I just dropped by for a few minutes to check out what was happening at the City Stadium last night. Around 15,000 people turned up at the stadium. I could say it was the first time in memory that the stadium has been used for an “opposition” event. But then I would be wrong – for these parties are no longer in the opposition at least in Penang. At least there was no sign of a police presence or FRU personnel at the side entrance facing busy Dato Keramat Road.
The pictures above and below were taken at about 9.45pm. You can see that it is a far cry from the 60,000-strong crowd that turned up at Han Chiang School days before the 8 March general election. But that was then, before the general election; this is now. The event was supposed to start at 8.00pm but the crowd was slow in filling up the 20,000-capacity stadium and the event dubbed “Majlis Pemimpin Bersama Rakyat” only kicked off soon after 9.15pm with the arrival of the speakers, Mat Sabu (Hadi didn’t turn up), Kit Siang, Guan Eng and Anwar. The stadium was about two thirds full then.
A fairly good, multiracial turnout then – but rather subdued. If there was one thing that Abdullah Badawi has done with his massive oil price hike is that he has dampened the post-8 March euphoria among the people.
I didn’t stay too long. I’d just dropped by to check out the mood among the people. As one Penangite at the stadium observed, “This is a crowd that is suffering from the rising cost of living. My feeling is that people are hit bad, and the magic and (the sense of) empowerment felt in numbers at (previous) rallies is missing. It’s like an air of gloom and hopelessness has descended.”
Perhaps the key difference from pre-8 March is this: before the general election, many people were determined to make a difference and so they felt empowered and did all they could to effect that change. But after handing power to new elected representatives, they are now taking a back seat and feel helpless to do much without proper mechanisms for popular participation at the local level, including local council elections.
A large number among the crowd appeared to be from the lower- to middle-income group, judging by the large number of motorbikes outside the stadium. It looked as if many had turned up to see what hope the Pakatan leaders could offer them in dealing with the rising cost of living – not just the soaring price of fuel cost but food and electricity as well – and their fast declining real wages (or falling purchasing power).
The euphoria after 8 March has been dampened by a grim dose of reality. While many are impressed with the anti-corruption stance of the new administration in Penang, there is a growing realisation that more meaningful change can only come about after a change at the Federal level – and with deeper and more meaningful people-centred reforms rather than cosmetic measures.