Tanjung Piai voters stressed out

NOVEMBER 14 — Less than 48 hours to Tanjung Piai’s D-Day. Even for this madder by the day nation, this is new territory. It’s officially too close to call P165’s by-election in south-western Johor.

I suspect the sleepy hamlet’s residents — beset by the election circus which descended upon it for the past month — would prefer some peace of mind rather than desperate last-hurrah rallies. It’s too noisy out there.

Quiet, for a day or two before polling day, would allow them time to mull the available choices.

Low shows of the near past

The by-elections following the 2018 general election — Selangor’s Sungai Kandis, Seri Setia, Balakong and Semenyih assembly tussles and Pahang’s parliamentary Cameron Highlands — had low turnouts but were uplifted somewhat after by the emotional Negeri Sembilan’s Rantau and Sabah’s Sandakan races. Overall, voters have been put off.

The instructive lesson here is that unless Malay emotions are worked up to a frenzy as at Rantau in the case of then-acting Umno president Mohamad Hasan in the state he helmed for 14 years, or a grieving daughter in the form of Vivian Wong at port city Sandakan draws out support, voters may care less because they understand less.

This is not to mean they know less, this is to indicate from the overwhelming amount of information sprayed at them they lack time to discern the facts and arguments, to compare with care.

With elections only every four years, late doubts force voters to stay away. There are those who don’t vote because they don’t care, but there are those as evidenced by low turnouts who choose to not cast a vote because they are unable to make up their minds.

However, absentees — as those who did cast votes — bear the winner henceforth. Elections don’t intend this — to have slightly more than half of the 50  per cent or lower show-ups to elect the MP or assemblyman, effectively a quarter of the constituency condemns the other three-fourths to suffer an unpopular winner. Elections seek to represent the will of the people.

Which is reason enough to extend the campaign moratorium, from the present eight hours — midnight, the start of election day, to 8am — to perhaps two days. A period of quiet, cooling off or silence — call it what you must — is essential to foster informed choices among the voters.

Singapore — since 2011 — practises election silence for a day, India for two days and Indonesia tops the charts with three days.

A curfew constitutes a period where no parties or candidates can canvas for votes — regardless if at rallies, day markets, door to door or through the Internet. To cool off the situation, so voters can consider what they have seen, heard or received in private.

If governments rule for years, why not let voters two days without interference to determine a serious decision?

Rationale

Retail reinforces this view: Buyers are likelier to make bad choices when they are rushed to purchase. 

On-the-spot discounts reduce the capacity to consider all factors when price’s value is inflated as opposed to quality, reliability and relevance.

Just as how race issues are blown out of proportion through visceral speeches in the lead-up to voting day, enough to out-muscle for instance policies and track-records as factors, in the minds of voters.

Which is why many elections mirror midnight sales, which also explains why parties fill their rosters with marketing gurus rather than political scientists these days.

Second, the ephemeral and enduring views of voters have to be separated.

Professor Zhang Weiwei, a Chinese thinker, uses terms Minyi (public opinion) and Minxin (hearts and minds of the people) from his vernacular to deconstruct western-style elections. 

The former, according to him, are single-day snapshots which are transient. The maxing of emotions means, how people feel at the epicentre (election day) may not be the same days later.

Which is of course his defence of the elections (lower levels) and selections (at the highest levels) combination the Chinese Communist Party adopts, because it better captures the consistent mood or feelings of the people.

I don’t support the idea of selections or anointments over actual ballot boxes, but the anomalies brought by rushed decisions as the Brexit vote in 2016 and our own general, suggests a cooling-off period insulates voters from forced decisions, of going one way or simply abstain.

Cape Fear

This election validates why voters need time after a campaign period to make up their minds.

There are three serious candidates.

Karmaine Sardini is a local boy, however having been away for decades there’s palpable disconnect. Which explains why in 2018 he was a candidate instead in neighbouring Pontian — and lost . 

Bersatu intends to replace Umno and PAS as the real Malay party, and has gone on overdrive since the Malay Dignity gathering. 

Obviously, the non-Muslim vote is unenthused by the development. Meanwhile, the perceived Bersatu’s bullying of own ally DAP — Perak exco Paul Yong’s rape trial and the terror-associated arrests of LTTE-linked assemblymen — has dampened the Chinese-based party’s operators’ spirits. 

However, Bersatu runs the state and country, which means to turn on the party this election may come to haunt the constituency.

To confuse further, Ismail Sabri, Umno vice-president asks the other half, Malays at 52 per cent, not to hate Bersatu which is a bad call in these climes, but rather to realise that a vote for Karmaine is a vote for DAP. 

It’s a weird, vote for our Chinese candidate over Bersatu’s Malay option to show you are really in love with being Malay, because our Chinese candidate is actually more pro-Malay as his win passes power back to Umno-run BN over a DAP-run Pakatan Harapan. 

So, a vote for the Malay is actually a vote for the Chinese, but not the right kind of Chinese, like ours, who’d actually be winning it for the Malays.

Wee Jeck Seng, two-time Tanjung Piai MP despite losing the last contest by the skin of his teeth. The locals know him, however, the over the top Malays first rants by Umno in their tryst with PAS must rile up non-Muslim voters.  

They’d see MCA as Umno’s puppet, riding on the coattails of the Malay party after their 2018 implosion. 

The party has been on life-support, and many feel the long-term future of Chinese Malaysians is not with MCA. Wee, chalks up years in the cape, but he remains irreverent to locals.

Still, the contest is a chance to give Pakatan a black-eye, for their regressions, and that’s tempting for many.

Then, we have Wendy Subramaniam. Gerakan has never gone into an election solo since formation. Even in their 1969 victorious debut — snatching Penang — they were in tandem with the leftist coalition. And thereafter almost 50 years in BN till they left last year. 

If DAP has gone soft, and MCA going nowhere, would a bolder and independent Gerakan appear as a genuine option to send a message to Pakatan, on behalf of non-Malays? 

Her gender and also appeal of being a Chinese-educated with Indian-Chinese heritage with a legal degree, might tick enough boxes to merit votes. With things tightening, she might be the beneficiary of Pakatan and BN’s race hubris.

Though unlikely a winner she might keep her deposit and turn spoiler.

It’s a perplexing situation. Where any choice has setbacks, even if it achieves other objectives.

A cooling-off period can move people to vote in order to choose a MP who represents their Minxin rather than their Minyi.

To echo their persistent view rather than one produced by the campaign steroid pumped into them. 

Some peace of mind before voting helps voters make peace with themselves when the winner is announced.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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