ANGER. Shock. Sadness. Defiance. These were the emotions that permeated the atmosphere of the 8,000 to 10,000-strong gathering of Pakatan Rakyat supporters inside and outside the official residence of the Perak Menteri Besar in Ipoh on the night of 5 Feb 2009.
The public started trickling in through the gates of the residence as early as 6.30pm. It was the first time so many had entered the Menteri Besar’s residence, where Datuk Seri Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin was standing his ground, declaring his refusal to resign.
The Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah had earlier in the day given his consent to Barisan Nasional (BN) to form the next state government. The BN coalition had obtained the numbers — through one defection and three desertions — to command the support of the majority of the state assembly’s 59 representatives.
BN and Pakatan Rakyat tie with 28 legislators each, but BN has secured the backing of three “friendly” independents who have pledged to support BN in any vote in the assembly.
The decision not to dissolve the state assembly and allow fresh elections appeared to have shocked many. “I cannot believe it. It was our right to choose. I’m here tonight because there must be something else the people can do,” said an Ipoh resident who only wanted to be known as Chan. He was among the many non-Malay Malaysians who thronged the residence on the night of 5 Feb.
The crowd continued to swell as the Muslims adjourned to a hall within the residency for maghrib and isyak prayers. The prayers were blared to the crowd outside through loudspeakers. Mid-way, the imam leading the prayer could be heard breaking down in sobs and crying, “Allah, Allah, protect us from Umno.”
The mood continued to be sombre, even though there were pockets of supporters throughout the massive compound who had begun waving banners and shouting slogans condemning BN and appealing to the Sultan to dissolve the state assembly.
There were also banners expressing scorn for the Bota, Behrang, Changkat Jering and Jelapang assemblypersons whose defections caused the Pakatan Rakyat state government to topple.
After 9pm, the crowd perked up as national and state Pakatan Rakyat leaders, including Nizar, emerged from the main building and headed towards the hall. They took turns to speak to the crowd in a ceramah, exhorting people not to be despondent but to remain firm in supporting Pakatan Rakyat.
Outside on the street, uniformed police kept a light presence with scant sign of the Federal Reserve Unit. Protestors had lined the road blowing whistles and holding signs that read “Please Horn” for passing motorists to show their support.
Most of the anger that night was channelled against incoming prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, whose picture was stepped on and who was maligned in several of the ceramah speeches.