LETTER | Although state elections are very different beasts from general elections, there are some lessons that can be taken away from the recent Malacca state election.
The many species of frogs
Not all frogs are alike. Some jump from pond to pond in order to save their own skin, others jump around looking for the best way to help the army (yes, the collective noun for frogs is “army”).
In a completely unrelated matter, individuals who jump from one political party to another are not all alike and exist across the political spectrum.
Jailani Khamis moved from Umno to PKR and back to Umno, but is very well-liked by those on the ground as he is viewed as someone who works hard for his constituency. Others like the notorious four who brought down the Malacca state government, are generally viewed as self-serving in their attempts to consolidate power. The incumbent Norhizam Baktee even lost his deposit in Pengkalan Batu.
All parties - irrespective of chest-thumping declarations of taking the moral high ground - are guilty of association with political frogs when it suits their purpose. But in this day and age, voters are more informed and can tell the difference between the individuals who actually help the constituency and the ones who will only come knocking during elections.
Bread and butter issues
There is a misconception that individuals who live in less urban areas are both less intelligent and more susceptible to corruption. This rather condescending manner of thinking ignores the fact that many are affected by socioeconomic difficulties that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and economic crisis of the past two years.
All politics are local, but it is particularly so in state elections. The headlines may highlight the fact that a former prime minister has asked for a RM100 million house, but it may not be as impactful as the lack of plans to regenerate the local economy.
The EC announced that the final voter turnout for the Malacca polls was 65.85 percent, which was not too dissimilar to the 66.61 percent of the Sabah state election last year. The low turnout in Malacca was expected for a number of reasons:
- Frustration with political manoeuvrings and coalition infighting
- Perception that “they’re all the same” given the acceptance of political frogs
- Fear of increasing Covid-19 numbers
- The cost of travelling for those who live outside of Malacca
- Those living outside Malacca are not directly affected by local state assemblyperson
It is generally accepted that the higher the turnout, the more likely the opposition will do well. This can be married to the fact that the popular vote tends to favour them.
The onus is therefore on the opposition to entice the voter to make the effort - it is not enough to highlight what they oppose, but there is a need to show that they stand for something tangible and measurable.
Messaging must also be improved - for example, the MoU with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government may have been done with a view to force institutional changes such as Undi18, but it is still perceived by many as tacit approval of the ruling coalition by Pakatan Harapan.
Social media and reality
An objective observer would agree that Umno did two very fundamental things right - the machinery was well-oiled, disciplined and focused (especially in the “white” areas) and the social media campaign - especially that of Najib Abdul Razak - was relentless, focused and dealt with issues quickly and ruthlessly.
Many tend to live in their echo chambers but these bubbles do not only exist online. It is rather common to see political party leaders of all sides to be surrounded by “yes men” who constantly reassure them of success. These teams do not need to be told what they’re doing right, but rather should be humble enough to accept failures and mistakes with a view to improving.
Ironically, the biggest disruption may now occur within Umno as various factions within the party vie for dominance with an eye on GE15. Voices will clamour for the date of the general election to be brought forward in order to take advantage of the momentum victory tends to provide.
Although Umno can justifiably reclaim the crown of representing the Malay voters, Perikatan Nasional will not give up without a fight and may start looking into new political alliances as well as a rebranding of its image. PAS is likely to remain strong at their traditional strongholds without making much headway elsewhere.
There is likely to be further arguments between the various opposition parties regarding who should lead them into GE15, and unless they settle the issue decisively, it will continue to serve as a distraction from the main event itself.
Harapan must figure out what exactly it stands for - 2018 was won with GST and 1MDB as the rallying cry, but the next election will not offer simplistic mantras that can be repeated ad nauseam.
In a world where the Umno president is promising anti-party-hopping laws, fixed terms and constructive votes of confidence and the sitting prime minister is championing the cause of youth political engagement, the likes of PKR and DAP must champion bold reforms and not be afraid of vocalising a more vigorous defence of non-Malay rights.
The attention and financial resources showered on a state election like that of Malacca will not be replicated at a national level. This should bring good cheer to those who are feeling despondent but they ignore the lessons of the state election at their peril.
As for the rest of us, it is worth remembering the message of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
In other words, there is no room for apathy. GE14 was not historical because Harapan won, but because it showed that a ruling coalition could be removed if it was deemed to not be serving the needs of the rakyat. State or federal, the same principle should apply for future elections.
As we usher in a new generation of voters, it would be in our best interests to keep our leaders in check by exercising our constitutional right to vote. For the leaders, be inspiring, sincere and steadfast so that the voters, whether “white, black or grey”, all participate and uphold this imperfect democracy of ours.
DR HELMY HAJA MYDIN is the CEO of the Social & Economic Research Initiative, a think-tank dedicated to reducing the gap between the haves and have-nots (seri.my).
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.