They came to sell the future, a ‘new’ country. And by the time Malaysian Opposition MPs Tony Pua and Jeff Ooi left the Delima dinner on 23 September 2010 in Sydney, they surely knew the movement for change had also captured the New South Wales capital city in its wake.
For the likes of SABM (Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia) and the “diaspora” (thanks, Jeff) of Malaysia’s ever-growing Opposition, Sydney is a bit late coming to the party. That’s partly because Adelaide and Penang are sister cities, and the former has attracted a strong presence from leaders of the Democratic Action Party, which has Penang as its base and peninsular stronghold. Melbourne was an earlier start, and stranger things have happened.
Nevertheless, Malaysians (PRs in Australia who still hold Malaysian passports), former kampungites who are now Aussie citizens, well wishers and supporters – 75 in all – had gathered to welcome the MPs, add a new twist to “Malaysia boleh” and send them back to the zeitgeist, hopefully heartened that help is also to be found in Australia.
The audience heard how corruption has festered and flourished for so long that an overseas unwillingness to participate in the Malaysian economy has led to foreign direct investment crashing by 81 per cent in 2009, sandwiching the nation between Laos (just behind) and the Philippines in the FDI rankings (Read here and here).
We don’t know to laugh or cry because Mahathir Mohamed’s New Economic Policy has been replaced by Najib Razak’s New Economic Model; Penang will not be part of a High-Speed Broadband network worth tens of billions; challenging the Constitution is threatening the rights of Malays.
We are told of the failures and fantasies of a former minister of education who has launched a MR500 billion-plus program to stimulate the economy and transform Malaysia – in some countries it would be referred to as nothing short of pork-barreling (read here).
We suspended disbelief to know UMNO Youth and an increasingly Malay-supremacist Perkasa are using police reports to stymie the Opposition, so if Pua talks about the need to “suspend unnecessary subsidies”, he is instead accused of working to “deny Bumiputera rights”.
And we nodded our heads (side-ways) to be reminded of how the Malaysian media continues to hold the truth a distant second to political expediency.
The murder only got a passing mention – such is the litany of malfeasance.
Tony Fernandez should be grateful for the several plugs his low-cost carrier was given at Delima, with Ooi regularly reminding his fellow Malaysians that they only need jump on an AirAsia flight to return home and vote at the next elections to fully claim their role in change.
But Pua and Ooi also heard about tapping the fountain of votes that must be in the hands of Malaysians who left a beloved homeland, tired and beaten by a system of economic, cultural and religious apartheid. These migrants live without the auspices of a High Commission or Consulate that will encourage the postal vote. In fact, the last time this writer asked, the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra very helpfully replied: “Balik undi, lah!” (Go home and vote, lah!)
Pua told us of his own brush with a “postal vote” – a bullet in an envelope (read here) mailed to his Petaling Jaya Utara office.
Ooi spoke of a shadow cabinet, which is also to say there is every confidence now that the next election may cost the ruling coalition much more than that two-thirds majority.
There was talk of a future with Nurul.
The new guard is already on the ground running, and Pua and Ooi are among the leaders of the pack – young, unbeaten, determined, engaging, frank and with faith enough to know that you can move that mount, you just have to learn to live with kicking around a few stones for a while.
Before the night moved into full swing, co-organiser John Khoo told us exactly how much was raised per dinner seat. He didn’t look very pleased – more had been collected from 55 diners at an earlier SABM fund-raiser this year. A empty wine chiller was immediately passed around and more moolah rolled in.
Amid the addresses by Pua and Ooi as well as a testy but invigorating Q&A session, raffles and an auction were conducted to raise more cash.
But money was not the measure of success that night, when an informal coalition of people with a connection to Malaysia brought the MPs to a bunch of people hungry for hope.
The DAP duo reached into the pockets of patriots, which is not about supporting any particular government, and there were rich pickings.
It was not the money, but a future was bought.
Later, Khoo was happy to confess: “I am an Australian citizen, but Malaysia will always be my country of birth, and I want to be part of the history that will bring change to Malaysia.”
It used to be said that if change were to come to pass in Malaysia, then it would have to come at the hands of the Malay race, which held the power as the MCA and MIC supported an artifice of racial harmony and integration.
That night in Sydney, there was an assurance that change today is firmly in the hands of all Malaysians.
More than 50 years since, ‘merdeka’ may be just round the corner.
* Tony Pua is the Democratic Action Party MP for Petaling Jaya Utara and National Publicity Secretary; Jeffrey Ooi is DAP MP for Jelutong and Chief of Staff, Penang Chief Minister’s Office. The dinner at Sydney’s Delima was organised by the Malaysian Interest Group, Sydney (MIGSyd), a group of Malaysians and ex-Malaysians who want the best for Malaysia, just as they have seen and enjoyed the best of good governance in Australia, Teik Hock Lim of the Australian Malaysia-Singapore Association (AMSA), HSE and John Khoo.
Delima Restaurant, with its Indonesian themed menu, is famed for its spicy food. The event to welcome Messrs Pua and Ooi featured a seven-course dinner.