With a 1,500-strong audience drawn from all fragments of the Malaysian racial mosaic assembled in the plush auditorium of the Majlis Perbandaran Shah Alam, PKR's Anwar Ibrahim, DAP's Lim Guan Eng and PAS' Abdul Hadi Awang made an admirable effort to convey their coalition's embrace of the universal ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity in multicultural accents that immediately endeared them to their listeners.
No doubt, years of practice has helped Anwar switch with suppleness from Bahasa Malaysia to English and back, sprinkling some Mandarin and a modicum of Tamil along the way.
But Lim's use of Islamic tropes is a fairly recent – and an Umno frowned upon – practice which, judging from the laudatory reaction of PAS members of the audience who consider themselves better judges of things Islamic, the DAP secretary-general brings off with increasing dexterity.
His use of “amar maaruf nahi mungkar” (Arabic for enjoining the good and forbidding the bad) was deftly threaded into the text of his largely Bahasa excoriation of the Barisan Nasional that he topped with a 'pantun' which reached a climax with the Islamic admonition nicely woven in as motif. It brought down the house.
Not to be outdone was Tuan Guru Abdul Hadi, the third speaker after Anwar. He had framed the day's discourse in characteristically free-ranging intellectual tones, with Lim weighing in with an adrenaline-boosting speech.
Hadi's valiant effort in Mandarin, Tamil
Showing slight, residual effects of the stroke he suffered some time ago, the PAS president took his time warming up to his theme – true Islamic rule is rule of the blessed – before reaching an expertly calibrated climax in which his trotting out of parables culled from Islamic history depicted caliphate rule as quintessentially non-sectarian.
Thus when he implored the audience not to equate Islamic rule with inferences they are wont to draw from Umno's example of it, the ripple of laughter that ran through the crowd boded willing assent.
Usually, Anwar Ibrahim's blend of high-flown intellectual speculation with street-level vernacular makes his speeches on occasions like today's the standout performance.
But Abdul Hadi's deceptively mundane warm-up where he made a valiant effort at miming a Mandarin greeting and the Tamil word for welcome was followed with a subtly worked finale, representing the morning's best effort.
If Hadi's speech was magisterial, Anwar's was cautionary.
He warned that Pakatan's determination at ridding the Malaysian polity of BN's race-based politics would always be in danger from reactionary tendencies among its cohort. As such, he pronounced watchfulness against this potential for regression a cardinal plank of his leadership.
It was a transformative leader's salutary call that his side should not replicate the faults it abhors in its opponents.
Dec 19, 2009, may well go down as the day in history when a substantial part of Malaysian political society decided that race-based politics is horribly passé.