LoyarBurok’s weekend-long retreat revealed that LB is not simply a blawg, or loosely bound group of activists. It represents a larger and more concrete mission, which is to educate the voters of Malaysia and encourage civic engagement, in the hope of promoting accountability within the political process.
February 26-27, Melaka — Driving up the dusty hillside of El Sanctuary, LoyarBurok’s commune-like home for the weekend in a kampung 20 kilometers outside of Melaka’s pusat bandaraya, I silently contemplated the question I soon learned was on the minds of most LoyarBurokkers: what is LB? Is it just a quirky and provocative blawg? Is it a group of defiant lawyers looking for some catharsis? What are its long-term objectives? Or is it merely an innocuous movement looking to bring a little humour to otherwise serious issues, which are typically reserved from irreverence.
What I learned during this two-day marathon was that LB draws its power from all of these qualities and functions, and many more, converging together to create a perfect storm that has the potential for monumental impact. And this change is not solely related to the legal arena or the ongoing human rights discussion, like many people seem to assume; rather, it encompasses a broader goal of civic education and empowerment. Ultimately, it will help nurture a fundamental paradigm shift in the way ordinary citizens view their role in politics, and the options at their disposal to affect change.
The group first convened to set their expectations for the weekend, and similarly their expectations for LB’s mission. This process was filled with open-ended questions about the objective of LB and its initiatives to reach this goal. Surely, there were divergent ideas on the role of LB, as there would be with any organisation comprised of such a diverse group, ranging from environmentalists to corporate lawyers, students to NGO folk, and of course, the marginally employed, a title which I reserve exclusively for myself.
But despite these distinctions, everyone is a LoyarBurokker, and consequently attended the training, because of a commonly held frustration: there is something seriously awry with the way Malaysians view their role in politics and how they engage the political process. Sometimes people may feel marginalized and thus lack a motivation to challenge their representatives, other times they may be bamboozled by politicians who emphasize party affiliations and ad hoc election-time promises, rather than substantive issues, and others simply are offered an economic quid pro quo in exchange for their vote. Either way, the end game is still the same. Politicians are only nominally held accountable for their policies and rarely respond to the actual concerns of its constituents. The political trend continues, and the pervasive concept of “futility in civic engagement” persists on in this society.
As the weekend carried on, and workshops manifested themselves into solutions, the LoyarBurokkers started to formalize a coherent goal of how to address this political apathy. Underpinning these plenary groups and brainstorming sessions was a critical conundrum: connecting abstract political principles to the concrete problems facing ordinary citizens. This is the crux of the problem, most LoyarBurokkers concluded. Voter education has to be focused and framed in way that emphasizes tangible issues that everyone in the country can relate to, not simply reserved for the urbanite having an apple martini from his perched view in KL’s SkyBar.
It has to be a ground-up campaign, which embraces a collaborative and participatory approach that speaks directly to voters’ concerns. Without this mindset, the initiative will most likely fail to reach its intended audience – the voters – and be another futile attempt by civil society deemed too elitist.
This relates to LB’s second conclusion from this weekend: listen before talking. Often times, NGO campaigns fall short of their goal because they tend to forget the simple fact that people know what they need the most and the problems that are most pressing for them. They don’t need outside organisations dictating to them what they need to be worried about, and how they should fix it.
LB understands that prior to embarking on a voter education initiative, you must first know what is plaguing the voters you are trying to reach. It is imperative that this discussion takes place, and that people feel included in the process. What is the point of encouraging civic engagement if you do not first consult the citizenry you are trying to engage? Whether through town hall meetings, online dialogue or fact-finding missions, LoyarBurok recognizes that the people must be heard before they are spoken to.
The third essential part of this equation is the makeup of the army of LoyarBurokkers. Without a committed, experienced and innovative group to spearhead this concept, this campaign is merely a pipedream. But I assure you, LoyarBurok is not beset by this inadequacy. Rather, they have a surplus of diverse and dedicated minions, each bringing their own expertise to the cause. And the LB army was in full force in Melaka this weekend, making it very clear to me that this campaign is for real.
The level of maturity and passion in this weekend’s discussions, compounded by the diversity amongst the group, was something I had never seen before. It was truly remarkable to be, even for a weekend, a part of this group, and to witness the potential that LoyarBurok possesses. Anytime you can get a Sarawakian advocate collaborating with a Petronas-employed lawyer, you know you got something special.
In fact, this weekend’s group affected me to the extent that I have actually decided to try and defer my Master’s Program in London for a year, and stay here to be a part of LB’s movement. I could not imagine having had the opportunity to participate in LB’s voter education initiative, and the civic transformation it will surely elicit, and passing on it. Even if LB can harness half of its potential, I think it is surely poised to have a huge impact.
So yes, LoyarBurok is a blawg. It is a group of lawyers and activists looking to provide some comedic relief to life’s ills. It is a platform for advocacy. But it is also something much more encompassing and concrete. It is a movement to help voters make informed and relevant choices about the politicians they chose. It is a drive to return political power back into the hands of its rightful owner – the people – via the power of the vote. It is a campaign that will transform the idea of civic engagement in Malaysia. It is something with which, if you haven’t already, you need to get involved.
LB: The newly established Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism & Human Rights will be running the first-of-its-kind non-partisan voter education initiative (tentatively named “UndiMalaysia”) via its new PusatRakyatLB centre opening mid-March. A public consultation will be called soon. We are now looking to build the “army” of campaigners. If you are interested in being part of a new movement and taking a journey of a lifetime, please email undimalaysia [at] gmail.com with your name and handphone number. Follow us on Twitter @PusatRakyatLB and @UndiMalaysia.
Recommended reading: LoyarBurok to Educate Voters for Next General Election
Liam Hanlon hails from the inner city streets of San Francisco, where he served as a full-time Mexican-food aficionado, part-time social activist, and even smaller-time student. After attending UCLA for his bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Liam moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a year, working for the international legal-rights NGO International Bridges to Justice. During this stint, he co-coordinated the 2010 Asia JusticeMakers Competition, which sourced and funded local legal-rights initiatives throughout Asia. After a two month hiatus scouring the lands of Southeast Asia with his rucksack, Liam moved to KL in October 2010 to begin documenting the work of one of the JusticeMakers Fellowship receipients, Dato’ Yasmeen Shariff, for her work with juvenile justice. He has since shifted his time to interning for another NGO Voice of Children, as well as transforming into a LoyarBurok minion.