It is clear that GE13 is around the corner. PM Najib’s claims that the BN engine is going strong sends a reverberating signal to chill the spines of the Oppositions. Bold and brave words in the light of dropping popularity of BN as a whole. It is intended to give BN supporters the perception that BN is going strong and ready regardless of current sentiments.
The question is how will Malaysians vote this time around in GE13. Certainly, this is not an exact science and filled with much speculation although sentiments and perceptions play a very big part of Malaysian voting mentality.
Many observers note that if the sentiments of voting remain along the same lines of GE12 with a 5% swing vote towards Pakatan Rakyat, then BN will lose and PR will form the next Government. This assumption can also go the reverse that 5% swing vote may go to BN and BN remains the next Government.
This article stays away from those statistical assumptions and attempts to dissect the Malaysian psyche in their thinking of how to vote.
1. From laid back not registering as voters to coming out in full force
The upcoming GE13 may see one of the strongest turnout in Malaysian voting history. Approximately 2m new and young voters are expected to shape the outcome. Hence, the various attempts by political parties to reach out to this young adult group through social media channels and the latest Psy craze for the BN CNY party in Penang. All the play in Facebook and Twitter with cybertroopers blasting away those channels with a lot of misinformation and personality attacks. The choice to play up whose Facebook has more “Likes” to imply better popularity amongst this new generation of voters.
As for the seasoned voters, they are also expected to come out in droves because they feel that this is a watershed of elections with the real possibility of changing the landscape, for better or worse.
Many of the first time voters are also mature voters who have never registered before as they did not feel their vote meant much. This time round, there is a lot more awareness that each individual vote will combine into a massive force for whichever party they vote for and for the sake of the future of Malaysia.
2. Minds made up and those on the fence
Malaysians are a strange bunch when it comes to elections. Most of the time, they vote along party lines if they are a party supporter. However, in GE12, there were a lot of sabotage votes where BN supporters secretly voted the opposition to spite those candidates who displaced their preferred leaders. BN is well aware this time round and has issued an edict for supporters to support whoever the BN leadership (read Najib) has chosen regardless if they like the candidate or not because the wisdom of Najib has determined that they are winnable candidates.
It is unlikely that sabotage will stop this time round. What many are seeing now on the ground are unsettling feelings of BN supporters rallying around their chosen ones and scheming what to do in the event they are not the “winnable” candidates for BN. Many political analysts feel that the sabotage this time round will be even greater because if their leaders are not nominated, their entire gravy train will never move again. Such is the impression of the culture within BN, particularly in Umno. Najib is hoping that this ill culture shall stop immediately but he may be hoping in vain. Time will tell.
Then there are others who are not party members but in their minds, they have decided that it is going to be one or the other regardless of who says what and what else they may read. These die-hards have their minds fixated with their reasons and they are very comfortable with that. According to recent surveys, many point out that the Malay and Indian voters are split 50-50 between BN and Pakatan Rakyat while the Chinese voters are 20-80 between the same. Now, if this is true, BN has already lost the election but surveys are perception analysis of a small representative sample nevertheless.
Those that plan to vote BN is firm that the future remains with this party that has led for well over 50 years and for all that is done, more can be in the future for them. Those that plan to vote PR may feel that enough is enough for BN’s rule and the time has come for a new party to clean things up so that the country can be saved. Each has their own arguments, factual or otherwise and is largely their perception of how BN or PR has reached out to them. So no matter how one argues with them the opposite, they will not change their vote.
Many voters are still sitting on the fence, so the Merdeka Survey says. How will they vote and for sure their votes will affect the results. It does appear that this is a sizable group which can tilt the results either way.
3. Fence Sitters are now the King Makers?
Both BN and PR believe that these people are young adults and women. Each is stepping up to reach out to them.
However, BN is not faring well at the moment due to the poor handling of Shahrizat’s and Nopiah’s issues as well as the perennial Rosmah’s “presence” in many dialogs that they seem not to go away. So BN has to go keep these issues under wraps and make it a non-issue. Najib being the Minister for Women’s Affairs is also not helping but he is hard pressed to find a replacement for Shahrizat’s post at this time. BN has too much political wranglings and lack of a talent pool for woman leadership to nominate anyone that Umno will support wholeheartedly.
As for PR, they seem to fare quite well with the women leadership and they have a bigger pool to work with. Each of them has stood the test of time and hardships to emerge stronger this time round to present as formidable candidates for election. We have the likes of Wan Azizah, Teresa Kok, Hannah Yeoh, Teo Nie Ching, Zuraida Kamaruddin, and even the non-political Ambiga are versatile, time tested candidates for some form of leadership in major positions.
As to reaching the younger generation, Najib has said that BN will be fielding more young and new faces that this generation can identify. This means that the old guard will have to step aside and it does not augur well with Umno. Power bastions are held by these old guards who have protected their gravy train with fervor and now to step aside for some young punk is not particularly welcomed. But survival will dictate that this must be so and this time round may see a lot more candidate by proxy to protect their bastions at all cost. Can BN find good young candidates to field in GE13 that their supporters can graciously accept? This is a must if BN is to survive the election.
4. Perceptions of Issues and not the Issues themselves
Malaysian voters are largely a perception influenced lot. Although a larger number now can actually debate the real facts around the issues raised by both BN and PR, the majority are not quite at the same page as others. Their source of information comes from their favorite news media, whether mainstream or alternate. Their ability to size up the information and balance their views to be able to separate facts from opinions are not quite acute. Perhaps we have to blame our Malaysian education system which is largely based on spoon feeding and not personal research. We are swayed by nice words spoken by our leaders but we cannot differentiate a lie from the truth in political talk.
One thing is for sure. A much larger number of voters are more interested to hear what Pakatan Rakyat leaders have to say than BN and Umno leaders. We can see from the various sessions that BN has been holding to poor and cool reception verses the historic turnouts for PR leaders of all levels and also in BN-held states too. Although audience turnouts do not equal to votes, it is a reflection of voters maturing and now wanted to hear alternative views even more. How much they are swayed will depend on how effective these ceramahs are. Analysts assessments indicate that PR ceramahs are gaining mindshare over the BN ceramahs.
Perhaps one of the key reasons is that Malaysian voters are maturing very rapidly and they are sensitive to issues that affect them and the country. PR is playing this card very well by raising specific examples of corruption, excesses, oversight, cronyism, etc given that BN has helped a great deal by being more blatant in their handling of matters.
Look at the questionable electoral roll, above statutory ceiling national debt, impending GST, down in education standards, free education, price of petrol and cars, NFC cow-gate, Deepak expose, land grab, national poverty crisis, defense procurements, highway construction, royalty of oil, Felda listing, Lynas, Tanah Merah, construction of dams, poor and shoddy workmanship in government buildings, instant citizenships, police brutality, lack of judiciary independence, etc are some of the current issues raised by PR. They identify with the people that life is now much harder than before and will get harder if BN continues in power.
As for BN, they are now harping on the Selangor water crisis (which may have been manufactured), personality attacks, sex videos, and other sleazy methods of disruption of the Opposition’s position. Utusan Malaysia lost all their cases brought against them due to the articles they published. BN claims economic growth, infrastructure improvements, removal of subsidies, more handouts of cash and rice, great budget 2013, transformation KPI improvements, you help me I help you deals, etc. Meanwhile, more GLCs are going to be sold to “selected” individuals aligned to Umno and such deals are rapidly moving under the radar. Finally, Najib still maintains that our lives are not so bad after all and inflation is minimal and our petrol prices are far below our neighbors. So we are told to be thankful after all.
How voters perceive these issues will determine how they will vote. Who can make their lives more palatable, less painful will get the votes. The greater Malaysian good will come second. So if they perceive that handouts is the way forward and not having a better economy so they can find better paying jobs, they will vote according to their perceptions of BN. If they feel being able to buy a cheaper car or having a chance to gain a better working career, they will vote PR. They are not too concerned about the personalities still which will mean that they will vote party and not candidate.
Some feel that this time round, the candidates are more important but it does not appear to be the case as more candidates fielded by BN and PR will be new faces to most voters. At the least, we trust that frogs are not served up.
5. The party that makes the least mistakes wins
Moving forward from now until GE13, the party that makes the least mistakes will stand to win. The one with the most positive perception at the time of the election will stand to win. That is why Najib is gunning all barrels for the BR1M and the handout schemes because the feel-good factor can be easily generated and perception improves, albeit, a short span of time, hopefully enough to take it through the election. Let money talk for itself as Najib will have it.
Both BN and PR will not want to simply say things to the public now. They will be more guarded in their words. Perception management comes to the fore. This means that whatever they throw over their fences had better be good or else as the saying goes, the poop will hit the fan and it takes a long time to clean things up. How each party goes at each other will show if we have what it takes to be a mature and developed nation.
As Malaysians, remember to vote. Come back to vote. Mail your vote. One way or another, get your votes in. We cannot worry about cleaning the electoral roll now. We just have to do our best to ensure that cheating of any form is at its minimum so not to adversely affect the outcome of our votes.
Know why you vote, who you vote, where you vote. And go cast your vote. It counts.
We will deserve whichever Government we vote in. BN for more of the same or PR for some of the new. And the majority will decide which party we will have for the next term.