Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ijok Nomination Day: A Firstperson's Account.

We were supposed to make our way to Batang Berjuntai as early as 6.30am. Somehow, we overslept. I left at 7am and the only time where traffic slowed my travel was at the Kota Damansara toll gate. It was an overcast morning with sun breaks in patches for the short distance between Kota Damansa and Rawang Interchange. And since I was going against the morning traffic, my trip was a plain sailing. At the rendezvous point, I had to wait awhile as Wak had to travel from Subang Jaya, where the traffic can still be a killer in the morning.

The town of Batang Berjuntai, Ijok, lies a mere 53km from Kuala Lumpur. Normally a sleepy, one-street cowboy town, it suddenly jumped to live as though the circus had come to town. And indeed, it was just that, a circus!

Were one to be geographically poor with a bad sense of general direction, one could have sworn had one taken a look at the town, that Batang Berjuntai is in the state of Kelantan, where the Federal Government insist is the least developed state in Malaysia. Looking at the town, I may have to agree with them; I have seen better looking towns in remote Kelantan. But Batang Berjuntai is not in Kelantang; it is, a mere stone-throw away from the capital of Malaysia, and in the state of Selangor which declared itself a Developed State. Need it be said that Batang Berjuntai is under-developed?

There were no breakfast for us that morning - all the food had been taken by the bus loads of party campaigners and supporters; we grudgingly made our way on foot to the nomination center. As we walked up the pebble-strewn streets pass by the Police Station, we were joined by the KeAdilan entourage. It was a coincidence.

As Wak began shooting the scene, I lumbered on with the microphone and its 10foot wire, as well as a stepladder. A stepladder? Yes, it was definitely a stepladder which was meant to give elevated shots for our cameras (we had 3 for that day). Unfortunately for me, it was hardly used. I felt like a BEF soldier at Dunkirk - carrying a PIAT to be used against a Tiger Tank; only glancing shots. Oh, Tiger Tanks were not deployed at Dunkirk yet then.

Halfway to the nomination center, the 2,000 odd KeAdilan supporter had to stop as the BN supporters had blocked the street with almost a Rio-like carnival. Like a stampeding herd, you need time and constant urging to bring it to a dead-stop. And that is when troubles began a brewing.

Khairy Jamaludin, in his statement to the press, blamed the KeAdilan supporters for bulldozing their way through. If any, the blame should fall on the Police and SPR for not allocating a different route for each party. Blame too should fall on BN supporters for their revelry: they did not only blocked the KeAdilan march, but they impeded on the flow of traffic as well!

As we reached the nomination center, Wak and I joined the media inside the compound of the...shoot! I don't know what building it was!, while supporters of both parties were herded onto the nearby soccer field.

As each made their way to their designated area, cheers and jeers began free flowing. Banners and placards were raised possibly as high as their spirit for the day with no quarters to be given. And I believe none would physically have been had not for the barrier and empty space placed between them. But the barrier did not stop the plastic water bottle throwing. Only Allah knows who really began it, but both sides took to it with vigour normally shown by fans of opposing soccer teams. If true as asserted by Khairy that KeAdilan supporters began it, why then is the field strewn with bottles which carrying the BN's emblem?

Now, how best does one douse a small fire from becoming a raging furnace? Water, I guess. And true enough, it began to rain. First, a drizzle, then a short burst of cold torrent which left many, yours truly included, soaked to the skin. And as soon as the FRU's rushed in to the middle of the bottle-throwing frenzy, the rain stopped, and the sun shone its fullest...briefly. Then the clouds came in again.

The SPR manager stepped onto the podium with the candidates and party officials, and announced the polling date. Soon, the crowd began making their way out of the field, leaving the media wandering and chasing party officials for their comments, while supporters of both side walked amid others who were still cheering and jeering. That, is when UMNO Youth supporters snapped.

I did not witness it firsthand but received the information from a policeman. It seemed, incensed at the jeering KeAdilan's supprters, UMNO Youth members came rushing out of their bus, carrying wooden staff and anything the could lay their hands on, and made their way towards the KeAdilan party.

The few FRU and police constables standing nearby rushed to intervene, where a scuffle or two may have broken - a prelude to a riot that may have been. Alhamdulillah, nothing untowards developed. But in his bid to rush in, a policeman suffered an ankle injury when he unwittingly stepped into a hole. In his aid, an old man standing within the KeAdilan's rank, rushed in and applied massage to the ankle.

Wak and I later trudged our way back to our cars, parked some 1 km away from the nomination center. Apart from the incidents mentioned above, there is another which did not make the news: a reporter who made his way into the nomination building was apprehended by the policemen there, simply because he was, a reporter. He was later released.

Looking back at the whole thing, I somehow felt like I was a war correspondent in a battlefield. I know I do not even come close to qualifying as such but the whole situation in Ijok could have turned ugly had there not been cooperation from the Police and opposition leaders in calming the crowd. Am I being prejudiced here? Take a look at the video footage here. Is that the way a leader should behave, any leader? Would a hungry tiger turns its back from a trapped mousedeer?

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