The Storm and The Rainbow

A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain

The eye of justice April 4th, 1999

About a week ago, a message was distributed to the various Internet discussion lists from none other than Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah. It read “My friends and I from the Reformasi Movement and ADIL have decided to launch a party called Parti Keadilan Nasional or the National Justice Party. The launch will take place at 10.00 a.m., April 4, 1999 at the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Renaissance, Jalan Ampang Kuala Lumpur.... the party’s mission is crystal-clear: to uphold truth and justice. Keadilan is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious party open to all Malaysian citizens. Other details about the party will be made known at the launch on 4 April 1999”

That day, the significant other and I had left for the Renaissance Hotel as early as 8:30 am, hoping for a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and more than ample time left to find a good place in the hall. But when we arrived at the hotel, we knew we had to scuttle our plans for breakfast - more than an hour before the launch was to start, there were already hundreds of people filling the entrance to the hotel, the lower floor lobby, the stairs and the upstairs foyer.

The whole place was awash with blue and white banners and flags proclaiming the birth of Keadilan - a new political party, perhaps a new kind of politics. Everywhere - on the walls, on tables, on posters, even along the staircase banisters - the blue and white ‘eye’ of the party logo stared out at you.

In the lobby downstairs, party workers were already frantically registering new members. One of the workers told me that this morning alone, they’d already received 2,000 signed application forms. “And the launching ceremony hasn’t even started!”

A friend went up to me, beaming from ear to ear and waving an application form. “At last! I’ve been waiting months for this! Have you signed up yet? Wouldn’t you like to join a multi-racial party fighting for justice?” he said, nudging me and winking. I waved my Malaysian People's Party tag at him. “I’m already a member of a multi-racial party fighting for justice, thank you,” I said, smiling cheekily. My friend slapped by back, laughing. “Ah, never mind - we’re all the same!”

One of the organisers spotted me and took me up to the registration booth. “I can get you in one of the good seats near the front rows - are you here as a guest from the People's Party or Internet journalist?!” I said I was here as both. “But which would get me a better seat?!” I was then given a green 'Special Guest' tag and ushered into the ballroom to one of the seats near the front row, right in front of the speaker’s podium.

There were seats for at least 3,000 people in the hall - and all were already filled. People were standing lining the walls and soon people were even squatting in front of the VIP seats! There was hardly a square foot of any floor space left unoccupied. Even the stage was now filled by at least a few dozen TV crews and press photographers, waiting for the arrival of the President of the new party - Dr Wan Azizah.

I decided to talk a walk outside, making the significant other swear that she would defend my seat to the death. There could have easily been another 3,000 people outside. The foyer, the stairs leading up to the ballroom, the lower lobby, the entrance to the hotel, even the car parks were awash with people. It was as though the whole hotel had been taken over by thousands of Reformists - talk about 100% occupancy rate!

Just minutes after I returned to my precious seat, the whole audience rose to their feet and erupted in loud cheers. The MC announced the arrival of two of the defence team - Zainur Zakaria and Gurbachan Singh. The two of them were swamped with admirers and well-wishers as they vainly tried to inch their way forward through the hundreds of people offering their hands of friendship.

No sooner had everyone sat down when they stood up again and another cheer erupted when PRM president Dr Syed Husin Ali arrived. Cries of “Long live PRM!” rang out amidst the clapping, as the MC vainly tried to urge the audience to calm down and sit down. “Everyone calm down! Save your energy and your voices! Let’s sit patiently!”

The poor MC’s coaxing and pleas for everyone to sit down were to no avail. More wild cheers broke with the arrival of the Leader of the Opposition, YB Lim Kit Siang. Even the arrival of the CNN TV crew was accorded rousing cheers and applause!

Things had finally quietened down a bit for a few minutes when we heard distant shouts of “Reformasi!” coming from outside the hall. As though it was a signal, almost everyone in the hall immediately rose to their feet and all eyes gazed expectantly at the ballroom entrance as the cheers outside became louder and louder, coming closer and closer. Exactly on time, at 10:15 am sharp, Dr Wan Azizah, walked into the ballroom, accompanied by that crown princess of the Reformasi movement Nurul Izzah.

Dressed in a blue veil and blue floral Malay dress, Dr Wan Azizah was a picture of calm, grace and dignity amidst the pandemonium swirling around her. The crowd went wild with joy, clapping, cheering, some were even singing and throwing their souvenir programmes into the air. The significant other moaned that she had lost all hearing in her left ear, so loud were the shouts of “Reformasi!” that boomed like artillery salutes in the packed ballroom.

The stage in front looked as though it was going to collapse as dozens of TV camera crews and photographers scrambled on top of it, trying to capture that historic picture of Wan Azizah walking up the aisle to launch her new party and to launch Malaysian politics into a new era.

First to speak was the Organising Committee Chairman Mohd Anuar Tahir. “Since the announcement of the party’s launch, we have received inquiries from all over Malaysia. People are impatient to start branches. Thousands of supporters are impatient to become members. But there are were others who were impatient as well. The local press has already attacked Parti Keadilan even before today’s launch. Why?”

“They're scared!” shouted the crowd in unison.

“It is because we are now seeing the formation of a unifying force - wadah pemersatu - that will bring together Reformasi leaders, intellectuals, social activists, to form a new mould of politics in Malaysia,” Anuar said, thanking other opposition parties such as PAS, PRM and DAP for lending their support to the formation of the new party.

Then came the moment everyone waited for. The whole room rose to their feet in wild cheers as Dr Wan Azizah walked to the podium to deliver her first-ever speech as the leader of a political party. She paused, smiling softly, her eyes full of joy and expectant hope as she looked around the room with a quiet satisfaction, giving time for the jubilant crowd to savour that moment in history. Their moment had finally arrived.

“We are gathered her to fulfill a demand from the people - they are demanding justice. We are here to fulfill the demand of the Malaysian race - bangsa Malaysia. They are demanding the dignity of their race. And we are fulfilling the demands of our changing times - the time has arrived”

“Ten years of rapid development has given us confidence. But for some, that confidence has turned to arrogance. Our economy was driven by ego and the desire to show off. Crony capitalism dominated the New Economic Policy. Corruption, cronyism and nepotism grew like a cancer. Massive megaprojects eroded our economic fundamentals and shook the stability of our banking system. The lust - nafsu - for megaprojects left our defences weak. Because of these weaknesses, the currency speculators attacked.”

“Would they have attacked if our defences were strong?” she asked.

“Their lust to remain in power has also created political crisis and abuse of human rights. It is now like living in a police state. The dignity of Bangsa Malaysia needs to be restored. Arang yang terconteng di muka Malaysia perlu dibersihkan (The soot scrawled on the face of Malaysia has to be cleaned) ”

She urged political parties and non-governmental organisations to set aside their differences and work together to free Malaysia from its crisis. “Keadilan will not split the Opposition. We will work with all parties that have justice as the foundation of their struggle. Our party is prepared to sacrifice its own interests in order to achieve the larger goal of forging a credible alternative to the Barisan Nasional, an alternative government that will be accepted by the people.”

She explained the party logo, which consists of a white sphere on a sky blue background, representing a pure cause, and a smaller blue sphere on the white, representing justice for all. “At first sight, you might think it looks like an eye. There are reasons for that.”

“Firstly, I am an ophthalmologist!” she quipped, to peals of laughter and applause from the crowd. “Secondly, it’s to remind us of the infamous black eye,” she added, more seriously.

“But it also has a deeper meaning”, Dr Wan Azizah continued. “It is our ‘mata hati’ - our inner eye that helps us distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. It is a symbol of our quest for truth and our struggle for justice. It is the ‘eye’ that seeks justice.”

At this point, Dr Wan Azizah paused. She looked silently at the thousands of people around the room, took off her reading glasses and put away her prepared speech. She wanted to speak from the heart.

“Our struggle has a long way to go. I beg of all of you, do not let their sacrifices be made in vain - the sacrifices made by my beloved husband, the sacrifices made by Lim Guan Eng, by Irene Fernandez, by the OKTs, by the many others who have been accused, punished, vilified and despised. Let us all now wake up, rise up and make a change for the better. Everyone. For what we do is for the good of everyone.”

The next speaker was very special. Anwar Ibrahim’s former political secretary, Mohamed Ezam Mohd Noor, returned home to Malaysia just a few weeks ago after a six-month self-imposed exile. This morning, he stood before thousands of Reformasi supporters, with a special message from the man who started it all six months ago. “I have been entrusted by Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim to deliver the following message to you.”

“The formation of Keadilan is a sign of the times that cannot be ignored. The country is gripped in a crisis that was created by rampant corruption, abuse of power, nepotism and cronyism. And we will not emerge out of this crisis until we implement reforms to stamp out all these social and political evils and uphold justice.”

“But the leadership of Dr Mahathir is not only reluctant to carry out reforms but is determined to extinguish it. They are launching a major campaign to frighten the people, to make them fear reformasi, to even fear the word “reformasi” ....”

“We are not afraid!” the crowd shouted in response.

“Believe me, the people will not be fooled by this cheap publicity. The eyes of the people are now wide open. Their eyes can see how a leader can build a magnificent palace while low-cost housing projects are ignored. The eyes of the people see how billions are spent to save crony companies while small and medium-sized businesses go under. The eyes of the people see injustice, even in courts of law.”

At this point, we were all startled by some angry shouts from the back of the ballroom. A small scuffle seemed to have started between a TV3 cameraman and a man. Fortunately, a security detail dragged the man away from the alarmed cameraman - much to his relief. Despite everything TV3 had done to spite the Reformists, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor cameraman - to be caught alone in a room filled with 3,000 Reformists, with 3,000 others waiting outside!

“It is a new dawn in Malaysian politics,” Ezam continued, after all the excitement had died down. “We have to work together with the political parties and the NGOs to save Malaysia from crisis and oppression, cooperate and settle our differences. The question is larger than mere politics. The struggle is in all fields of justice..... truth and justice is above and goes beyond any political boundaries.”

“We are all patriotic Malaysians, we love our race and country. It is this love that has made us act. Let us rebuild Malaysia and enhance its name throughout the world: Malaysia as a just country, a prospering country and a country with morals.”

Anwar Ibrahim is not a member of Keadilan. It is widely thought that he chose not to be attached to one single party because he is seen as the only person with the power, influence and authority to unite all the different political strands - Keadilan, PRM, PAS and DAP - into a single, cohesive force. The words in his speech certainly reflected his commitment to that unifying rinciple.

After the thunderous applause that followed Anwar’s speech, the ballroom lights were dimmed and the whole room was filled with hundreds of beams of cold, blue light. The laser show wrapped the whole ballroom and everyone in it in a whirlpool of dazzling blue lines, that swirled continuously, frantically, until, at the end, they all converged into that single open eye, that eye of justice, the eye of the people.

This storm of light was quickly followed by a screening of excerpts from the now-famous ‘Laungan Reformasi’ (Call of Reformasi) video. Howls of anger and loud jeering rocked the room when scenes of FRU trucks and troopers appeared on the screen, but these changed to wild cheers when scenes of Anwar’s speech at the September 20th rally at the National Mosque appeared.

The cheers were so loud, you could not tell if they were the cheers from the people in the hall or the cheers of the tens of thousands captured on video. In the darkness of the room, we all imagined that we were somehow miraculously transported back in time, back to that hot, sweltering Sunday evening in the courtyard of the National Mosque, back to that day when many thousands saw Anwar for the last time as a free man. In those few minutes, we were no longer in that Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel, but we were there with him again - punching our fists in the air, shouting until the cries for “Reformasi!” soared upwards into the heavens, thousands of people united by a single, burning desire for justice.

When the lights of the ballroom came back on again, there was a moment of silence in the whole room as we looked around and realised we were back in the air-conditioned comfort of the present. But we knew the dream was not over.

Dr Wan Azizah then presented membership application forms to representatives from the various states. “The representative from Kedah,” announced the MC, as the representative from Kedah walked up the stage to receive his forms. “To be scattered throughout Mahathir’s parliamentary seat in Kubang Pasu!" he added to peals of laughter.

“The representative from Kuala Lumpur,” said the MC, and the room erupted into jubilant cheers when we saw that the representative from Kuala Lumpur was none other than Anwar defence lawyer Zainur Zakaria.

“Where is the representative from Bukit Aman (Police Headquarters)?” a voice shouted from the audience as the last of the State representatives left the stage, amid roars of laughter.

The MC then announced that it was time for the closing speech, at which the crowd chanted in unison “Ruslan! Ruslan! Ruslan!” The former Negeri Sembilan UMNO Youth Head was not scheduled to deliver any speeches - but how could he say no to three thousand voices chanting his name?

“The day has arrived,” the fiery orator roared. “We have now formed a movement, the way forward towards the fall of Barisan Nasional!”

“If Parliament were to be dissolved this very day, would you be ready?” he challenged the audience.

“We're ready!!!” we roared back.

Such was the end of the formal launch of Parti Keadilan Nasional. But it was far from the end of the celebrations! The audience spilled out of the ballroom, into the foyers, into the lobbies, into the restaurants, into the adjoining hotel, into the streets. Hundreds of people were at the bus-stop in front of the hotel - chanting, singing, waving Keadilan flags, distributing posters. A lone uniformed policeman looked on at the revelers, shaking his head and half-smiling at times. What could he do? They were just waiting to catch the bus home!

Another group of a few hundred others had gathered at the hotel entrance, singing songs. It was like an enormous carnival and everyone - old men in songkoks, young children in their Sunday best, teenagers in leather jackets, executives in business suits - just sat on the stairs leading to the exquisite entrance of the hotel, linked arms and sang their hearts out.

It was difficult inching our way through this mass of people. Almost at every step, you would meet the warm embrace of friends, people who had shared months of hardship, fear and struggle to arrive at this day. “I still can’t believe it’s happened,” said a lawyer friend, clutching her new Keadilan button badge in her hand. “They dared us to form a party. And, by God, we have one today!”

Another lawyer friend joined us - someone I’d met at the DAP candle-light vigil last week. “Hey, Sabri! A friend of mine wants to take a picture with you - he’s read your stuff in Harakah,” he said, waving at someone standing near the entrance. The four of us posed for the camera and, as the flash dazzled my eyes for a moment, it suddenly dawned on me. Here were four people, from four different political parties - Keadilan , PRM, DAP and PAS. We were held arm in arm, not giving a damn about our political or ideological differences, but just united in celebrating the birth of yet another force for justice, and joined by a common desire for change in our country.

I hope the picture turns out alright.