BY AI-LEEN LIM
It’s not cool—if you’re a nonpartisan, ‘been there, done that, seen him before’-person like me—to spend an hour on the train and the Tube crossing London at rush hour to catch a glimpse of Prime Minister Najib in a dimly-lit hall with a thousand other Malaysians.
After all, he’s just a politician who runs the country; a flesh and blood man, unlike Yoda or Obi-Wan Kenobi who, not only impress with their sage words and fight skills, but continue to fuel the Force from beyond.
It’s cool to make the effort if you’re a naive bushy-tailed student, full of good intentions for the nation and eager to catch what pearls of wisdom the leader has to toss. It’s fine too if you’re some wannabe crony looking to slip him a business card as you shake his hand and nod ingratiatingly.
But for people like me? I went mainly because the organisers—the Malaysian High Commission of Malaysia Hall and nasi lemak bungkus lady fame no less—said there would be food.
And I was a little curious to see what the mood would be after Bersih 3.0. And whether Rosmah would sing. We were at the O2 after all, concert venue to the likes of Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue.
By now, most people would have seen on YouTube that Najib’s speech was interrupted by chants of ‘Bersih, Bersih’ and his usually smooth composure was broken briefly, much like that of a portly headmaster trying to face down defiant British youth retorting “I’m not boverred!” to every placation.
While I’m aware of how unpopular the Prime Minister and his wife is in certain quarters and was not surprised by the outburst, I’m taken aback at the glee and relish with which news of the incident has been received and re-posted online by the very same people who deplore the butt-waving at Ambiga’s house.
To me, the handful of people who rudely heckled last night were no different from the bootie-shakers: a minority in the crowd taking a cheap shot to harass and intimidate.
The chanting, greeted with some shush-ing and awkward shifting by everyone else there, didn’t make me think: ‘Now we’re sending a strong message to the government. That’ll teach him!’
Instead it made me wonder: shouldn’t you show a basic level of courtesy and respect to someone even though you don’t like him or agree with how he runs the country? I found the incident disheartening, as it showed that we’re a long way off from civil discussion and debate based on facts, figures and good manners, what with both sides resorting to yelling, swearing and … doing squats.
In fact, the shouting even played into the hands of this consummate politician, who towards the end of his speech, rallied the crowd with a thundering “Do not heckle, that is very un-Malaysian. It is rude and not in line with our values!” (or words to that effect).
Cue applause followed by the mad scrum for handshakes and photographs as Najib went on a walkabout round the hall, flanked by burly bodyguards.
And then it occurred to me why most of the crowd—students, mothers with strollers, young professionals working in London, parents visiting young professionals working in London—were there and why they seemed discomfited by the chanting too. Besides the free food and drink that is.
They were there because they just wanted to meet the Prime Minister.
Finally, there was no rendition of “If Tomorrow Never Comes’—a politically-astute decision I might add—though there was a patriotic songs sing-a-long which most of us couldn’t sing along to because we don’t know the words. Or because “we don’t watch RTM”, as a friend puts it.
And the food? Just snacks—and this bit’s very important in case you’re thinking karipap and meehoon—British-style. Which means cold finger sandwiches and wraps, deep-fried spring rolls and samosas.
The sponsors—Limkokwing Institute—may want to get in touch with the nasi lemak lady for next time.
Ai-Leen Lim is a freelance writer who currently lives in Hertfordshire, UK. She’s worked as a lawyer, business journalist and PR manager in Kuala Lumpur and now stays in touch with the city she misses by writing for Malaysian companies and publications. She only leaves her cosy cottage in Radlett village to head into London when there’s food, yoga or someone to interview for her monthly column in The Star: ‘A Malaysian Abroad’. She can be reached at [email protected]
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