JAN 31 — Two experts on local politics walked into a bar, and were then promptly gunned down by a crowd of Uzi-armed dwarves in pink with green bandanas. The soundtrack was fairly innocuous, so I can’t really remember. But the camera work was quite something, or maybe it was just down to the lighting.
This is what plays in my head whenever an interested reader approaches me to ask about what I think about the latest view by a “neutral” analyst and commentator.
I want to share today why the prevalent manner of discoursing Malaysia is hurting everyone in the long run, irrespective of election results, and second, by this culture of selective omission and additions, the real kingmakers in the coming election are being mentioned but not emphasised enough.
There are hardly any neutrals writing politics here in Malaysia, which is why I put my political affiliation and role in my political party out there — I do want readers to be as sceptical as they need to be, and let my ideas stand on how well they are supported.
In the same vein, when confronting the thoughts and opinions of my opponents, I’d like to be confronted with a level of sophistication and layered thinking, which is sorely missing — and I’ll return to that later.
Because if foreign persons read their reports — and they do — they’d just be bamboozled that a nation nearing its 50th birthday can be reduced to stereotypes, or, more importantly, convenient stereotypes.
A certain senior political writer at an English daily encapsulates all that is mad in what finds its way to be published in Malaysia these days. She is not alone, nor is this group limited to just Barisan Nasional (BN) supporters even if they crowd the category. For I concede, there are those on my side of the divide who similarly make the mistake of oversimplifying equations and don’t wait to see if they add up.
Malaysia may have one of the longest running governments in the world, and while the systematic efforts to rid political awareness in individuals have been stunningly successful, it is and always has been a highly diverse society, probably bordering on dysfunctional because of the way its diversity has been handled.
Unfortunately, the usual template in the writing goes like this, when describing the present political impasse: The Malays are undecided because they fear what they can lose, the Chinese are completely with Pakatan Rakyat, the Indians are a function of money directed to them and the rest are mathematical anomalies that are what we say periodically about them, which does not reduce the fact they vote for BN.
And with those template lines printed nicely on an A4 sheet, folded and tucked in one’s pants pocket, any novice can write overviews, possible outcomes and analyses on the country.
I believe many experts can tell more than what appears in their pieces but choose not to because what can be unearthed may make some including the experts uneasy. Rather than angling data to nudge support, they neglect all the troublesome bits and juice-up the facts that work for them, and present it as the sober read of reality.
Which is why most Malaysians don’t read or follow politics, not because of the universal adage that the main actors — the politicians — are putrid opportunists, but because they can’t get it. The way it is talked through, since the mainstream media summary must always play up BN, independent reading is required of the observer to connect what is said, what is unsaid and an intellectual juggling of the two to make sense of it. Or perhaps they’d just skip the mental exercise, pick up the remote and switch to HBO.
For underneath, between the said and unsaid, is our national treasure.
While many know that X number of PKR MPs bolted in 2010, they would not recollect unless from Bagan Serai that the MP from that constituency who jumped ship is Mohsin Fadzli Samsuri. Nor in hindsight realise one key reason he won in 2008 was because he was the secretary-general of the Malaysian Association of Banjar then. Being senior in that organisation means a lot because many in the seat are ethnic Banjar people.
Or the Hokkien-Cantonese dynamics and its role in the Malaysian Chinese Association and any other Chinese-dominated party. And perhaps discuss whether Ong Tee Keat being Hainanese had anything to do with him losing the presidency. Or the caste clash in Malaysian Indian Congress and elsewhere affecting the thinking of voters. Or even the nuances of Dayak power-plays involving Ibans, Bidayuhs and others.
I kept the above to ethnic, to show even in the stubborn method of breaking vote totals from absolute ethnic groups, the groups were never absolute to begin with, and campaigning often misses rather than hits.
The two subsections then.
Eyelashes and the unemployed
A confession first.
Both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat cannot say with absolute certainty how they will fare in this coming general election.
It may be close, it may even be — a clear win for Pakatan. But the unknowns force me not to say in absolute terms that we will win.
Because we don’t know how the women will vote, or the young will vote. And yes, they do overlap.
But we have pretty good guesses.
Both groups have always been factored out of the equation due to the former being generally uninvolved and the latter largely indifferent to registering to vote.
That has changed since 2008.
The opinion polls are generally tainted, not by the pollsters but by a culture of secrecy, and those two groups since they are more traditionally distanced from the political process than others would be even more invariably closeted.
But they will have a heavy influence in the 13th general election.
I daresay if half the women under 30 voted for Pakatan, BN will fall in this election.
Up to 2008, most women voted for BN. There is no genetic difference in the intellect of men and women, meaning there would be an equal number of very smart and the opposite among both genders. But the political culture provides little natural space for women and the male-driven agenda of national politics is off-putting.
In short, since most of them don’t know or don’t care, they’ve picked the horse they generally thought was better, if you did not want to bother too much about it. Which is traditionally BN.
There is now a national period of doubt ongoing. “Better” is not the monopoly of one side any more.
Everyone can sense that this is a different election, there is more than just noise — an increasingly settling thinking that it is possible, a federal change of government.
Again, I don’t know how they will vote. But since Pakatan is working from a low base of support from this group, throw in the various programmes in Selangor and Penang, to bet that Pakatan will win more than lose from this segment since Election 2008 is not wishful thinking.
I can’t be blamed to be optimistic that our women vote is on the up.
Since Election 2008 there has been a spike in the number of voters, the majority of them young first-time voters.
BN has dished out affordable home projects, special one-payments (BR1M for the unmarried) and even discounts for smartphones, and I will concede incentives win votes. But how many votes can be debated.
Do those pros outweigh the number of contract workers in the civil service who know they are temps, the high unemployment among university graduates if temporary low-wage employment is excluded and the burden of a higher education loan whose ROI (return on investment) is highly disappointing since wages have stagnated?
On that score, it is not a warm and fuzzy feeling for BN. They have largely failed to plan the economy to create broad social mobility for Malaysians to accompany the state-implored up-skill experience for many.
To be succinct, they’ve screwed too many people for too long due to poor and uncommitted economic planning, and the young don’t put up with stuff like that too well. Because they are living the reality, and life is the best teacher and vote winner.
The method of showing other economic statistics and shiny buildings don’t do it for this group. To paraphrase Nirvana: “Here they are now, entertain them”, otherwise they vote for the other guy, because he is not you.
The young are risk-seeking and being reminded that there has been 58 years of stability only underscores for them usually that they have not lived for more than 30. Those from the middle class in the late twenties married with kids will stop to pause, but for the rest, trying new things is a fact of life, not a cautionary tale.
That is why my second guess is that more of them will vote for Pakatan than BN. Which put together with my read of the female vote makes ominous reading for those strategising in Putrajaya.
Into the great unknown
So, in short, I am not asking for the random gunfire, but excuse me if I imagine screaming dwarves jumping up and down when it comes to assessing political punditry.
But more pertinent, I do not know for a fact if Pakatan will win, but by the day I am convinced that the tipping point has been passed. And that certain something in the air will continue to grow and panic continues to set in the ranks of my esteemed colleagues in Putrajaya.
(We will return to the series talking about what matters when voting in Election 2013 next week after last week’s take on education. healthcare and affordable jobs are in the conveyor belt.)
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.