THE 5 May general election saw a record number of independent candidates — 270 in all. I was one of them, contesting in the Bukit Gasing state seat against Rajiv Rishyakaran from DAP, who won, Gerakan’s Juan Sei Chang and fellow independent Simon Lee.
During the course of campaigning, I encountered many who were puzzled, indifferent, or hostile to the fact that I was contesting as an independent. This is a story of my experiences. It is not meant to lament that I lost the election or to cast blame on any party. I lost and that is that.
Land and development
I decided to contest to raise awareness on two important issues in Petaling Jaya — freehold land and development — both of which were not championed by either Barisan Nasional (BN) or Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
During my time as a Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) councillor from 2008 to 2012, I constantly fought for the rights of Petaling Jaya leasehold title owners to freehold titles. I have argued that legally, Petaling Jaya sections 1 to 16 residents are entitled to freehold land, and not the 99-year lease titles that they were given.
I have also stressed the need to implement development rules in a transparent and accountable manner. Petaling Jaya stretches from PJS all the way to Kota Damansara and has some 600,000 residents living within its borders. There is a rule that requires two hectares of open space to be set aside for every 1,000 persons and a football-field sized park for each condominium development. So where are the open spaces?
MBPJ has ignored these rules to allow for high-density development. The increase of population density without considering what the rules allow has created a strain on the city’s resources. For example, there are only seven police stations servicing the entire Petaling Jaya. How are the police supposed to reach the people in time or respond to all the possible crimes that can happen in such a large area with a huge population?
It may not be the job of the local council to tackle crime, but they shouldn’t be adding more problems that would make crime fighting difficult. MBPJ under both BN and PR have violated these rules.
With these issues in mind, I set out on my campaign. But although the issues and facts I advocated are relevant to Petaling Jaya residents, my supporters and I encountered several instances of hostility and were unwelcome for simply distributing leaflets.
“Traitor!” said one elderly lady to me as she walked past. She spat on the ground to show her disgust, next to the feet of one of my supporters who had tried giving her a leaflet.
One elderly man tore up my leaflet and shouted at my friend that he could not distribute the leaflets in the area. Another lady, upon accepting my leaflet and realising it was for an independent candidate, quickly dropped it in disgust.
The public animosity was not always direct. A friend who was helping to put up my posters reported that my banners were removed or defaced the very next day. Having a limited budget, I only made 100 of these banners and could not replace them freely.
Even friends who were supportive of me running for office started having doubts mid-way through the campaign period. “I tried talking about what you were doing, but my neighbours just scolded me for supporting an independent and said I was helping BN win the election,” said one of them.
A quick glance at the comments on blogger Haris Ibrahim’s posts about the independent candidates of Bukit Gasing will give you an idea of the hostility towards us. As an independent candidate, I was generally branded a tool or a BN agent and thus an enemy of PR.
With such hostility, it was difficult to even get people to just read up on the issues I was championing, even over the internet. The general view from PR supporters was that they needed to get a new administration in place first before they could start looking at individual candidates.
My response was it didn’t matter if I didn’t get their vote, but I urged people to at least read about Petaling Jaya residents’ right to freehold land and about our rules on development. These were issues neither PR nor BN were addressing.
Law and order
On the night of 1 May, I was supposed to have a ceramah at a small park along Jalan 5/4. The DAP had set up there as well however. I asked them if they had a police permit and they said they had one, which was most curious since I also had one.
I called the police to enquire about the situation and was told that the DAP did apply for a permit, but their permit for that particular venue was for the next day. When I told this to the DAP organising committee, the story changed and the permission they had was from MBPJ instead.
Now, the police had given all the candidates a briefing on the need to apply to the police to hold ceramahs and they had handed out forms to all attendees. The instructions were quite explicit because the police wanted to avoid any conflict over ceramah venues between candidates. MBPJ was not part of this process.
“Mr Mak, if you are not happy with the situation, you can come down to the police station to file a report,” said the police officer to me over the phone.
I told the DAP organisers that I had been instructed to file a police report. It was only then that the DAP relented and agreed to move away.
Of course, not all my encounters with people were bad. One business person who heard about me asked to meet me. After an hour long conversation, he agreed to help me print and distribute my leaflets at his expense.
A lawyer who follows my articles online bought 100 copies of my book to be distributed, while two friends donated RM4,000 to help finance my election campaign.
Others still simply volunteered their time and spoke nice words on my behalf during my ceramah. And I am most thankful for my girlfriend, who stayed by my side to help me organise and get through the elections even though it was a lot of work.
Overall, I would say my experience has been enriching, if not entirely pleasant. Whatever I end up doing next, I know I have at least laid the groundwork that would enable others to fight for their rights.
KW Mak spent his own money, inherited from his late mother, for the election campaign. He has received no government contract to date, is not on the payroll of Barisan Nasional, and he is not a member of either MCA or DAP.