opinion : Praba Ganesan

Politico, you might be misinformed all this while

Praba Ganesan

OCTOBER 5 — The average Malaysian gets to fill 28 voting ballots in a lifetime. Seventy-five years being the current national life expectancy means 54 years as an eligible voter, and not a registered one necessarily.

When tallied to Malaysia’s corresponding electoral cycles for the last half century, this yields 14 elections, or one parliamentary and one state vote slip each during every polling day.

With an impressive trillion-ringgit Gross Domestic Product — 36th largest economy in the world — and a 30 million population minus the documented workers, undocumented workers, refugees and stateless persons, yet Malaysia lags in political voice. 

On average, Malaysians speak up every 4.5 years and are rudely asked to shut up during the time in-between.

Forget about referendums, just get giddy when a by-election comes around.

Pittance, to say the least.

Today, the column rather than bemoan the right to choose enough times — leave the canvasing for increased electoral rights to Bersih for now — prefers to look at why the limited-voting practice tends to choke the extent of the data to read the voter. And therefore, election strategies often mismatch with our voters.

For instance, local elections are utilised to read the sentiment of voters between elections in the United Kingdom. The US prods its citizens to polling booths every other year at least to decide who goes to Washington.

The longer the wait, the bigger the swell that gets unloaded. Unfortunately, Malaysians have massive diarrhoea every half decade and are expected to translate all their feelings, hopes and expectations into a single slip — the parliamentary seat vote.

To say it would be distorted, is to put it mildly. There is a long time to retract one’s support, and a long time to award one’s support. It would be unnerving for keen political observers with split loyalties.

How to read (or not to read) votes

The votes are binary: for this candidate, or not for the other candidates. Two-way fights simplify choices, but don’t reveal the reasons the choices were made.

Often it is one-dimensional and connects racial shifts to racial issues. There is a report of how middle class voters in Lembah Pantai are happier with their MP in Parliament rather than fixing flat lifts in the working class sections, but it also is expressed as working class being Malay mostly with a dash of Indian, and the middle-class upwards primarily Chinese.

So the answer seemingly, if Nurul Izzah Anwar stands again there, is to lobby for more paint jobs in Kerinchi along with lift technicians.

It’s not quite like that.

A standard voter does not vote by default on a single issue. There are single issue voters, but they are dwarfed by the vast majority who have a list of considerations.

How those considerations weigh on the voter, are determined by pull and push factors. This is common knowledge. What the typical Opposition candidate fails to grasp is that they — the issues —   have to be pushed and pulled. 

If one issue appears to be flavour of the month, it does not mean voters will only vote on that issue and therefore the Opposition politician too has to chase after the issue, and look just as concerned, if not more about it.

They can choose to push their own issues, and force their opponents to meet them on their issues. It does not matter if candidates refuse to engage — usually the Barisan Nasional candidates —  because if their issues are material, then they will matter.

Not all politicians have to chase after the same issues and attempt to outmuscle the next guy’s popularity on his issues.

Because the duration between the elections is immense, the playing diamond is crowded by a build-up of issues. There is too much noise and they are not measured in surrogate tests such as local elections, senate elections, stand-alone state elections or referendums. 

Opinion pollsters and focus groups’ findings are limited indicators and at times at odds with each other.

So what are the real issues, then? Difficult to tell, purely from vote counts.

There is one, definitely. Tell the voters how valuable their votes are, and that the two things an Opposition candidate stands for is not to take that vote for granted and when in power to seek to increase the number of times Malaysians vote in their lifetimes. 

Tell them it is ridiculous to argue that politicians are protecting people by limiting the number of times they can choose what’s good for themselves.

Quality love

What is abundantly clear, Opposition candidates cannot compete on volume, they have to compete on quality of the strategic issues they pick from the crowded space which resonate with their voters.

I can assure them, the Anti-Kleptocracy Rally on October 14 in Petaling Jaya is not the strategic issue.

Take any one Muslim voter, for dissection.

Of course the Shariah proposal — RUU355 — plays in the mind of a typical Muslim voter. The mad thing is to assume it is the only thing playing in that voter’s mind. 

There are jobs, housing, education and healthcare, which also are issues of the general voter, and they affect in gradients according to educational/professional qualifications, wage, education philosophy, disposable household income available for private education/healthcare and political persuasion.

As highlighted above, people are pulled by one issue most, that is not to insinuate the other issues are absent or unimportant, rather there is a lack of effort to heighten them to the said voters.

The Malaysian might be starved of democracy, however these are his or her 28 votes. The diarrhoea elections render us to vote for multiple sentiments at one go, so it’s all mixed up votes.

So don’t trust the oversimplified meanings of previous votes, their implication on present issues and how they affect the voting patterns in the coming elections.

Incumbents live of confusion, as people choose the familiar if it is all a bit too much. It is squarely in the hands of auditioning usurpers.

Mixed or not, they have to pick the issues and drop those taking up oxygen but not generating votes.

They have to cut through the clutter, and imagine a country their countrymen want to live in.

It would be a completely differently election if they did that.

It probably will have a completely different outcome if they did that too.  

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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