Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose) organised its inaugural public forum entitled ‘Beyond Kliktivism’ on the evening of May 18, 2015 at the HIP Café, Kuching. It had a very good turnout of about 85 persons, mostly the young and from different backgrounds, but all urbanites.
I was there as a volunteer with Rose to assist in books and T-shirt sales. Laura, the volunteer in charge of registration had made great efforts in contacting and reminding those who had pre-registered for the event to come on time and so they did.
There was an excited buzz as the arriving crowd helped themselves to refreshment of lovely cheesecakes, chocolate cakes and bruschetas, accompanied by coffee and tea. One could sense the camaraderie of strangers and friends alike coming together in a such a socio-political set-up.
There was reason for that buzz; on the programme sheet given out to all, the panellists for the night’s forum was YB Hannah Yeoh, the current speaker of the Selangor state assembly; Thomas Fann, founder of Engage and also member of the steering committee of Bersih; as well as Dr Faisal Hazis, a political scientist and senior lecturer at Unimas’ Faculty of Social Science.
Team Leader of Rose Ann Teo introduced Rose and how this citizen-led civil action group came about after the last general election in May 2013, where some of us had served as polling and counting agents. All agreed that we cannot afford to just sit back and wait for the next election. (Hence Rose’s tagline ‘If not us, who and if not now, when?’).
One of our early activities was to try and understand why the rural voters voted the way they did, and what better way than to adopt a bottom-up approach of making visits to semi-urban and rural areas of Sarawak and getting to know some of the communities there.
Other activities thus far led by different working committees included new voter registrations exercises, voters education via a module called ‘Rumah Baru’ and involvement in the on-gojng Sarawak delineation (of electoral boundaries) carried out by the Election Commission. In short, the group’s aims is all about building awareness of voters/citizens’ rights in a functioning democracy in other words to promote free and fair elections.
For an NGO to meet such aims, it needed to inspire ordinary folks to step out and engage in such activities and hence the objectives of ‘Beyond Kliktivism’ forum was to get urbanites to step out and be involved in civil societies including to sign up as volunteers in Rose.
The first speaker on the panel, Fann, spoke about what kliktivism means and how we can go beyond just that. Civil society could take action amongst other things demand for free and fair elections, expose corruption, report abuses of power, reject racism and extremism and giving of yourself and your money.
YB Hannah Yeoh spoke about her journey as a young lady wanting to contribute to a better Malaysia, volunteering to serve ‘kueh’ and drinks at DAP’s functions and how, within a short span of seven years she is now a second term assemblyperson and the first lady and youngest speaker of the country’s wealthiest state, Selangor. She was the living and walking model of ‘nothing is impossible!’
‘We cannot depend on politicians alone’
Dr Faisal was asked to speak on the urban-rural divide in Sarawak. Being a political scientist and prolific author, he has statistics and figures backed up by researches and experience. He alluded to YB Hannah Yeoh’s ‘nothing is impossible’ as ‘quite impossible’ given the Sarawak scenario.
His opinion was that the opposition is not able to counter the ruling coalition’s narrative in the rural areas. Political patronage and the element of fear amongst Muslim bumiputera in Sarawak means an absence of strong opposition Malay leaders to provide an alternative for the Muslim bumiputera voters.
He also referred several times to civil society as agents of change and gave the example of how NGOs and civil societies had contributed to the political change that we saw in the 2008 general election; that we cannot depend on politicians alone for nation transformation.
In fact, all three speakers spoke on the importance of having an active civil society. Hence, it was a total and complete surprise to note that most of the media had focused on Dr Faisal saying that it will be very difficult for Pakatan to win the next elections and in one online portal, Dr Faisal was being incorrectly quoted as having said that the opposition is “in shambles”.
The thrust of his presentation really was, given the electoral dominance of BN, what citizens and civil society in Sarawak could do in order to create momentum and spark movements of change and transformation of our community.
It was therefore disappointing that the media had taken this angle without any reference to the organiser’s aims and efforts in this event; which is to create a platform for discourse and increase democratic spaces in particular for citizens to engage and participate in nation-building activities.
In conclusion, we appeal to the media to be the Fourth Estate and help young NGOs make their contribution by providing a more balanced reporting.
Let us the ‘Third Force’ and the ‘Fourth Estate’ work together to help our young country achieve the democratic advancement that will uplift all Malaysians.
Last but not least my congratulations to Rose on pulling off this inaugural forum; I hope that there will be many more to come!