THE State Election is around the corner again, any time between now and July next year. That’s hardly 10 months to go and the clock is ticking.
For many legislators elected for the first time in 2006, time flies, doesn’t it?
Every political party in the state says it is ready for the election. They jolly well should be ready. The forthcoming polls will be more interesting because the local opposition parties are better organised than they were five years ago.
Should there be no federal and state elections held simultaneously, we expect an influx of government ministers and opposition leaders from other parts of Malaysia. The ministers would be dishing out instant goodies that their respective ministries can provide, while the opposition leaders will talk about how the government should be run if or when they come to power.
Our hotels will be fully booked and coffee shops well-patronised. We will have an air of carnival — processions, ceramah and flags and buntings and posters of all colours. Smiling faces strung across the roads, stuck to walls, and even pinned on to the trees, will hang there for a fortnight until they are pulled down after polling.
We are likely to see all 71 seats contested and old and new faces on the corridors of power before Gawai, 2011.
Vote on issues
Hopefully, the voters will have a choice and pick their favourite candidates based on issues rather than personalities. Of course, personalities do count in elections, but more and more people vote for a stable economy, good education, security, health and happiness.
Many voters in the cities will go for the most articulate candidates, not so much their party affiliations. They think more of concerns about their businesses and the future of their children rather than political ideology.
War chests having been filled up, issues identified, rivals more or less known, manifestos being drafted, slogans being coined, and speeches drafted, everybody looks forward to nomination day and this is the day several of Sarawak’s towns assume an air of a carnival.
For the potential candidates, wives are to be consulted and convinced of the glamour of being consorts of elected representatives of the people.
For the incumbent BN legislators, there is uncertainty of their names being in the list of candidates. This is the time to be heard and seen by the big boss.
Everyone of them, depending on the length of tenure in the Dewan, wants to display their respective report card: so much money spent on such and such projects, so many miles of roads constructed or under construction, so much money on the way from the federal government for schools, clinics. So much money would be budgeted for agriculture, for more Minor Rural Projects (MRPs), and so on and so forth. Go and see the DO and find out for yourself, except not everybody is allowed to get into the operations rooms.
The opposition, waiting on the wings, will produce a manifesto outlining their platforms on certain issues of the day and how they would solve certain problems if given the mandate to govern the state.
For BN’s workers, what better slogan to use than that already coined by the Prime Minister, the 1Malaysia. Add the prefix 1 to anything and everything, never mind what it really means to convey. Is it 1People, is it 1Religion, or is it 1Culture, 1Language, 1Country, or the sole object of loyalty?
All these would be fully explained by the BN leaders, no doubt. The opposition would coin their own slogans around the idea of change. In the longhouses, they will use all sorts of analogies — changing government is like changing the baju (shirt) or kasut (shoes); if a shirt has seen better days and is soiled, buy a new one; if shoes are worn out and beyond repair, buy a new pair.
Those defending the incumbent administration will vigorously show their track records in bringing development to cities and towns as well as to the rural areas: see how many graduates in each village; look at the roads, all sealed; at each house, there is a car and also a motorcycle; we have doctors of all descriptions and disciplines. Who says we have not progressed? Politics is indeed kind to us. So why the clamour for change? These people do not know what they are talking about. Don’t they know that if the present situation is fire, the alternative may be a frying pan?
Further repertoire of standard cliches:
The opposition cannot bring development.
The opposition can only talk, that’s all.
The opposition are outsiders, reject them.
No development for you if you vote for the opposition.
All these will be used as typical topics at ceramah and press releases or in the blogs during the campaign, now beginning to get into first gear.
Avoid this one
But be careful with the last warning. It could be counterproductive. Avoid this one.
All these over-used statements have started to surface with intensity lately. The opposition will disclose a litany of woes and sins and inequities of the ruling parties.
However, these are the norm during elections in this country, so we’ll have to live with them.
In some areas, a number of these cliches still get votes. Many of our people have been indoctrinated for so long that they become gullible. Even if the promises made last election have not been fulfilled, they easily forget and forgive.
Hangover from the past
In the past, the injunction ‘Don’t vote for the opposition’ was effective because we were fighting the communists and their sympathisers. The alternative government would be that of the communists: cruel and heartless. All property would be confiscated by the state. There would be no freedom of speech; arrests without trials; violations of human rights. Situations in Russia, China and Cuba were cited as examples of above.
But 47 years after Malaysia, we are dealing with discerning voters who are not as gullible any more, especially those in the cities. Therefore, the young voters consider that warning, the so-called secret weapon in past elections, as a threat and an insult to their intelligence. Any candidate using this tactic will not get their votes. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which political side you are on, some 400,000 of the eligible Malaysians in Sarawak are not on the electoral rolls.
Not very intelligent
They could make a difference in some of the results of the next election but they cannot effect any change because they have no voice through the ballot box. They are shouting outside it.
That’s not intelligent, is it?
They are waiting for the Election Commission to pamper them and the commission waits for them to come and register as voters. Sadly, the commission is not being proactive in recommending to the government to make registration of voters automatic and voting compulsory.
Many voters in the rural areas are a little naive in this respect. They are credulous and trusting, having been indoctrinated over the years that it is taboo to talk bad about the government let alone vote it out. Their idea of government is feudalistic or autocratic. The 100 years of Brooke rule plus the years of colonial rule have brainwashed them to the extent that when parliamentary democracy was introduced here, there is this hangover from the past: enda ulih ngelaban prentah (cannot beat the government), which has become the norm and the adat, almost.
Democracy is about change for the better
Until March 2008, when the political tsunami caused havoc to BN in Penang, Kedah, Kelantan, Perak and Selangor, not many political pundits in Sarawak had thought it possible to beat BN with its vast resources and control of colossal propaganda machinery. But as it transpired in West Malaysia, anything is possible in the realm of politics, especially when opting for the parliamentary democracy a la Westminster. This is our system for better or for worse, adopted for us and by us; it’s not the best, it’s practicable, warts and all.
Slowly but surely, we learn that democracy as a system of government is about change, change for the better. We are given the right to change government and to keep it, if we are better served and protected by it from all evils, moral or otherwise. Every five years — in some countries only three years — we are at liberty to make a change, if we can, of government when its mandate to rule ends. We are also given the absolute freedom to retain it and vote for it again. So vote wisely then.
Come the next election, you will witness our version of democracy at work.
You will see how government machinery is mobilised, from the government servants who should be civil, not politicised, to teachers at Kemas schools.
At the Batang Ai by-election a year ago, the army sent a team of dentists to the longhouses to look at the teeth of the inhabitants in order to win the hearts and minds of the voters. I saw them in action at Rumah Sandah; I saw the Kemas officials organising cooking competitions at Bara, choosing election time to try their latest recipes.
However, take these as part and parcel of the machinery used or misused by the politicians in power to retain power. The same tools would also be deployed and employed by others when they are in power.
Two can play that game.