By a stroke of luck, my schedule was totally clear for the two weeks between nomination and polling day for GE13. As my good friend was running, I decided to get involved directly and helped out where I could.
I returned to KL the night before nomination day and went to the nomination centre in the wee hours of the morning. Little did I know that a lack of rest was going to be the norm for the next two weeks. I happily took photographs and revelled in the carnival atmosphere that is nomination day.
Work began almost immediately after. As I was a little late to volunteer to be part of the team, I just told them that I was up for any sort of grunt work. I wasn’t too picky but I did hope that they would not make me carry tables and chairs.
In the end, I ended up assisting in miscellaneous matters pertaining to Polling, Counting and Barung Agents (PACABA). It went from merely signing volunteers up, but quickly escalated to administrative work when they discovered I could work a spreadsheet. Later, after they discovered that I could work efficiently with a spreadsheet, I ended up doing the PACA scheduling for two whole DUNs.
I have to say that dealing with people has never been my strong point. And when dealing with the hundreds who had volunteered to be PACABA, I did not like the way things were going. We had to deal with all kinds of people from the most demanding to the most flexible.
Over the last week or so, I kept asking myself if people understood the meaning of the word – volunteer. As I understood it, when you volunteer, you volunteer. That was the way I had approached it. I hardly stepped into my office the last two weeks and I have a back-log of email to attend to.
When I did the scheduling for the PACABA, I tried my very best to cater to the various requests by the volunteers. The most ‘troublesome’ group was a group of eight young people. We called them the KKK group because of their surnames. They insisted on being grouped together due to transportation issues. I kept asking myself whether they drove a mini-bus or something capable of carrying so many people around.
All that said, I have to add that I was also mindful of the fact that we had volunteers who were willing to travel from as far as Shah Alam to go all the way to the other end of Selangor to volunteer. That was some serious dedication. So, I tried my best not to schedule these people for the morning slot.
Anyhow, I was quite surprised but I did manage to schedule most people into their desired groups, times and centres. It took me a whole afternoon and evening to do it but I managed to slot almost 300 people into their respective duties and stations.
Then, came the headache.
One of our PACAs got detained by the police and spent 7-hours in the station and was subsequently charged with an election offence a mere two days before polling day. While we did not anticipate this, we were quite glad that we picked the right person for the role.
People started dropping out. Some simply chickened out while others were dropped due to various issues such as missing tags, forms, etc. Thankfully, we had also kept a sizeable group of volunteers on reserve to be slotted in where gaps appeared. But by and large, the volunteers hunkered down and pressed on despite the challenge.
We also had to physically sort out the various photos, tags and forms of every person. We had volunteers to help out as well and I set up a system to get it all done within half a day. Again, we were blessed because none bar one of our primary volunteers had issues with their tags.
Finally, polling day arrived and my work was about to get a lot more interesting. As I was quite familiar with the overall PACA operations, I was assigned to be one of the monitors travelling around the different centres to check on things. I visited several schools on my own and helped spot a few problems.
Most of the day went without much incident. There were a few minor issues and hiccups but things mostly proceeded smoothly. But Murphy’s Law being what it is, we had to rush over to a remote school to fire-fight at the eleventh hour – just as the gates closed. Thankfully, it was nothing major either even though it it reach the ears of our candidate.
After that, it was off to the operations centre to wait for the results. My role at this point became administrative again. I would key in the results as we received them. There were people posted at various centres and we worked together to provide our candidate with updated numbers.
The atmosphere at the operations centre was ecstatic. They opened it up to the public and broad-casted results as they came in throughout the country. People were cheering and shouting while enjoying all the roast pork, satay, and other great food provided.
Things took quite a while and we only received our last numbers at 11.30pm as this centre had several recounts where the margin was only 2 votes, which would trigger an automatic recount under the Law. After keying those in, it was off to the tally centre.
At the tally centre, the atmosphere was decidedly different. There was crowd control by the police and people were not allowed in easily. Thankfully we had our tags and I snuck into the the tally centre to witness the process, which turned out to be nothing but sitting around waiting for SPR to key in their results, that took hours.
Finally, at 2.30am, the results were announced and our candidate marched to a resounding victory with a winning margin of over 42k votes.
There were many nights, where everyone was short of sleep. I was not spared either – working till 6am at one point and sleeping for a mere 4-hours became the norm. It was all worth it in the end. Our candidate won and I had an experience of a lifetime!
Through this work, I made new friends and possibly a couple of enemies. Experiences like this one do tend to bond or break people. I know fairly well that there are some people that I cannot deal with while there are others whom I would cherish as friends.
Was it worth it? Hell, yeah!
Would I do it again? I honestly don’t know.
PS: I’m keeping some souvenirs from this campaign as a momento. It was a lot of hard-work, damnit!