FEBRUARY 14 — Every now and then you get posts and tweets suggesting that Malaysia’s Covid-19 numbers are being manipulated by the government for election purposes.
A recent example is an article making the rounds the last few days insinuating that our recent spike in Covid-19 cases is happening at a “convenient” time ahead of the upcoming Johor polls in order to discourage Chinese voters from coming out to vote.
Not for the first time such articles (of which there are many) all but declare that the Federal government, in cahoots with the Ministry of Health (obviously), artificially inflates official numbers just before election time for devious purposes.
Given that this is Omicron season, some folks are even saying that it’s simply implausible that Malaysia’s numbers could have been so low throughout December and January (when the rest of the region was sky-rocketing); hence, the numbers must’ve been forcibly repressed only to be “unleashed” as the Johor polls got closer.
I wish to make a few points regarding such conspiracy-like theories to show why it’s ultimately unhelpful to promote such viewpoints.
First, it’s not so much that such conspiracies are “wrong”; it’s that it’s very hard to even produce anything which counts as “proof” that they’re right. What would the government — or anyone, for that matter — have to do or show to convince everyone that there IS NO substantial fudging of numbers happening? Or how do we “move forward” from such theories towards either verification or its opposite?
The point is not that we believe everything our leaders say 100 per cent of the time, it’s just that with all such conspiracy views it’s hard to proceed with anything more than either suspicious agreement or vague consensus or awkward paralysis.
I think Karl Popper called it the falsification criteria i.e. if we can’t clearly disprove something, or if we can’t agree on what falsification of a view entails, then why bother talking since whatever we say or do the theory is immune to error.
Second, the rakyat has already been hating on the government based on the official numbers, especially those reported in 2021 (which everybody knows were horrendous).
So, are we being asked to believe — according to such conspiracy views— that the government fudged the numbers last year but somehow stopped short of producing fake numbers which could prevent the people from hating them?
Also, how come the former prime minister did not massage the numbers sufficiently to stay in office? Or did the numbers-manipulation only begin after the current prime minister took over? Or what?
The point is, why insinuate that the government is hiding the “true” data when the official data has in fact been so damning all this while? Or are we suggesting that the government has been lying to the public all these months to make themselves look good but they’re just, uh, not very good at it?
Why not take the easier route and believe that the numbers are more or less accurate, that almost zero number-fixing happened, and that all of this shows the government was very poor in handling the pandemic last year?
Thirdly, such conspiracies require many things to “work” and so many problems have to be explained away. Below are just a few questions I’m raising to show that such theories usually cannot stand alone and it takes a lot of “stretching” and more and more conspiratorializing to prop themselves up:
- Why do people think only Chinese voters in Johor would stay away from the polls if cases are high? How high are the elderly at-risk Chinese voter groups as a percentage of the population anyway? What about Indians? What about Malay urbanites who also follow Opposition politics? What about elderly Malay voters who may also be concerned about the virus? Are we being asked to believe that most Malays are not as concerned about the virus as the Chinese voters? Seriously?
- If keeping people away from the polls is the goal, why would the government allow postal votes for Johor? Or is this another branch of the administration which isn’t in on the steal? Or are our leaders simply pretending to cater to people afraid of Omicron?
- What about the recent Malacca and Sarawak polls? How come there wasn’t a spike for these two states around the time of their polls? (You can check the state cases from https://covidnow.moh.gov.my)
- If numbers can be spiked on demand, how do we explain the fact that not one but two Hari Rayas have been cancelled? Why weren’t the numbers manipulated to open up the country during Raya 2020 and 2021, since we all know these are very important holidays and allowing inter-state travel at these times could’ve only endeared the government to the people?
Finally, in the context of the on-going Omicron surge, are such conspiracies suggesting that the Omicron numbers have already been high since December (this was the time the region was hit) and that it subsided in mid- or late-Jan (as it did in the Philippines, the worst hit)?
If so, are we being asked to believe that Omicron has ALREADY passed Malaysia by and so the present spike is absolute bullshit? Or is Malaysia experiencing an Omicron anomaly in that our Omicron surge lasts longer than most other countries?
Assuming so, and if the numbers remain high today (as per the official data), how would suppressing the data in December affect the Johor polls turnout? Or is the argument that people will be scared by a “recent spike”, but NOT if the numbers were high for a month or two already?
Note, too, that the Johor polls are on March 12th which is about a month away. If the government supposedly held back the high numbers since December (when Omicron hit the region), why not hold it back two or three more weeks?
See what I mean about a conspiracy theory needing more and more dubious explanations to sustain itself?
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.