Pakatan Rakyat's highly-charged final dinner last night [January 28] managed to outdo the pro-BN 1Malaysia Chinese New Year concert, drawing over 1,200 excited Tenang folk. All the 100 tables at a Chinese restaurant at Labis were fully occupied by Pakatan supporters. Those who did not buy the RM20 dinner vouchers passionately followed Pakatan leaders' speeches through screens setup in the tents outside the restaurant. Others who could not squeeze themselves into the packed tents, were forced to stand outside with umbrellas sheltering them from the drizzle. Pakatan leaders, including PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and DAP star speaker Nga Kor Ming, were accorded an overwhelming welcome by the crowd upon their arrival.
Pakatan VIPs in dream crowd
A potpourri of thunderous applause, cheers, piercing whistles together with the DAP campaign theme song heated up the atmosphere as if in celebration of a Pakatan victory in the by-election. Pakatan leaders had to spend a few minutes to make their way through the crowd jostling with each other to shake hands with them. As soon as they sat down, the dinner table was besieged by dozens of enthusiastic people wanting to pose with them for the camera.
PAS candidate Normala Sudirman, (at centre) who put in a brief appearance at the dinner, was greeted like a superstar.
It was obvious that Pakatan's call to don red clothes had received enthusiastic response. Almost all attendants had pasted red stickers on their clothes sporting the Chinese word 'huan' (change), the DAP campaign theme for this by-election. Some DAP campaigners described it as 'Pakatan fever' , a repeat of the Sibu by-election where the party had unseated the incumbent in an uphill battle.
Poor show for MCA
Meanwhile, the 'Malam Mesra 1 Malaysia Sambutan Tahun Baru Cina' held just 600 meters away at Dataran Labis, featuring local artistes and deejays from national Mandarin radio station AiFM, only managed to attract some 500 locals. The festive concert organised by Pekan Labis village security and development committee (JKKK) and other local Chinese NGOs, had invited MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek, deputy president Liow Tiong Lai and Labis MP Chua Tee Yong as VIPs. MCA campaign leaflets lambasting PAS'
Islamic state agenda were distributed during the concert. Laptops, mobile phones and hampers were among the prizes in the lucky draw. Chua also handed out letters of compliment autographed by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to seven students from SJK(C) Labis who had scored 7As in the UPSR last year. The crowd was entertained to two rounds of two-minute fireworks as a form of curtain raiser and marking the end of the concert. In a short speech, Chua reiterated the MCA stance that voting for the PAS candidate would be seen as supporting an Islamic state. He (right) warned that the prime minister and his deputy would replace 1Malaysia concept with Islamic policy should the Chinese community favour PAS in the polls. However, Lim jogged the memory of the crowd at the Pakatan dinner that Umno president and former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the first to declare Malaysia an Islamic state in 2001. "Who announced Islamic state? Not Pakatan or DAP, they were Umno and Mahathir! And it was supported by MCA, MIC and Gerakan." PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang Hadi also moved to allay the fear by highlighting the equal treatment Terengganu Chinese community enjoyed when the state was under PAS from 1999 to 2004.
These included land titles for Chinese new villages, allocating land for Chinese burial grounds and abolishing road tolls. "You can ask the Chinese and Indians in Terengganu. We protected their rights and freedom of religion and culture during our rule," he said. Apart from stressing Pakatan's pledge to run a clean and competent government, de facto coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim impressed the Chinese audience with his limited command of Mandarin. "If we want 'nian nian hao' (good time every year), then we must march to Putrajaya, If Najib and his wife Rosmah (Mansor) are still in Putrajaya, the we will be 'bu hao' (not good)," said Anwar, prompting cheers from the audience. Nga (right) challenged Najib to approve Segamat Chinese community demand for the construction of a new independent Chinese high school before polling day. "If he doesn't approve, we shall sing Sudirman (Arshad)'s song to Azahar. 'Balik kampung, oh... balik kampung'. We shall send Umno to the National Museum and MCA to the Nirvana Memorial Park (Chinese burial ground)."