PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was on a two-stop swing through Batang Ai yesterday, hoped to raise the consciousness of the Iban of their need for redemption from poverty.
Anwar’s first stop was Kampong Nanga Kesit, located at the end of a bumpy 7km ride over a gravel road that leads off the main Seri Aman- Lubok Antu artery, about 25km from the latter one-street town.
Nanga Kesit has two longhouses, one situated on a knoll that meets visitors immediately after they have crossed the muddy Sungai Lemanak by using a wobbly 100-metre plank bridge; and the other longhouse is located in a drop behind the hill.
The first longhouse has tiled floors and brick walls while the second is all wooden poles and planks. Almost inevitably, the tuai rumah (village chief) of the upper longhouse declined to host a PKR ceramah but did not stop residents from flocking to the ceramah at the lower longhouse.
By the time Anwar arrived in the early evening, the upper longhouse was empty of residents except for Ran, the frail looking chief. Ran’s wards were waiting with residents of the lower house to listen to the man whom they hope would be prime minister someday.
After the tuai rumah from the lower longhouse and Jimmy Donald, the former Barisan Nasional parliamentarian for nearby Seri Aman, had stirred the crowd with the ex-MP pumping up the adrenaline to a crescendo, Anwar took over, delivering a 15-minute speech that essentially told the poor Iban that it was now or never for them to change their fate of poverty.
“You are ruled by people who do not want you to call your God Allah,” he told them, subtly playing on their resentment of the ban on the Iban term for God.
“They want you to change your name for God, they want to change the ownership of the title to your land,” he said, adding, “Who do they think they are?”
Warming quickly to his theme that insolent powers were ranged against poor Iban peasants whose only recourse to salvation was the party he leads, Anwar deftly played to his audience’s perception that he was no ordinary opposition leader who will sell out to the powers-that-be.
“Just the other day I was in Bangkok and the Thai prime minister asked me if I could get the PAS leader Tok Guru Nik Aziz (Nik Mat) to come to southern Thailand and together help the government resolve their problem with Muslims.
“The people who take your land, who keep you in poverty, don’t have much respect for me and the Tok Guru, but the Thais appear to have a higher regard for us. Perhaps the Thais know something about us that these people don’t,” he said sarcastically.
Can the Iban vote be bought?
Anwar at this point put in his plug for Jawah Gerang, PKR’s candidate for the vacant Batang Ai seat: “I know enough about Jawah to tell you that if you vote him in, he will join in the overall Pakatan Rakyat effort to lift every Malaysian – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Dayak or Kadazan – up in this country that you all call yours.”
y this time the crowd of some 200 was beginning to perspire from the heat of being pressed within its thatched walls but they had heard enough to laugh at his subtly admonition against supposed Iban fecklessness.
“Back in Kuala Lumpur they tell me that the Iban vote can be easily bought through food and strong drink. But I told them that this time the Iban are ready to change 46 years of getting nothing but robbery of their land and their rights in return for their vote.
“It is time for the Iban to change their fate and to vote that change by choosing Jawah as their man in this election which will then bring a big change to Sarawak and the rest of Malaysia,” he thundered as a finale.
Then he was off to Kampong Melayu in Lubok Antu for evening prayers before another stirring speech at Kampong Kutai in Lubok Antu town where he addressed a slightly more educated crowd on whom he pressed the need for change in a verbal register a note higher than he did at Nanga Kesit