NB: This article was originally published in my column on The Malaysian Insider.
It is now late at night on the final day of the Sarawak campaign. I am exhausted, as is everyone else on both sides of the divide.
It has been a gruelling campaign, especially for those of us who have had to criss-cross the vast state. Nevertheless, the tour is now over and in the evening of the morrow we will be met with either victory or defeat.
I will not attempt to predict the result as I will leave that to those more informed and capable. I would, however, be pleased to share my own personal observations of the mood, characters and happenings of the last 10 days.
The campaign, at least on our part, rocketed off (pardon the pun) to a flying start. Buoyed by a great sense of collective excitement, we went in with all guns blazing.
In Kuching, we chose to pit a young female newcomer against an incumbent assistant minister, thereby bringing the battle to the BN’s doorstep in a bid to wipe them clean in the south bank of the state capital.
To boost her campaign, her nomination was accompanied by none other than Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, with political secretary in tow.
Our posture was an offensive one as the constituency in question, Batu Kawah, has traditionally been a BN stronghold. We lined up our heavy artillery and proceeded to fire, night after night, entertaining Kuching with our well-choreographed ceramahs and our yellow-billed mascot that quickly became an overnight hit of mammoth proportions, far exceeding our expectations.
Meanwhile, challenges surfaced in the adjoining areas of Pending, Padungan and Kota Sentosa. Multi-cornered fights in the latter two and a strong BN candidate in the former. It was veritable warfare as the BN began to hit back, throwing the prime minister himself into the fray.
By the great Rajang River, a hundred miles away, we seek to capitalise on our breakthrough last year. With our hero from Sibu, Wong Ho Leng, leading the charge, we are making a bid for four seats.
Here, attention is focused on another young female candidate who is up against the Minister Wong Soon Koh. Sibu, like Kuching, is very much our frontline.
After an explosive start, fatigue began to set in. Night after night of feverish campaigning left us drained. We needed a boost, and the weekend’s activities would provide it.
Throughout Sarawak, our campaign teams began to prepare for “super ceramahs.” The response was overwhelming as tens upon tens of thousands gathered at all our ceramahs statewide.
We were elated and our vigour renewed. Crowds were not only turning up, they seemed genuinely supportive. Donations were breaking records.
And then we began to fret over the possibility of having peaked too soon. Questions arose, snapping at our psyche. Were the crowds merely curious, or did they really believe in our message of change?
As a party, we are usually wont to be optimistic in action and pessimistic in expectation. With that in mind, we decided that there was nothing else to do but to up the tempo. The game would now be raised to another level.
Elsewhere, in Sarikei, Bintulu, Bintangor and Limbang, we launched into a series of brisk assaults. Response was encouraging.
Every morning we tell ourselves that it would be impossible to repeat the success of the night before. Yet evening comes and we are surprised again. These places were supposed to be sleepy hollows. We began to feel cautiously positive.
However, in the placid town of Sri Aman, our Iban candidate is faced with great odds. Applications for ceramah permits were repeatedly rejected.
A guerilla campaign had to be carried out, and in a constituency where 10 per cent of the votes are postal, hope was but a faint light at the end of a long tunnel. But persistence paid off and a permit was finally granted.
Treading on new ground, we were apprehensive about the turnout. Hoping for about a thousand, more than double the number showed up. The flicker had now turned into a torch.
Yet while we were bombarding the frontlines and conducting flash attacks on the flanks, there was something stirring in the rear.
Up in the north, in the coastal city of Miri, birthplace of Malaysia’s petroleum industry, a simmering heat began to permeate. Events developing in the conservative city were unprecedented.
There, in the grand bastion of the SUPP and stronghold of George Chan, brother-in-law and lieutenant to Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, something strange was happening. People were flocking to our ceramahs by the thousands.
As the days went by, the numbers only increased. Collections in this city were soon dwarfing the others. Suddenly, and against all expectations, Miri had become our main theatre of war.
There, carrying the weight of his people, we had our proverbial David, in the form of young lawyer Alan Ling, up against the might of George the Goliath.
And Miri is now where it all matters. Ultimate success lies in the quiet seat of Piasau, where victory for us will potentially send not one, but three heads rolling. Defeat for George Chan will signal the end of Taib, and the sinking of the BN in Sarawak will leave the prime minister clinging to a dinghy.
But for all our efforts in the last 10 days, it is the events of tomorrow that really matter. We have fought a good fight, and now leave it in the hands of the people.
As for tonight, I will sleep to the sound of the great Rajang River outside my window. The breeze accompanying it is whistling, as if telling a story. Perhaps it knows what the future has in store.
For the rest of us, we wait.