BY KARIM RASLANnewsdesk@thestar.com.my
When the general election comes, the tukang cerita gets away from the intrigues of the nation’s elite and sets out to explore, engage and experience other worlds.
THE 1995 general election was the first
that I covered properly, shuttling across
the country from state to state during the
campaign period. However, I opted out of the
1999 contest as I was busy with my law firm,
an endeavour that I subsequently sold as I
started living and working in Indonesia.
Nonetheless, I’ve always made a point of
being somewhere a little different and unusual
on nomination day itself – as far away as possible
from Kuala Lumpur with its obsessive
focus on the back-biting and intrigues of the
nation’s elite and Barisan Nasional’s navy blue
flags, if only to get a better perspective of
In 1995, I was with PBS’ Joseph Pairin
Kitingan in Keningau, Sabah when he was very
much public enemy No 1. In the mid-90s,
Keningau was going through one of its periodic
booms as timber prices soared and concessions
in the interior were being opened up.
The town seethed with life and thousands of
foreign workers from Indonesia added colour
and vibrancy to a predominantly Murut community.
In 2004, I was in Rusila, Terengganu under
the hot scorching sun with Tok Guru Hadi
Awang, listening to countless cries of “takbir!”
Now, I’ve never felt at ease with PAS. Their
world has always seemed exclusive and
However, despite my discomfort, I remember
thinking how attuned the leaders appeared
to be with their followers: the gap between
those on stage and those in the crowd was
minimal as they discussed simple government
savings and handouts. Little was I to realise
that this populist strain of politics was to
become dominant after the 2008 polls.
Four years later, I returned to Sabah and to
Tawau in the far east, immersing myself in
what had become the second-largest Bugis
community after Makassar. On the morning of
nomination day itself, I followed a colourful
DAP candidate called “Tiger” Jimmy Wong
whose determination to pursue his cause
seemed totally at odds with the town’s lacklustre
He was eventually elected state assemblyman
for Sri Tanjong.
This year, I’m hoping to be in Limbang,
Sarawak to observe the PKR lawyer, Baru Bian
take on the full might of Tan Sri Abdul Taib
Mahmud’s PBB government: a veritable David
and Goliath encounter.
My journey – reaching Limbang (via Miri)
will take over six hours from the capital city –
is an integral part of the process of covering
the elections. They remind me, very much a
“KL boy” of the scale of our country and the
extent to which so many communities remain
At the same time – and this is something I’ve
learnt from shooting my Astro Awani TV series,
Ceritalah Malaysia – the move away from the
centre helps redress the inherent biasness of
our country’s media.
In this respect, I’m not talking so much
about the opposition’s limited access to television
and newspapers: that’s a given in our
skewered, illiberal democracy.
For me, it’s the way stories and narratives
from the fringes of our country – from the
edge – are pushed aside and forgotten amidst
a dash to fawn in front of the grand, the
wealthy, the aristocratic and the Malay.
We tend not to care about what’s happening
beyond the self-referential bubble that is the
Klang Valley, as we revel in the intrigues that
sweep across Ampang, Damansara, Bangsar
and the wealthy hills to the west of KL – home
of much of our country’s establishment.
I may live here, amidst the elite, but over the
years I’ve become increasingly weary of their
(or is it our?) preoccupations – who’s getting
which contract and how much?
I guess you could say that as I approach my
50s, the bubble has burst as people who I once
respected are revealed for the nasty, self-interested,
corrupt slime that they truly are: albeit
driving Bentleys, Porsche Cayennes and toting
Instead, having spent weeks travelling
around Malaysia, listening to ordinary, everyday
people tell their stories; I feel honoured
that I have been entrusted with so much intimacy
and insight from people whose lives are
tough and relentless from day one: fishermen
in Kuala Kedah, stallholders in Temerloh, restaurant
workers in Bau and technicians in Kota
So with the 13th general election about to
begin, I’m more than happy to set off away
from Kuala Lumpur to explore, to engage and
to experience other worlds because without
this injection of reality, it would be hard to
justify my existence as a tukangcerita, a storyteller.
See Them in Action
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