'Orang putih' woman mistakenly labelled as foreigner the favourite at Sarawak's Bersih rally

(form left) Bersih4Kuching organising chairman Nicholas Mujah, spokesperson Karen Shepherd, committee member Paula Chang and Peter John Jaban at Song Kheng Hai rugby pitch in Kuching today.
(form left) Bersih4Kuching organising chairman Nicholas Mujah, spokesperson Karen Shepherd, committee member Paula Chang and Peter John Jaban at Song Kheng Hai rugby pitch in Kuching today.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUCHING (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Ms Karen Shepherd, the Eurasian Sarawakian organiser of the Bersih rally in Kuching, who was mistakenly labelled a foreigner by a state minister last week, was a clear favourite at the rally.

Ms Shephered defended her right to be involved in Sarawak's political scene, saying she was just as Malaysian as the next person.

"I am involved because I can't stand it anymore," she said. "I am involved because I fear for the future of this nation."

The crux of her speech adhered to the Bersih ideals of free and fair elections, rejecting gerrymandering. She said an urban constituent deserved the same vote as a rural dweller.

"We have the same problem as the rest of Malaysia," she said on lopsided constituency sizes. "I expect my vote to be worth the same as everyone else. Not more, not less. Whether you are Malay, Chinese, Dayak or orang puteh, I expect my vote to count as much as everyone else."

The fifth-generation Sarawakian was last week mislabelled by state Land Development Minister as an English woman who should not meddle in state affairs.

Ms Shepherd responded with a press conference a day later, saying her grandfather was the state's first Registrar General, and might have even signed the minister's birth certificate.

Her rebuttal was a popular subject among Sarawakians, online and offline. Some criticised the minister for being xenophobic, while others agreed saying that Ms Shepherd's call for Sarawakians to rally was not a local culture.

At the rally yesterday, she was introduced as the orang puteh, who could speak Bahasa Sarawak.

"Some say, 'I want to change the system from inside,' well, I say, 'Is that working for you?'. I say do you not change the system from the inside, it changes you.

"The next one (system) will be even worse because it follows the last one, which is why we need to change it for it have accountability," Shepherd said.

Her husband, a former Radio Free Sarawak presenter, also spoke at the rally. He was the emcee and marshall.