Parachute candidates demean voters

APRIL 19 — Imagine hundreds of them floating down with chutes made of their party colours, seemingly ferrying them to their intended contests.

It’s a different kind of D-Day.

Welcome to Malaysia’s 14th General Election, and its usual flavour of parachute candidates.

Every election, thanks to a universal disrespect for local committees by central leadership, HQ will send candidates to where and when according to their excellent read of the ground.

By excellent read of the ground, they — HQ — mean what they feel is the genuine sentiment on the ground based on their limited conversations with locals, the candidates lobbying for seats and counting the racial breakdown.

Armed with these, they decide. Foolish of course, but they believe the few on top know far more than the collective masses loosely referred to as the party members.

As it stands, parachute candidates are being announced piecemeal and expect a few surprises on Nomination Day itself.

And they are bad news for the parties doing them.

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This is not a demand for strict requirements of candidates based on origin.

Not every candidate has to have been born, raised and remains in love with the constituency. That’s unnecessary. However, every candidate should have had residency, a track record, relationships and locus standi inside the local committee.

Therefore, for this column, candidates who have been residing and working on the ground in the lead-up to this election, are not parachute candidates.

This would include DAP’s decision to send down to Johor heavy batters in the last election. Because it was announced early and many of the candidates were from the state returning to contest in their hometowns.

Parachute candidates are the ones announced belatedly and expected to pick up and go with it, and then win. They usually end up utilising the days after nomination to familiarise themselves with the voters and even go on a search for a local campaign manager.

Is this right, going with these strangers? If senior leaders are asked, they’d say bloody right. They’ve been losing national election far longer than critics have been alive.

Because residency is just a technical requirement.

Because a national track record is far better than one from inside the constituency

Because relationships are overrated, and the peasants will come around eventually.

Because the local committee will abide by HQ’s decisions.

The air of elitism which pervades the leadership bowels of the parties is nauseating.

However, they do succeed sometimes. For now.

Maybe not in the near future.

It requires a demanding electorate to reject a complete outsider forced upon them. It will be a feature shortly.

Enter parachute candidates

Cognisant of the resentment to late entries, why do parties still do it?

It’s usually about parts that don’t fit, or maximising the surprise factor.

The first is easier to explain.

Ability is recognised in the parties but within the self-perceived constraints of demographics.

Sometimes, capable candidates can’t get ahead of the queue in their preferred seats because the party has a “senior” already staking the seat. This causes the young to be farmed out last minute to less attractive seats.

Second, the element of surprise.

All the way to Nomination Day in 2008, the Anwar Ibrahim family dismissed speculations the eldest child, Nurul Izzah Anwar, would contest in Lembah Pantai. And of course she did.

It was to surprise the opponents and to expect it to be a game changer.

It is a bit juvenile. Elections are not birthday parties, there is no need for a surprise gift to make it special.

Elections shape countries, and a committed candidate with prior engagement in the area, with the people and time to form a cohesive campaign team is far more valuable.

People are not going to be shocked into voting for a newcomer. They won’t say, “I never expected she would be the candidate, never in a million years. Really surprised. Guess that means I am voting for her.”

Nurul Izzah won, but a lot more groundwork a lot longer than a fortnight after Nomination Day would have given her that many more votes than the outcome of a razor thin majority over incumbent Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

If nominations are revealed earlier, of course the opponent can strategise. But the benefits of campaigning longer completely beat the fear of a negative campaign.

The ones we know

One big mystery has been uncovered, Nurul Izzah is heading to the family seat of Permatang Pauh in Penang mainland, and her mother the party president to Selangor’s Pandan. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail challenges for the urban seat as Rafizi Ramly exits.

Lim Kit Siang is set to stay in Gelang Patah.

Watch out for more announcements next week.

The objection

It stunts political development in the country. To be fair, Barisan Nasional (BN) are not keen on Parachute Candidates. While MCA, Gerakan and MIC leaders are moved to seats Umno can accommodate rather than where they are from, the leaders thereafter set up base over a duration in those constituencies.

Local politics is where strength can be built for long term support.

The younger voters are inclined to local candidates, or at least those who have paid their dues inside the area.

Local committees cannot grow if they are just perfunctory outposts.

BN spends a lot because it has no real leaders on the ground. There are runners, volunteer workers and henchmen, all of them costing money.

Parachute candidates underline two things.

One, it is the personality not the output of the candidate in the locality which matters. Therefore, it undermines local authority.

Two, it emphasises locals are to acquiesce and not negotiate with leadership.

The double blow emasculates those divisions.

I’m used to hearing that the locals will be upset for a few days, however if they are brought out for makan-makan and promised goodies, they’d toe the line.

How is this new politics, is baffling.

How this will help the party in this election, worries me.

Parties are going to wake up to the fact the locals are not peasants anymore.

Intellectually — for this column — it would be appealing if it occurred in this election, the rejection of parachute candidates, to echo the point.

Yet, as a member of a party which with its coalition members guiltier of parachute candidates seeing their defeats, would not be pleasing.

It is a matter of time, and parties need to wake up to the realities that constituencies are not personal fiefdoms to be ruled over from afar and told to adhere to choices by those with better bloodlines. It demands more grassroots effort, where prospective candidates work to know the people and win them over. Parachute candidates are the opposite of respect, and are one of the many reasons the professional class are not impressed with the new politics of any political parties in the country.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.