Last night, Pakatan Rakyat held a ceramah perdana at the Expo Seberang Jaya/Permatang Pauh at 9 PM. The venue is basically a "padang" with a platform stage for the guest speakers. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a camera, as the pictures would have spoken a thousand words. So, I will try to share my experiences with you.
Firstly, the event promotion was rather low key. My brother in law who went with me didn't know about it until just 2 days prior. I saw it a few days earlier via a single banner at a junction in Permatang Pauh, confirmed with Internet. A friend was invited last minute. Very low key.
But judging by the attendance, the event was anything but low key. It was jam-packed, like sardines in a tin can! We were there at 8.45 PM and already, I estimated conservatively several thousands of people already.
By 9.30 PM, it was easily over 10,000 people, and possibly 15,000 people. One of the speakers asked if there were 30,000 people and the crowd roared "Ada"!! (although I think this is an exageration). For a lowly promoted event, this was easily one of the largest turnout I have ever seen for this area, far exceeding any expo turnout!
To give you an idea of how packed it is, sitting space was at a premium. We were eventually seated on the grass padang, and our knees were rubbing against another. This is at a padang larger than several football fields.
And if you think this is attended by just Malays, you would be wrong, even though there was a Malay majority there. There were many Chinese and Indian attendees as well, at least more than usual (where "usual" means past Expo attendees).
It is interesting to contrast the attendance with that of the PM who happened to return to Kepala Batas the same day to give out some monetary rewards to the attendees with television coverage. I noted with huge irony that the number of attendees shown on TV was probably fewer than 100! A stark contrast.
The ceramah started at 9 PM, with brief talks by a few of the lesser PR speakers first. Later, a convoy of cars arrived. The atmosphere suddenly changed to become electrified! I knew this means that Anwar together with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had arrived. The previously seated and calm crowd suddenly stood up in unison with huge anticipation, trying to get a better view of their leader. The crowd response to Anwar and LGE was simply amazing!
After their arrival and seating with pictures taken by the press, Datin Wan Azizah spoke first and briefly. Before she spoke, I was afraid that her soft-spoken voice might not be able to captivate the crowd as they were still shuffling. I was pleasantly mistaken! She is able to captivate the crowd, temporarily calm them down, deliver a brief, strong and emotional speech when needed, and the crowd was pleasantly surprised by the new Wan Azizah with a strong voice, which I'm sure is the result of her recent Parliamentary experience. The crowd roared when she finished.
LGE spoke next, and I found myself personally amazed at his great delivery in Bahasa. He is not only fluent, colloquial but the Malay majority crowd actually listened to what this guy has to say. He clearly captivated the audience for the full 20-30 minutes. The roar was even louder and came from everyone, regardless of religion or race.
And when it came to Anwar's turn, it was fitting that his was the climatic delivery. Simply stunning and superb. And I can't find the right words to describe it. You just had to be there.
Many times, the audience roared with him and many times, you can hear a pin-drop in the deafening silent atmostphere. Perhaps I am exagerating, since this is my first time listening "live" to Anwar surrounded by tens of thousands of people, but his was the best.
Mind you, it was an open air ceramah in a padang. No free drinks, no free meals, and everyone were either sitting on the grass, road, pavement, and whatever space we could find. And our sole intention being there is to just listen to this great man talking. And the huge crowd of tens of thousands just listened intently. I didn't realize it, but an hour passed just like that.
After he finally finished at 11.20 PM, the crowd roared Reformasi with him, and we started to make our way back. What normally took a minute to walk from where we are to the road turns out taking 35 minutes simply due to the massive crowd! Fortunately, the crowd was orderly throughout, and there was not a single problem that I could see and sense. Thank goodness, we didn't have any FRU problems - in fact, I didn't even see one. Instead, the Traffic Police did their best to direct traffic as smoothly as possible, but the Expo just wasn't designed for so many people, that it was a massive jam in a place never known for traffic jam in all the years I was there.
For a few moments as we made our way out, my thinking mind wondered what might happen if we had a stampede, as the crowd were just so many. To give you an example of how it felt - the night was cool, I felt the cold wind blowing at my ears (since I was taller than the average person there), and yet at the same time, I was sweating below the neck as the crowd was so close with together for nearly half an hour. Interestingly, there was no sense of fear, just calmness as we patiently made our way out.
To me, it is not important to give a blow by blow record of what Anwar spoke. Those who opened their ears and their eyes since March 8 election or prior will readily identify with everything that he has to say. He was simply magical. To me, he didn't speak of anything new that I didn't already know, yet, he makes my understanding clearer that went beyond reading Internet news, listening to his press conference, etc. He was clearly a different Anwar, from the Anwar of the Press Conference.
To say that the crowd was there simply due to the fuel hike is missing the point, although it was a major motivation for everyone there. There is no question many were hugely angered with the fuel hike. Anwar has the charisma, and that night, there was no question in the minds of the attendees there, that it is definitelyAnwar (and not Abdullah) who is the legitimate Prime Minister of Malaysia.
The grass-root support for him was unmistakeably strong that night, even if one is blind. The roar of reformasi was extremely loud and strong. This was in stark contrast to the public support for Abdullah who silently made his way back to Kepala Batas on the same night. It was a tremendous experience that I don't think there is adequate words to describe that night.
Whilst I was deeply touched by the event, I also feel fear for Malaysia. There is no doubt in my mind that for all the attendees there last night, Anwar is their rightful leader. They look to him as their only hope against the present corrupt government who no longer cares about the Rakyat's sufferings, as evidenced by the huge fuel hike and more.
Yet, those in power will not just make way for Anwar peacefully. I pray that everyone will be as safe as they can during this transitionary period, which sadly, I don't know when it will end. But at Seberang Jaya/Permatang Pauh last night, he was definitely the People's Leader.