This is the first part of a series of stories for the #followthewhisper campaign. Stories #2 and #3 are exceptionally long, so why don’t you get a cup of coffee, relax and read at your own pace.
On the 9th of March, 2016, a Facebook post by Cassandra Chung created a storm none of us anticipated.
The petition, now infamous among the Nottingham Malaysian Society members, called for the “portrait” of our Prime Minister, Najib Razak, to be taken down. It’s not exactly a portrait though. It’s just an unflattering candid picture of him among other notable alumni. In all honesty, I have never seen that photo with my own eyes all my life. Even till this day. So I guess you can get the hint of how much I actually cared for this whole saga.
The story didn’t start for me on the 9th of March itself though. It started a few months earlier.
Around October 2015, there were rumours among my circle of friends that the previous UMNO Nottingham president was looking for a replacement. A friend of mine started pitching my name to her but she wasn’t too keen on me.
I can’t blame her really.
We often had a clash of opinions and I would often challenge her suggestions. That being said, we have always maintained a good relationship. I feel that there is always a mutual respect between us. We would greet each other warmly and discuss our disagreements in a very calmed manner. But to suggest my name as the next president of the society was perhaps a little uncomfortable for her in the beginning. In mid November however, she approached me about the idea and I figured, why not? It was already in November, the society had no significant problems, and I was in my final year. Never would I imagine I would share a little of the spotlight that shone on Cassandra and Cia Yee.
Around mid December, I was asked to attend the UMNO Annual General Meeting in Malaysia. The chance to rub shoulders with our politicians and fellow young aspiring politicians, was too much of an exciting opportunity for me to say no to.
So I went back, met a number of the powerhouse, learned a few things, and made a number of friends. To keep it short, the opportunity was an eye-opening one.
However, the one thing that all of the politicians there reminded us of was this:
“You are there because of the government, and you should be grateful. And we expect to see you show your gratitude”
I am of course paraphrasing. I don’t agree at all to be frank.
For me, I was there because I have earned enough academic qualifications to book me a place in the 3-year programme I took, and to secure the financial help I needed to study there. So for someone to come and take the credit all for themselves, no way would I ever agree to that.
As this was the main theme of the messages they were drilling in us, I spent most of my time during the AGM being bitter and upset. Perhaps I should have been less uptight and just enjoyed the whole experience.
Back to the subject, the message was clear and we all went back to UK with a cloudless purpose. Fast forward to the 9th of March.
I was taking my time in the kitchen, cooking my dinner and enjoying the company of my flatmates. We were laughing and chilling when David, a French German who joined our Malaysian Society out of curiosity, came into the kitchen and broke the news to us. I didn’t think much of it. In fact, my first reaction was a tiny smile accompanied by a sarcastic remark.
I finished my dinner and went to my room only to find my phone being bombarded by several missed calls and panicky texts.
“Who is the Cassandra girl?” most of them asked.
At this point, I have only met Cassandra once at a mutual friend’s house gathering. We played games together and as Cia Yee would highlight in his story, her loud voice was the only thing I could remember of her. It’s almost ironic that such a petite, timid looking girl could be so loud, in a good way, if I may add. This impression that I had formed was only because I never had the chance to actually talk to her and get to know her. So when questions were being asked about who she was, I had no clue that it was that same girl from the party.
“The calls kept coming in, the tone got harsher and harsher, and my so called “loyalty” was being questioned more and more each day.”
I messaged Cia Yee, who was the President of the Nottingham Malaysian Society at that time for clarifications. I informed him that the story has caught wind and there are several people who are not too happy about it. For some of them, upset is an understatement.
Cia Yee was very calmed and composed through it all. I was more than happy with his reaction because generally, I have always been a laid back guy. Nothing affects me too much. I would get extremely upset for one moment, then I’d cool off and carry on. So for him to be calm, I took it as a welcoming sign. We both would later agree that we should protect Cassandra’s privacy as best as we could. So even though he passed me her number, I did not tell the UMNO society that I have been on the phone with her several times. They were still under the impression that I have not made contact with her. Some of them even thought that she was not in the UK at that time.
I don’t regret doing so. I believed that Cassandra has the rights to put up the petition, and I support her exercising those rights. I however, wished that she could have informed me beforehand and thought it through. Because the UMNO society couldn’t contact her directly, there was a sense panic and ambiguity. Some said it was a conspiracy, that the Nottingham Malaysian Society was in on this and that I’m not doing a good job in defending our leader.
I swiftly squashed those voices by assuring them that this matter has been blown out of proportion by the media. That the mood within the NMS was calmed and collected. There was no such chaos as some of them would like to believe. They still weren’t happy. The pressure to disclose Cassandra’s details was getting more and more absurd.
The tipping point for me was receiving a call at 3 am from a member of the UMNO society in Malaysia, asking me in a very harsh tone, what have I been doing and where is the promise I made them?
I made no such promise and I quickly reminded him that I am a student first, politics later and I have classes in the morning. He called me ungrateful before slamming the phone down. I was pissed. Getting yelled at at 3 am in the morning over something petty is not exactly what I had in mind when I took this position.
I then met Cassandra a couple of days later. She apologised profusely for the trouble she had caused. I accepted her apology and voice my support for her. I did however warn her that it is my unofficial duty to lock horns with her regarding this petition.
The days leading to our NMS AGM was stressful to say the least.
The calls kept coming in, the tone got harsher and harsher, and my so called “loyalty” was being questioned more and more each day. It’s not the fact that I had to assure these people that everything was fine. I guess that was my job when I was voted into the position. It was the words used, and the timing of the phone calls that stressed me out. Never mind the fact that the media has blown it and make the story way way WAY more than how it actually was. These people should have shown more maturity, in my opinion. It was just a picture to me and to a lot of everyone else. Some of us felt like it was so ridiculous how a picture of a man can cause so much “controversy”. So as a student, I have to be honest and say I was disappointed with how the reactions were.
Not to mention the laughable debate points that I was asked to used in order to convince our members to vote against the petition. I mean they even paraphrased Hitler’s “The Big Lie” quote. With respect, there was absolutely no chance I would use the points they were giving me.
The AGM, finally.
It was my first time going to our AGM. I have always wanted to go but never been that bothered to actually attend the meeting. But this time I had to. I received several calls during the day, asking me to rehearse my points and to remind me again that it is my duty to fight for my country (it’s a bloody picture, and I am not exaggerating, they did actually link this to my loyalty towards our beloved Malaysia) and to update them on what exactly happened. I assured them that I know how to handle this.
The meeting went on, and both me and Cassandra presented our points. The members overwhelmingly voted against the motion. It was denied and that was it. Me and Cassandra greeted each other afterwards, I apologised to her if I was being harshed, and she apologised again for the trouble. We shook hands and we moved forward.
So that was my side of the story. And now I’ll dive into what I got from this experience.
As I have mentioned earlier, I didn’t regret any of this. If it weren’t for this petition, I wouldn’t have met Cassandra and Cia Yee, two of the brightest students I’ve met.
But a word of advice for future students who would like to engage in any political movement. Please understand that not everyone can show a sensible level of maturity. We know how dodgy Malaysians can get. Check and try to project the level of exposure your movement may garner. I do wish that we Malaysians can show a great level of political maturity. Petty things are being intensified to distract us from the real issues. It was saddening for me that my peers could show more maturity than the people we see as leaders.
We as students should get involved in politics.
The old voices that discourage us simply because we have not started working yet are nothing but a joke. We need to prepare ourselves and learn from our mistakes as early as possible. Bear in mind however, that an individual is small and can be squashed easily.
So if you are looking to properly shake things up, do so in a group. But make sure that everyone knows the depth of the situation. That’s the key thing. These people can intimidate you, and if you are not prepared, you might not believe how much it can affect you.
I think that’s it from me. I sincerely thank you if you have been reading up to this point and thank you to Cia Yee for encouraging me to tell my side of the story.