"On May 9, 2018, Malaysia voted out a government that had been ruling the country since independence in 1957. Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad led the opposition to an unlikely victory against a corrupt government and became the oldest democratically elected Prime Minister in history.
Witnessing the election campaign was an unforgettable experience, not just because we were alongside Mahathir during the campaign but also because we were extremely moved by the people of Malaysia - how they showed up in huge numbers at the election rallies, how they organized themselves to help one another to vote and how determined they were to change the government. We went from having little hope to making history."
I have known Tun Mahathir since I was 7 years old. Growing up, I knew he was a very important person because my parents would make a ‘big deal’ every time he was around. However, as a young adult, I had a different opinion and viewpoint about Tun Mahathir. I believed he was responsible for the sorry state of our country. In his quest to take Malaysia into a developed country status, he had removed the necessary checks and balances for the country and had even set the precedent of holding the two most important positions in the country – PM and Finance Minister in 1998.
When I found out that he was going to run for PM again, that idea didn’t sit well with me initially. On the other hand, I desperately wanted to have a change of government. 60 years was long enough and like everyone else, I was utterly disgusted and fed up with the abuse of power, corruption and racial politics that had become the status quo in Malaysia.
I am a mother of 3 young kids. I want my kids to grow up with equal rights in a society that is based on meritocracy and not the color of their skin. I told myself that I would do everything within my power to help Pakatan Harapan (opposition party) win.
I participated in the online “Pulang Mengundi” movement and posted ads to help university students studying in peninsular Malaysia fly home to east Malaysia to vote. I ended up with thousands of messages in my inbox. I paid close attention to the comments online and realized there was a huge undercurrent of change waiting to happen. People were actually excited that Tun Mahathir was back and we were all hoping that he would be able to swing the Malay grassroot votes for the victory that our country needed.
At the same time, we also knew that the odds for an opposition win were slim because of the gerrymandering and large scale cheating by the incumbent government. My thoughts at that time were that even if we lost the election, we would have to continue fighting for the democracy we all deserved and that we needed to somehow preserve Tun Mahathir’s inspiring election efforts at the ripe old age of 92 years old. On April 24 2018, I called up Marina Mahathir to ask to follow Tun in order to document his campaign. Two days later, we started filming with a small crew of 4.
Afraid of being politically targeted, I had only told my husband about the filming. I paid the crews with cash and did not leave a paper trail. My dad who was closely associated with Mahathir was already being investigated and had his accounts frozen the year before. When my mother found out I was on the way to Langkawi with Mahathir on Nomination Day, she called me up and questioned me for doing something so dangerous with such wide ranging repercussions. At that time, I didn’t think we had any other choice and I had to do my bit for the country.
I hope this film will act as a reminder to our new government that the change we have longed for, required fortitude and sacrifices from the people of Malaysia. They must not take this victory for granted and deliver a better Malaysia to its people.
I also hope this film will remind my fellow Malaysians that we can make a difference, our voices and votes do matter.
With no prior production and directing experience, I was fortunate to have found a mentor in Oscar winning director Ruby Yang who provided us with invaluable guidance and support. I also couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator In Ineza to co-direct this film.
Finally, a big thank you to my editors and production team who trusted me to make this film a reality.
I was not happy when I found out that my grandfather was running for Prime Minister yet again, 15 years after retiring from the same post. I’d never really been on the same page with him politically and I felt it was the wrong direction for the country. Plus, it was obvious that my grandmother, with her bad knees and partial eyesight, was not up for another political rollercoaster. None of this was a good idea in my head.
So when my mother texted me before the campaign and asked if I could come on board to help shoot the documentary, I was extremely reluctant. Partly because I didn’t want to be that close to the political machine and be seen to lose all objectivity. And also partly because I treasure my relative anonymity and I knew being by his side on the campaign, I would be a lot more exposed than I’m usually comfortable with. I told my mother that I’d try a couple of days but after the first day, I realized how important it was to document the moment, and that I needed to use my access to do it.
My first day on shoot was the Lembah Pantai and Putrajaya rallies. I’d been in protests, amongst thousands of Malaysians before but this was different. There was a clear sense of hope and excitement but we’d also come to a point of utter desperation. Change was the only option.
I was also surprised at the reaction of Malaysians toward my grandfather. It wasn’t exactly new to see him mobbed by a crowd, but it had always previously been a pro-government crowd, support that was loyal no matter what. This time, it was a pro-opposition crowd, more critical, and historically fiercely anti- Mahathir. And yet, as we inched closer toward election day, more and more Malaysians who had never supported him, decided to let it go and give him a chance. By polling day, I was convinced of it myself, that whether I agreed with it or not, the opposition needed him to bring together enough Malaysians to take down the Barisan Nasional government.
Now I can say with confidence that I’m so glad I joined the campaign and got to experience such a historical moment with my family. To be able to see my grandfather working day in and day out, how he carried himself, how concerned he was with everything that was happening, and how he was determined to make it all right again, I couldn’t help but admire that. To witness the love and support between him and my grandmother, how she stubbornly stood by his side throughout, made me so grateful. It was just an unforgettable experience.
We really had no idea what exactly we would be doing with all the footage. Like most Malaysians, we didn’t believe that the opposition would win, simply because it had never happened. The more likely story we had in our minds was that my grandfather would lose and then maybe we’d make a documentary about how corrupt and rigged our election system was. We were more preoccupied with how much trouble we would get into if we made this film. It was a running joke that we might have to change our names and migrate. Then the unlikely happened and the opposition won. We realised we were sitting on a gold mine of historical footage no one else had.
Being his granddaughter, I will have an inherent bias in telling this story. However, I hope we’ve been objective enough that all Malaysians can be proud watching this documentary and the new Malaysian government will remember that power is ultimately with the people.