I was born on the prairies, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures. [GERONIMO]
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Who is Suriati Abdullah?
Suriati Abdullah was once a food stall operator managing her own warungcalled ‘Suriati's Café’ in Selangau, near Balingian, until the state government tore her stall down despite her protests.
“They said that it was state land, despite me holding a land title. They didn't care anyway, and bulldozed my stall. They told me they wanted to build a park or some lake garden but to this day, nothing was built on that land.”
After the state had turfed Suraiti out from her own land, they failed to pay her any compensation and she lost her source of income.
Yesterday, Suriati was named as Sarawak’s PKR candidate and will take on the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud on his own turf of the Balingian state seat.
Suriati, the five foot nothing and politically inexperienced candidate, is only too aware who and what she is up against: “Of course, I cannot compare myself with Taib. He is one of the richest men in the world.”
Taib may be politically astute and derive his energy and vigour from his new bride, the 29 year old Syrian Ragad Al-Waheeb, but Suriati is a fresh face in a sea of the usual, tired old faces that have represented Sarawak in the past three decades.
Suriati said, “But I have a strong will and support from the people I know.” Her experience of having suffered at the hands of Taib’s oppressive rule, will put her in good stead.
If we cast our minds to the end of last year, another stall operator also had a confrontation with the authorities. He was the Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi.
Bouazizi turned to selling fruit and veg to earn some money for his family. He did not have money to pay for a permit for his stall. The police confiscated his produce because he was selling his wares illegally.
Bouazizi was disheartened and in an unusually public protest, immolated himself. The 26-year-old died from his burns but today he is a hero. Not just to his nation, but across all of north Africa. He had sparked something remarkable: a wave of protests that, for the first time in recent memory, felled two leaders in north Africa and is about to topple another.
Unlike Bouazizi, Suriati has instead decided to take Taib on. She is as courageous as all those who dare stand up against oppressive regimes.
Many in Sarawak especially the indigenous people in the interior who are fighting for their land, have battled with the police and have withstood bullets, beatings and bloodshed to oust an unpopular Chief Minister.
Taib has made their lives a misery while he and his family have made a multi-billion fortune at their expense.
The grievances across Sarawak are rising prices, lack of infrastructure, inadequate healthcare, no access to clean water, repression, grotesque corruption, unemployment and more.
The battle in Sarawak is being keenly watched by its neighbour Sabah and even more so by peninsular Malaysians.
Already, there have been several distractions, deliberately placed by Umno-BN, so that all attention is diverted from Sarawak.
Taib has started to play dirty. The clutch of ageing leaders - himself, his deputy George Chan, will be wondering nervously, to see if they can prevent a rising tide of anger from turning into a wave of revolutions, just like in the middle-east and north Africa. The consequences will be profound.
Taib has already responded with his usual tricks – at least one PKR supporter and NGO have been barred from entering Sarawak. Opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim has been hounded by the police who have already interrupted his speeches three times. The DAP gathering to launch its candidates also suffered from a heavy police presence and interruption.
Taib has already used money to buy off as many constituencies as possible. The empty promises of change have already been made. However, the Sarawakians have had enough of his lies and corruption.
Few would have predicted the sudden uprising in Tunisia caused by the fruit and vegetable peddler.
Suriati may well be the one to unseat Taib. Sarawak may have been seen as a stable country, long held in the iron grip of a man who had thwarted any threat from other rivals.
Behind the images on the tourist posters of Sarawak’s famous caves and beaches, lies a land of raging unemployment, repression, corruption, decay and lost opportunities.
Suriati Abdullah is a fitting symbol of the change that is sweeping Sarawak. There is so much anger on the streets and in the longhouses.
One Sarawakian working in west Malaysia said, “Change must happen in my lifetime. We Sarawakians must wake up and say “enough”.’