APRIL 4 — Millions of Malaysian homes had the same dinner conversation last night. We are having an election. There is an air of expectation in the air now.
We at the headquarters of Parti Keadilan Rakyat had it all day yesterday, and I doubt it will ease up in the days to come. The adrenaline was dripping from all edges of the building and the packed press room was buzzing by 4pm. The leader of the opposition was about to fire his first salvo after the prime minister called for the dissolution of Parliament earlier in the day.
While there is going to be electricity in the air all through April, I must remind the rakyat that they played their role to produce this knife-edge political scenario. The reason why the prime minister had to wait almost till automatic dissolution before he made the call was that for the last five years, more and more Malaysians have demanded to be heard.
Enough of us are willing to stand up and question the decisions. The PM never managed to shock and awe a nation completely with just money, consultants and slogans. The cynics kept the undecided numbers high and four years after one transformative policy to another, everything is still there to be won.
For that, the great minds of democracy over the centuries would stand up and applaud the Malaysian people.
What to look forward to then, in this election then?
It is always a weekend, but since this year election will not be during a school holiday don’t rule out the Election Commission (EC) picking a weekday to be polling day.
The date April 27 fits the requirement of the right amount of provision for all states to dissolve, the EC to meet, nomination day and polling day — 23 days from today.
Polling day is crucial for millions to arrange travel to their voting districts, and the new advent of overseas Malaysians returning to vote.
A weekday polling day will demand millions to take days off work to vote, this is another reason why a weekday date may be a loopy choice for Barisan Nasional (BN) who the public feel dictates terms to the EC.
The candidates, Nomination Day
Elections are won by candidates, not parties when strictly speaking. However, the EC’s promise that potential candidates will not be rejected due to a filing error on Nomination Day turns the focus to who the candidates will be.
BN has one face to its multi-million ringgit campaign, the prime minister. While the brand has been built, he will need 211 others to join the race with him, and for 112 — himself included — to win. One-hundred-and-twelve is the magic number, but a majority of two in a country divided by the largest sea in the world will not suffice. Both coalitions are looking to secure at least 120 to have a government that will survive a year in office.
Pakatan Rakyat’s biggest strength is a depth of nationally-known leaders and battle-hardened personalities. Ex-political prisoners, academics, entrepreneurs, issues-championing lawyers, ex-student activists, accountants and even a constitutional expert are part of the Pakatan line-up.
BN’s strength lies in letting the public not know about the Pakatan candidates, through the control of the mainstream media. While the public are sceptical of BN, it does not hide the fact for most of the elections of the past they only get basic info on the Pakatan candidate unless they attend ceramahs.
It remains to be seen if social media can equalise that disadvantage. Though the people may in principle support Pakatan and know the senior leaders, they would love to know their respective constituencies’ candidates more than by the picture on the election poster.
The key to change is to show up. While this sounds like a straightforward proposition, considering the ambiguities and uncertainties likely on polling day, every voter should show up early. Wake up, head to the polling station, cast your vote, go home and put on your Facebook status that you have voted.
Peer group pressure has not changed since 1874. You voting early will get so many others you know out and to follow your lead.
Don’t buy the argument that since things are not right enough, and there will be a hung Parliament it is better just to not vote. Ignore the exercise.
There is another element to early voting. It is known that early voting cuts down on phantom voters. The system I am reliably told relies on low voting numbers to facilitate phantom voters.
Counting begins at 5.30pm, and with the agreed vote count of each voting station already forwarded to the contesting parties via SMSs, most candidates would know by 7pm if they have won.
Of course, for Pakatan candidates winning in the unofficial tally does not guarantee anything as there are vagaries at the constituency count centre and them postal votes. With soldiers and policemen dispatched to Sabah and increased patrols at the Thai border, and overseas voters, it is held by all Pakatan operators that you have to have a huge enough majority to negate the postal vote.
Then it is left to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to invite the group his highness believes has control of the Dewan Rakyat to form the government. This seemingly simple sentence is fairly context rich and capable of being tangled in subterfuges that it would require another discussion in a fortnight.
There are technicalities, procedures and other formalities, but the rakyat should enjoy the whole process.
It is democracy in motion. Our democracy in motion.
There will be plenty of white noise, but I’ll say that that is half the fun of an afternoon bazaar when you find what you are looking for. If you walk through stall to stall with nothing in mind, then the salesmen and their yelling will wear you down. Have firm ideas of what you expect from the people to represent you, not to rule you.
Then the white noise fades away, and you find the thing you need.
Democracy is about you, always. An election celebrates the electorate, which is why it should be to the regular chap in the street, party time.
SIDENOTE: Today is the 14th anniversary of PKR, greetings to all my colleagues, party operatives and the hundreds of thousands of volunteers about to embark in what I believe will culminate with our finest hour. Membujur lalu, melintang patah, KeADILan rakyat Malaysia...
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.