It was a modest Chinese coffee shop in the heart of Ijok. At its best, it could probably accommodate little more than 50 customers.
However, last night the shop was bursting at its seams as hundreds descended upon it. The crowd spilled onto the streets, causing a traffic jam in the tiny hamlet, tucked amongst dense plantations some 50km northwest of Kuala Lumpur.
They were there for one man, who showed up soon after in a chauffeur driven dark-coloured Rover. As the car pulled up, the crowd began to jostle for a closer look and when he emerged there was a thunderous applause.
This was none other than former deputy premier and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) advisor Anwar Ibrahim who had come to campaign for Khalid Ibrahim – his party’s candidate in the April 28 by-election.
Yesterday’s function was testimony to his popularity, not only among the Malays, but other races as well.
Since the 500 or so people who jam packed the coffee shop were predominantly Chinese, Anwar decided to touch on topics close to their hearts such as the economy, mother-tongue education and not to forget, Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein’s infamous keris-wielding incident.
Peppered with generous doses of humour and wit, Anwar drew much laughter and applause from his audience during his brief speech.
As for Hishammuddin, who is also education minister, Anwar said wielding the keris during the Umno general assembly was nothing short of a warning to other races, especially the Chinese.
He said the Umno Youth chief had since explained that raising the traditional dagger was part of the Malay culture.
“You think the Chinese are stupid ah?” he asked, cracking up those present. “It was a warning (to the other races). Don’t challenge the Malays or else…”
The PKR leader also said the New Economic Policy (NEP) was detrimental to all races, including the Malays which it was crafted to provide assistance for.
Anwar said he was not raising these issues just to please the Chinese and that he would tell the Malays the same thing as well.
“If Malaysia is to move forward, all races must participate,” he said, adding that race-based politics was not good for the country.
“I don’t understand why the Chinese still support this Malay (Umno) government,” he quipped much to the amusement of the audience.
On a more serious note, Anwar said he does not want to support policies that are repressive and discriminatory. “I don’t want to see this country go down because of leaders who squander.”
As for education, he said the current standard was deplorable and asked why a non-Malay could not head a local public university.
The former deputy premier also took a swipe at the language-switch policy mooted by his predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohamad which saw English being used as the medium of instruction for Mathematics and Science.
“I challenge MCA leaders to respond to my call to have the language switch reverted and have Chinese schools teach these subjects in Chinese,” he said.
Anwar also drew loud cheers when he stressed on the importance of learning the Chinese language and revealed that three of his six children have learnt the language.
On a more personal note, the former deputy premier, who was sacked by Mahathir in 1998 and subsequently spent six year in prison, said he was not fueled by the desire for vengeance.
“I have gone through the cycle. I have dined with Kings and I have eaten horrible meals in prison. I am not seeking revenge, I just want Malaysia to be a good country for all Malaysians.”
He also took a swipe at Umno campaigners for telling Malay voters that he has changed and that he was now pro-Jew and pro-Chinese.
“MCA will come here tomorrow and tell you (Chinese voters) that I am pro-Malay. Both are lies, I am pro all races,” he said.
Immediately after his speech, Anwar was whisked away to another location in Batang Bejuntai, where he spent several minutes in the company of a few Indian PKR leaders and activists who launched a verbal assault against the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. Their primary targets being MIC and its president S Samy Vellu.
Following this, the dark-coloured Rover headed towards the nearby Kampung Sungai Darah, escorted by youths on motorcycles carrying PKR flags.
Here, he addressed more than 300 people, made up mostly of Malays and Indians. Once again, Anwar’s wit and humour had the crowd in stitches.
Mongolia to KL
He said the Tuan Mee area now has the most number of sewing machines in the world as BN has just given out some 200 of these machines to the residents there.
“This is the time to ask for all sorts of things, go ahead and take them but when polling day comes, vote for PKR,” he said.
He also quipped that there were no tractors in Penang at the moment as the machines have come down south on the behest of the ruling coalition to work on the roads and drains in Ijok.
“Ijok is now world famous. Before this, nobody knew where it was. Now, right from Mongolia to Kuala Lumpur, people know where this town is,” he said.
Anwar also reiterated his corruption allegations concerning Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak over the purchase of submarines and fighter jets.
Apart from this, he also stressed on the importance of religious freedom and criticised any form of coercion in this matter.
Several minutes into his speech, businessman KS Nallakarupan made his way through the crowd, to which Anwar said in jest:
“Here comes Nalla, look at the way he walks, just like MGR (late Tamil actor and politician).”
The PKR advisor also told his audience that even a single opposition representative in the Selangor state assembly could make a difference.
“Do you think (BN candidate) K Parthiban can represent you effectively. I don’t think so, Khalid is the best choice,” he stressed.