the people to continue to make Malaysia a better place. That this duty and need does not lie on political parties. It lies within the people themselves. Well done, Edmund.

Marcus van Geyzel tweets at @vangeyzel. He believes that the only certain thing in life is that everything can be explained by the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter.

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