Winning wet votes

NOVEMBER 30 — It is raining daily. It’s that time of year.

On cue, everyone becomes wary. Rain is a tricky subject, and too much rain is the trickiest of subjects, because it brings floods.

Floods are of universal interest in Malaysia, and dread.

What is the difference between hard rain and a proper “bring in the choppers” flood?

About a million votes in a general election.

A bit too fanciful? If it is, it is down to both the government and opposition struggling to rein it as one of their election pivots. One has a trust deficit and the other an ideas-deficiency.

Floods, or bold flood mitigation promise can turn disdain into votes.

In this part of Cheras

We are ahead of ourselves, let’s answer an easier question, what is the difference between where I live and the homes across my house?

Three inches of water.

For their residences have a fair chance of being flooded. On average three inches, but those are three inches of torment for the occupants for weeks and retelling for years to come.

I’m lucky that my house is elevated four feet above these neighbours. Until the local council widened the monsoon drain, it was the difference between being amused when a storm brewed and furious in my neighbourhood. That and the occasional floating cobra in the flood water.

When a section is affected temporarily by flood waters, as it was the case in my locality, there is isolated anguish. It is loud and condemning, but within the ability of local authorities to respond to or appease.

Which is why, despite parts of the city deluged now and then, its inhabitants get on with it. Almost like an expected cycle of annoyance.

However, in the last 10 years matters have escalated.

There’ve been complete geography disruptions, as in Kelantan’s Kuala Krai shut off from water, electricity and supplies for days, and Perak’s Kuala Kangsar town’s riverside inundated for weeks, in 2014.

More than a hundred thousand were evacuated from across the country that year. This year the military moved thousands on Penang Island.

As far as floods as a key election issue is concerned, it has crossed the Rubicon. It’s time politicians paid attention.

Rice, water and dry clothes

Our politicians are trained in “handout” politics. Give something, expect something.

So, when flood victims express appreciation when receiving emergency supplies, they assume all is well.

It’s not.

To be forced out of their homes forces deep circumspection among the victims.

Humiliation, vulnerability, insecurity and anger among many other emotions permeate the air. Claims of being a developed nation seem extremely hollow.

Residents will look for answers, and assurances long after they have returned to their homes.

They’d ask and ask.

Were the floods avoidable?

Is this global warming? And if so, what has Malaysia done to counter it?

Was enough done in preparing for the floods?

Is there leadership in dealing with this scourge?

Shaping policies around these questions would improve perception.

A severe flood is a kick in the gut, and residents won’t pick and drop the subject cyclically. They’d rally around positive action against future floods.

Trust deficit and ideas deficiency

In the present, both coalitions cancel off each other.

Barisan Nasional (BN) runs national government and most of the states. Federal power is central to any national flood mitigation initiative. However, the elephant in the room is if they always had power, how come they have not turned a corner in this issue?

Therefore, if they are to persuade the rakyat, it has to be different, because claiming to do it right, this time, does not work anymore. This is the trust deficit.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) has two key states and both with flooding problems.

There is the standard handout approach to floods’ victims, and this is followed by blaming the government for everything wrong they have ever done. They can highlight each project which has failed in the country, but blaming the guy in power does not attend to a long-term solution.

When the main argument is with better accountability PH will save money and therefore have funds to cut down floods, to regular rakyat it reads as, “We have no idea, so we will do what the guy before us did, but we will do them without corruption”.

This is why the opposition is accused of an ideas deficiency.

Noh, Noh, Noh

In February, the total number of evacuees can be tallied, and determinations should be made of how much it would weigh on their minds come election day in their respective constituencies.

BN retained Kuala Kangsar in a 2016 by-election, despite the disastrous flooding in 2014 — a year after the general election. Perhaps the three-way race was the most telling part, but can it be ruled out that the flood was less of a vote decider because all parties lacked the nous to rally support over it?

A general election is more material, in that a shift in enough seats will send a loud message.

Which is why, this column postulated it can cost a million votes.

When there is no leadership on the issue, people are free to assign more value to unplanned development, hillside development, uncontrolled logging, failed upgrades of city sewers and drains, poor civic consciousness to cleanliness, global warming or even “greater” forces at play.

Their formed narrative will shape the way the issue affects their votes.

They may misjudge friends and reward the real culprits. That they may do, but never for a second think they do not care.

When it comes to floods in this tropical corner of the world, it’s very personal.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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