AUG 23 — Throughout the Raya week, people asked me when the elections will be held. People enquire all the time, but I suppose over holiday seasons meeting that many voters at that many buffet queues, does accentuate the tenseness of the probing. [N1]
“Say, you are in politics, tell me then — when is the election?” [N2]
I’ve gone tired of telling folks that I can guess, give a really, really good guess, and admit thereafter the answer truly remains with the prime minister [N3]. Or is it up to PEMANDU [N4], the prime minister’s brain trust, which incessantly claims only they ever know?
But at the same time, I am struck by the challenge of not knowing. It does not reward as a political operative not to know. Especially when one of my key consultants put to me yesterday, the answer is in the data.
Who supports us? What about us endears to them? How to positively affect non-supporters? How to track the shift of general sentiment?
To know or not to know
Online data has been a blessing: There are multiple methods to track followings, interactions and impressions from social media accounts like Facebook and general online activity.
The extent of leveraging the data is determined by both the resources available, to target the money to the right pathways, and broad backing for action coinciding with the data.
Unfortunately the prevailing climate does not suit for the maximisation of the new data.
The long-term stunting of political process over decades to negate competition has debilitated all sides — politics in Malaysia is largely organic and reactionary.
Compounded further, claims that most online activity and participants are apolitical and a substantial number of citizens are not online have reduced the perceived value of online data. Everyone can pull out numbers, and when they are mostly inferences the veracity of the opinion is under siege.
In short, “my truths are better than yours” assertions are hard to defeat.
One buzz last week did give me cause to pause and assume that things are going our way.
I was one of the many — millions I suspect — who received a poll question via text messaging on the mobile. It was in Malay, beginning with “Salam Reformasi.” “Reformasi” was, and in many circles still is, the word of political change led by those challenging Umno. The greeting is followed by requesting for a text response indicating support for Pakatan Rakyat — the three-party national opposition — and Barisan Nasional, in that order.
Several individuals contacted me over the text, wondering why we commissioned this poll.
Pakatan Rakyat did not commission the poll, I’d tell them. I suggest that the poll looks seriously like a ploy by those interested to have a new perspective of voting statistics by masking themselves as those acting at the behest of Pakatan.
Perhaps this “party” is not all too convinced by its own internal numbers or fear over-relying on statistics they solicited. Either way, it gives credence to an opinion that not all is well with those who oppose Pakatan in the present climate.
If there are those wanting to know what is the Pakatan support level seen from an “internal” angle, then the opposition coalition should be doing far better than even their leaders think.
Anecdotes and absence of noise
Therefore I am left with allowing what I see and hear, my personal straw poll, to have more print space. I am cognisant of the value of anecdotal data, its strength derived from analytical examination of selective observations. It relies on reason, not repetition.
So to these observations then.
At my friend’s open house, the revelling turned to revelations and investiture for Pakatan. His civil service retiree father was decidedly animated about the chances of Pakatan doing well in the coming election. He directly dealt with many of the political leaders and his change of tone was surprising.
To provide contrast, his other son said jestingly that he was close to joining Keadilan a couple years ago, except that his father — who was seated facing him — told him that he would be disowned if he signed his papers.
While seated on my left was my old friend who was always reticent when I used to rail against the system a decade ago. In his defence, he never tried to in the past ride on the winning horse. He was holding his cards close to his chest then, building his legal career. This time he let loose, and the words were damning, BN to him was beyond redemption.
He was not the careful lawyer, he was the passionate Malaysian worried about his country.
They were not alone. Many joined in, and their disdain with the government was clear.
This theme recurred everywhere I went, but two things stuck out.
One, the “BN apologist” was missing. At any gathering, there will be that someone who would defend the BN government and say that they are misunderstood, or that they have done so much over half a century.
There were discussions about Pakatan’s ideas and requests for clarifications, individuals were sharing their concerns. Much of the concerns were borne out of the lack of access to Pakatan information in mainstream media and then the demonisation of Pakatan in those very channels.
Second, many were contributing ideas to a possible Pakatan federal government. That’s unprecedented.
But I concede the limitations of my observations based on who I have talked to, so I want to invite like-minded Malaysians to do some of the talking.
Call five friends [N5]. They have to be those who have had major misgivings about Pakatan two or three years ago. The type of person who would point out all that is not OK with the coalition and speak about not rocking the boat. That person, and another four exactly alike. Ask them, what are their thoughts of political change in Malaysia?
The answers may serve as a reasonably objective means to know if there are shifts in sentiment, at least in your side of town. I’m convinced sentiments have dramatically shifted, especially in the last six months, but don’t trust me. Go on and pick up your phone.
You may be in a majority, not a minority, all this while.
More so, knowing might give you a new courage — to act.
[N1] The long queues add to the tenseness.
[N2] There has been speculation of a general election since late 2009, months after Datuk Seri Najib Razak replaced Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as prime minister by virtue of replacing the latter as the boss of the ruling coalition’s permanent leader party Umno.
[N3] While on the topic of concessions, I might as well come clean and say I’ve always been a fan of buffets. I am not a fan of the prime minister, but he is said to be a fan of buffets just like me.
[N4] The Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) established in September 16, 2009 to chart Malaysia’s growth, change, performance, perception, reality, leadership, communication, philosophy, information point... everything really. To do everything. The acronym “PEMANDU” in Malay means driver.
[N5] You have to discount active BN leaders — first, second and third liners.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.