The goss around town
“Who you gonna vote?”
“Rocketlah,” he says. “Pakatan must win this time.”
“You not scared? PAS also Pakatan member, you know. Nanti kena hudud.”
“You really believe what the papers say? Don’t worry. DAP is there to make sure no Islamic law.”
“But Anwar, in his uni days, he was radical Muslim. Maybe still is today.”
“Hard to say. Maybe he has changed. But we’re fed-up with BN and Umno. So much corruption and discrimination. BN must go.”
“But don’t you think Najib is also doing some good things with his 1Malaysia?”
“What good things? What 1Malaysia? Politics still so racial. Food prices going up all the time. Police are corrupt. Crime getting worse.Robbers now carry parangs.I don’t feel safe any more.”
“You think under Pakatan these problems will go away?”
“Who knows if we don’t give Pakatan a chance? This time it must happen.”
Indeed. This time the fervour for change -‘anything-but-Umno’ – is as strong as BN’s doggedness to stay in power. Going to the polls on Sunday will be the most meaningful public activity compared to past elections when BN would win hands down even before all the votes had been counted.
If voting continues along racial lines, Umno will most likely continue to be the boss in managing, nay manipulating, the competing interests of BN’s 13 coalition parties, each representing their own community.
According to the 2010 census Malays are still the largest ethnic group (60.3 percent). Then, the Chinese (22.9 percent) and Indians (7.1 percent). Malays comprise 55 percent of the voting population.
An ISIS forum last year noted: “Many young Malays are eligible to vote but do not register while non-Malays are highly aware of their duty to vote … Chinese support has dropped for BN while PR (Pakatan) does not have much Malay support; however Malay support for PKR is brought in by PAS supporters.”
The voter demographics in 2013, however, have shifted, although race remains a defining factor in Malaysian politics.
Attention to immediate needs
Despite simmering discontent, Malaysians who had witnessed and lived through the race riots in 1969 have learned to live peaceably with each other – so long as their competing interests are represented proportionately and fairly treated in a power sharing arrangement.
The problem arises when the dominant party monopolises and calls the shots while the minority partners are left scrambling for crumbs. Which creates a situation where backroom deals are made, favours asked, given with conditions and reciprocated.
Decades of BN rule in what was a ‘consociational’ democratic structure to foster national unity and racial harmony soon evolved into an entrenched system of political patronage, crony capitalism, rent seeking and institutionalised discrimination.
If Pakatan wins, voters will expect the new government to in no time dismantle the patronage system, eradicate corruption and chart a new direction as proclaimed in its manifesto.
But deep down, voters know that Pakatan’s ability to govern will need to rely on compromising with a BN in opposition. Which will be most difficult but necessary, regardless of which party wins, given the polarising politics in the country since 1998.
To voters, however, the subterfuge and sabotage that a defeated BN and its political minions may deploy from the wealth accumulated and loyalties cultivated from their cronies over the decades are issues that they’ll think about later. For now, they just want to see a change in government.
Judging from social media forums, ad hoc opinion polls and partisan punditry, voters seem prepared to give Pakatan a fair go. Voters are not a patient lot though.
Should Pakatan win, they’d expect the coalition to work on the real immediate issues that affect their daily life, which BN had dismally failed to do – from rising violent crime in the city and rising costs of food to choking traffic jams and systemic discrimination in education and employment opportunities in the public sector.
As for the bigger issues about human rights, press freedom, justice, the rainforest, brain drain, illegal immigrants, the economy – they can wait.
Electoral outcome is anyone’s guess
Indeed, like impulsive consumers, voters are motivated by emotions, habits and learned prejudices. Depending on whom one talks to, which media one reads, and which candidates one likes, the election outcome is anyone’s guess.
Unless methodologically valid opinion surveys taken over time show statistically significant margins in voter preferences, the election outcome will be as uncertain as voters are as unpredictable when they enter the polling booth.
Elections are won as much by visceral and visual appeals as policy substance, which unfortunately we don’t get to read much of in the news and commentaries in the mainstream and alternative media. It’s left to voters to jump to conclusions. Which adds another layer of unpredictability in the election outcome.
We see the PAS symbol, we conclude Syariah law and hudud punishments. We see Rosmah Mansor in her bouffant hairdo, and we think handbags and diamond rings.
Despite all the taxpayers’ money that Najib would have spent on image and media consultancies, voters will remember more of his wife’s spending spree, and Altantuya and Scorpene than 1Malaysia and the numerous transformation programs during his tenure. Yes, we’re captives of negativity.
By now, as many voters would have decided their vote as those who are still sorting out the lopsided reactive media coverage and confused chatters from family, friends and strangers.
Until they walk into the polling booth and have their index finger smeared with indelible ink, voters will change their minds at any moment as they mull over these thoughts:‘Will my family and I feel safer under Pakatan or BN?’ ‘Will my children’s future be brighter with a change in government?’
ERIC LOO left Malaysia for Australia in 1986 to work as a journalist. He currently lectures at University of Wollongong, Australia and serves on the advisory committee of UPI Next, a journalism education and training platform run by United Press International. He edits a refereed journal Asia Pacific Media Educator and conducts journalism training workshops in Asia.
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