JUNE 13 — Upon finding out that I was to be the DAP candidate for the Teluk Intan by-election, a sudden rush of excitement, fear and uncertainty overcame me. With more than 60,000 voters to convince, more than 100 km2 of land area to cover, a new town to be familiarized with and new issues to study, the task ahead seemed gargantuan.
Despite all that, I chose to accept the challenge, promised myself to give it my best and started repeating Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s famous maxim: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, get on, don’t ask what seat.”
Right from the outset, I was aware that I would face great backlash. I also expected personal attacks and smear tactics. After all, this is usual fare for members of the opposition, especially DAP. It also meant that there was nothing substantial to attack me on.
As rumours began swirling around that I would be a candidate, an alleged photo of me wearing a bikini emerged. My immediate reaction was to feel flattered, but sadly I knew that my love for sweet desserts meant that I could never pull off looking that good in such an outfit.
As the campaign got underway, I had to endure more rumours, doctored photographs, false statements, and even multiple fake Facebook pages (some cleverer than others). I had to constantly remind myself that these were distractions, and that it was important to focus on the bigger things at hand.
Being a candidate was not easy. Early morning walkabouts followed by press conferences at midday, lunch meet-ups, followed by more walkabouts and multiple ceramahs at night, day in and day out. My mentors were not kidding when they told me at the outset that it would be a baptism of fire.
There was one aspect of the campaign that I struggled to deal with at the beginning, and that was the media. With the focus of the entire nation fixated on the by-election, the media glare was intense.
Having been caught off-guard by certain questions early in the campaign, I began to develop a phobia of press conferences. But I was adamant about not running away from my fear. I chose to face it, make mistakes and learn. Over the two weeks, I made a lot of mistakes and I learnt a lot.
Some nights I had to speak at as many as five ceramahs. For someone whose previous ceramah experience was one 10-minute opener during the Bukit Gelugor election campaign, I knew I had none of Anwar Ibrahim’s charisma, Mat Sabu’s capacity to entertain or Lim Kit Siang’s stage presence.
All I could do was to give it a dose of Dyana, whatever that meant. In this regard, I have to say the best advice I received was from my DAP sisters – Kasthuri Patto and Yeo Bee Yin.
The support I received from other Pakatan Rakyat leaders was overwhelming. The amount of trust they had in me was unbelievable – I felt like I could move a mountain!
There was no way I could have survived the whole ordeal if it were not for the support of my wise mentor, Lim Kit Siang himself, and the amazing campaign team led by Tony Pua, Zairil Khir Johari and Teo Nie Ching. Although my day ended at midnight every night, theirs would drag on until two or three in the morning as they strategized the campaign.
I am also indebted to the Perak state committee and Perak elected representatives, especially Wong Kah Woh, Howard Lee, Wong May Ing and Terence Naidu, all of whom played crucial roles in the campaign. And then there is the affable couple Rajiv and Anna, always making sure I was taken care of.
Of course not forgetting the local grassroots members and volunteers who sacrificed so much. I would also like to make a special mention of my two minders, Iza and Kak Anida, who were not only tireless in their dedication but also always made sure there was chocolate at hand whenever I needed one.
Finally, I would also like to thank my security team from DAP Kedah, whose task was not easy given the heated nature of the campaign and the provocative nature of some our opponents’ supporters.
However, my most treasured experience was getting to know the people of Teluk Intan. They barely knew me and had only recently heard of my name. However, the friendly welcome, warm embraces and wide smiles that greeted me everywhere I went made me feel instantly at home.
I will always remember the kakak who taught me how to assemble nasi kerabu at her stall in a pasar malam, and advised me not to be afraid of the hooligans who were verbally abusing me and my team during the walkabout.
Then there was the amma who held my hands and told me that her whole family were rooting for me and Pakatan Rakyat. And I can still recall the expression on the face of the uncle who cried when I saw him the day after my defeat.
At the end of the day, it was the people of Teluk Intan, from various walks of life and age groups, who made it all worth it. Interacting with them, listening to their problems and understanding their needs, made me further convinced that I am in the right struggle.
Despite the purported development of our country and the prime minister’s confidence that Malaysia would become a high-income economy by 2020, the fact is that suburban towns like Teluk Intan have been left out of national growth that is disproportionately concentrated around the Klang Valley. Nothing made this clearer than seeing it for myself.
In the end, the campaign made me realise that the goal to reform and change Malaysia is one I truly believe in. In the bigger picture, losing part of my personal life and having to endure smear campaigns and character assassination attempts were small sacrifices.
I know that it will all be worth it in the end when history is written 50 years from now. Although we lost the battle of Teluk Intan against the might of the entire Federal government machinery, I am confident that it would be remembered as the starting point for a new Malaysian consciousness.
I started my article with a quote from a Facebook executive. I now end it with some wise words I once saw on Instagram:
“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus and keep aiming.”
Malaysia, I am in this for the long run. Now that the arrow has been set, let us launch into the future together!
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.