Malaysia’s 12th General Election: My Swan Song For Penang

Wuan and I set off from Kuala Lumpur at 10.30am after she voted at Pandan Perdana. We had expected to begin our journey at 9.00am but the polling centre here was packed and there was a queue. When we got on the North-South Expressway, the sky was bluer than blue with white puffy clouds wrapping the horizon. That is my kind of weather. Rain was forecasted for the afternoon and evening. I wondered if I would be caught and wondered how I was going to get into the polling station in the deluge.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Crawl at the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

There was a slow crawl the entire stretch from Rawang to Slim River, partly due to the widening of the expressway and the unusually heavy traffic. In our many journeys north, we had never experienced such traffic condition. Were people heading up north to vote in their hometowns? The most telling sign was that most of the cars sported Perak, Penang and Kedah number plates.

The usually busy Tapah RSA (Rest and Service Area) was packed to the brim with vehicles and people. We decided not to stop for toilet break and pushed on to Ipoh. It was surprising that we made good time on the road despite the crawl before Slim River. We drove into Kinta City Shopping Centre for a quick lunch. When we got out from that place, it began to rain and boy did it pour.

North-South Expressway on Election Day - 10-car pile up acccident
One of the vehicles in the 10-car pile up somewhere near Kamunting.
Photo by Wuan.

One of the best things that William taught us to invest on was a bottle of Rain X. No, this is not a sponsored post or a paid endorsement for that product. It repelled water from the windscreen in heavy rain and improved visibility to a great extent. At higher speeds, rainwater just flowed away as soon as it hit the windscreen. There even was not a need to run the wiper. That was how good it was. The only thing it could not do was repel the fine mist of water churned up by the wheels of the vehicles in the front.

Somewhere between Kamunting and Taiping, traffic came to a crawl again. We inched slow. The cause was a ten-car pile up on the right lane. Most of the vehicles had very badly bashed in boots and bonnets. As far as I could see, there were no critical injuries, just badly shaken drivers with shocked looks in their faces standing in the rain looking at their wreck vehicles and wondering how the mishap could have happened.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Car with the bonnet torn away in an accident somewhere near Taiping.
Photo by Wuan.

For a while after that, we were in the midst of cautiously driven vehicles. Nevertheless, the gory sight of mangled cars was repeated six times after that. All along the way, there was no sign of ambulances. That I took to be a good sign as it indicated that nobody was critically injured in those accidents. I can attribute three factors that cased the accidents – speeding in low-visibility, slippery road conditions and hydroplaning. There is a stretch of expressway from Taiping and Juru where rainwater tends to gather into invisible puddles that may cause speeding cars to lose traction unexpectedly.

A short distance after the Juru toll plaza, I was almost caught in an accident. I was following a car that was following a small lorry. The bus that the lorry was following suddenly braked. The lorry followed suit but it skidded and momentarily spun out of control. The car in front swerved to avoid the lorry. I hit the brakes and swerved left to avoid the car. Fortunately there was no traffic behind me. We found out that the bus had suddenly braked because there was an accident right in front of it. Thank God for ABS that prevented our car from skidding.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Another accident along the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

The moment we reached Penang, I became fidgety. Traffic into the city was crawling. It was already 3.45pm. Polling ends at 5.00pm. At the rate we were moving I estimated that I may not be able to reach the polling centre in time. Moreover, the rain was not letting up. It would be a wasted effort to drive almost 400km and not being able to cast my two votes.

I took several shortcuts but I was not making good time. Traffic was slow everywhere. At 4.25pm, I was stuck in yet another jam at Jalan Lim Lean Teng which is about 2km from the polling centre. The rain became even heavier. I was beginning to lose hope. Did I go all the way to Penang only to arrive at the polling centre after it closed? Desperation and frustration gripped me. Wuan tried to console me but at that moment, I was inconsolable.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
The truck churning up a fine mist and causing poor visibility along the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

The moment we turned into Jalan Terengganu, the road was clear but water was fast rising at the junction with Jalan P. Ramlee. This area is famous for it notorious floods during monsoon seasons. I have lived in this area for 22 years and I knew it like the back of my hand but time was running out. As I slowly inched our way in the ankle-height water, I kept looking at the dashboard clock.

It was raining very heavily and we reached the entrance to SM Sri Mutiara which was the polling station for me to cast my vote. I turned into the school but the policeman on duty stopped me. I told him I am an OKU (disabled person) and he gave me the thumbs up sign and allowed me to drive in. It was already 4.30pm. Wuan and I have been on the road for six hours already.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Tow truck operators having a field day with the numerous accidents along the North-South Expressway.
Photo by Wuan.

She took my identity card and went to get the number for my polling stream. A polling centre has several polling streams – the room where voters are given their ballot paper and cast their votes. Mine was 3. In the heavy rain, she got my wheelchair from the boot and assisted me out from the car. A helpful staff of the polling station shielded us from the rain with an umbrella.

After that, it was all a breeze. Wuan got me into the polling room. I presented my identity card. It number and my name was read out loud by the polling officer for the polling agents from the respective political parties. I was given two folded sheets of paper. At the cubicle, I unfolded the first sheet. Jeff Ooi’s name was there. It was a surreal moment when I pressed the pencil on the ballot paper and wondered if I was marking in the right box.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Slow-moving traffic at the Penang Bridge heading towards the island.
Photo by Wuan.

Having marked the ballot paper for the Parlimentary seat, I unfolded the one for the state seat. I hesitated for a moment. I have never really thought about who I wanted to vote for the state seat. Should I vote like how most Penangites would vote – Parliament for the DAP and state for the Barisan Nasional? I must have spent a little too much time trying to decide because the polling officer manning the ballot boxes stood up and took a peek at me wondering what was taking me so long. I looked at him, smiled and quickly marked the paper, folded it back and slotted them into the respective ballot boxes.

Bryan was there waiting when I got out from the polling room. He helped Wuan to get me into the car. I was touched that he came in the rain to assist me at the polling station. As I was rushing to drop in at my apartment to collect some belongings and than drive back to Kuala Lumpur, we did not have much opportunity to chat. We bade farewell and promised to catch up again the next time I am in Penang.

North-South Expressway on Election Day
Jeff Ooi and Law Heng Kiang election billboard outside McDonalds Green Lane.
Photo by Wuan.

The journey back was smooth all the way. We wondered where all the traffic had disappeared to. Perhaps Wuan and I were the only crazy people who drove all the way to Penang just to vote and drove back to Kuala Lumpur immediately after that. We reached home at 1am, tired, hungry and in dire need of a bath. By then, news had trickled in that the informal alliance of DAP, PKR and PAS had the majority seats in Penang to form the next state government, that Jeff Ooi, Tony Pua and Teresa Kok were voted in, and Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, Datuk Teng Hock Nan, Dato’ Sri Sharizat Abdul Jalil and Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun did not make it.

Was it worth the effort that Wuan and I had driven 800km in 15 hours just to mark two sheets of ballot paper? The answer is a resounding YES! That was the first and probably the last time I am voting in Penang. I will soon change my address and voting constituency from Jelutong and DUN Datuk Keramat to Pandan and DUN Teratai in Selangor where DAP’s Jenice Lee was voted in. Nonetheless, I hope the incoming Penang state government will keep their election promises and live up to the trust and mandate that Penangites had given them.

For Jeff Ooi, For Malaysia, For Democracy

So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6: 34 (New Jerusalem Bible)

When I woke up the morning after I posted the entry with that quote from the Holy Bible, Wuan said to me, “You better decide if we are going to drive back to Penang to vote.”

I rubbed my eyes, not really believing what I just heard. Without my glasses, she was just a figure standing at the end of the bed. For several days in a row, I have woken up from early morning dreams that were all too realistic to be just dreams. Somehow, I have come to doubt what reality was and if they were just part of another dream.

I had not told Wuan about my wish to go back to vote and she had not yet read what I wrote then. I squinted, trying hard to focus on her. It was not a dream. I was awake, barely, but I was awake. Tomorrow took care of itself all right. Knowing Wuan, that meant she would accompany me to Penang on election day for me to cast my ballot should I decide to do that. I was not prepared for that as I was still unsure of what I would do.

We talked about it after that. If all goes according as planned, Wuan will have to cast her ballot at the polling station here in Pandan Perdana when it opens early in the morning. We will leave for Penang by 9am. It will be a 6-hour road trip with one stop at Tapah for emptying my bladder and another at Ipoh for lunch. I expect to reach Penang by 3pm and arrive at the polling station by 4pm.

I hope my body is up to it – not the road trip to and fro but the exhaustion and effects after that. The consolation now is that the most recent blood tests and ultrasound indicates that the condition of my kidneys have not deteriorated further although swelling was detected in the athrophied left kidney. Nevertheless, I tire very easily nowadays and do not want to push my body too much lest that may cause further damage.

This election will be the first and probably the last that I am voting in Penang. I have contributed nothing meaningfully to this island that I have called home for four decades. Soon, I will be uprooting to a city 400 km away. This is all I can do, hoping, praying, that this little effort will bring about a greater change for the island that will always be close to my heart. There are too many sentimental memories to just turn my back to and walk away from.

This is also for my beloved motherland Malaysia and exercising my responsibility and right as a Malaysian. I have talked much about issues affecting disabled people. I have advocated for improvement in accessibility in public transport and the built environment. I have publicly protested against discriminatory policies imposed on disabled people. I have blogged about how disabled people are still being marginalised in society. Now is the time and opportunity to walk the talk a step further.

If I do not even bother to exercise my democratic right by casting my vote I should not be talking about those issues. If I let slip this opportunity, I have no right to complain about the insufficiencies in the present system that are marginalising disabled people from mainstream society. If I do not care to vote, I deserve whatever government that gets elected. But I care. I have seen with my own eyes things that are not right with our nation. Not enough is being done to provide support to people who really need it while money is being squandered elsewhere. Ministers and politicians more than often make promises that they never intended to fulfill from the beginning.

Things must change and now is the perfect time to make that happen. I am going all the way to Penang from Kuala Lumpur to cast two votes – one for Jeff Ooi for a better Malaysia and the other for a better Penang. I am putting myself and Wuan through this trouble because I believe in Jeff Ooi. I believe he can bring about a refreshing change to the wellbeing of the nation. If he wins the Jelutong parliamentary seat, the trouble that I have to go through to vote for him will be worth the effort a thousand times over. If he does not get voted in, well, he tried, I tried and we all tried. That is democracy.

All eligible voters of the Jelutong parliamentary seat who are residing in other states should go back and vote for Jeff Ooi come polling day on March 8. A little effort can go a long way. He is sticking his head out for the betterment of our nation. It is no easy task and takes a lot of courage, not to mention effort and money, to offer oneself up as a candidate for the election. Jeff Ooi has stepped up to the challenge. The least we can do is to make make our votes count and his effort worth his while. When we vote for Jeff Ooi, we are not only voting for him but voting for a better Malaysia for ourselves and our families.

I have said it before and I am going to say it again now. I am throwing my support behind him neither because he is a fellow blogger nor the fact that he is from the DAP. Jeff has proven beyond reasonable doubt that he dares to speak out without fear or favour on pertinent issues affecting the nation through his blog way before he became a politician. It is that courage that I hope he will bring into the Parliament should he be elected. We need people like him to ensure accountability, transparency and good governance in the administration of our country’s affairs.

Go Jeff! Malaysia needs more courageous people like you.

Hello Jeff Ooi

Screen capture of my 12th General Election Polling Centre and Polling Stream

Jeff Ooi revealed that the DAP has announced his candidacy for the Jelutong parliamentary seat in Malaysia’s impending 12th General Election. I am throwing my support behind him not because he is a fellow blogger nor the fact that he is from the DAP. Jeff has proven beyond reasonable doubt that he dares to speak out without fear or favour on pertinent issues affecting the nation through his blog way before he joined the DAP. It is that courage that I hope he will bring into the Parliament should he be elected. We need people like him to ensure accountability, transparency and good governance in the administration of our country’s affairs. Go Jeff! Malaysia needs more courageous people like you.