Monday, April 16, 2007

Machap: A Reflection (II)

I wrote on my reflections on Machap on Friday, and it has certainly attracted a fair bit of attention. In the previous post, I discussed how many of the young party members viewed the by-elections, the effort put in, as well as both the positive and negative incidences which occurred during the campaign.

Here, however, I'll ask the simple question as to why we didn't do any better, or even the question whether we could even have done better.

Machap is a rural state constituency in Malaysia. It is the very type of constituency which Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties perform extremely well in. These are also the seats in which BN comfortably secures their two-third majorities. Hence with the context in mind, a significant reduction in the huge majority obtained by BN was the only realistic target for the opposition.

The single biggest factor behind BN success is their ability to abuse government (as opposed to party) machinery to bring "development" to these contested constituencies. Almost overnight, some 900 street lamps were put up. A hawker in Melaka town joked that its now so bright, he can see the ants on the road in the evenings! Roads were resurfaced, even when they are not particularly worn. A RM1.2 million recreational park was created all within a two-week period! Millions more were spent by the Government to ensure BN victory all within the space of less than a month.

Then, there is the clear-cut factor of vote-buying by BN. While resurfacing roads and building parks can be classified as community projects, BN was blatant in its attempt to sway voters preferences. BN's candidate, Lai Meng Chong was "caught" red-handed by the press in the early days of campaigning for offering RM8,000 to RM13,000 to renovate individual villager's houses. A complaint was filed with the Election Commission, but expectedly, nothing was done.

Later in the campaign, he was also "caught" on film giving out free food to constituents to entice support for BN. Again, this represents an offence under Malaysian laws. "A person is guilty under this offence known as 'treating' if he gives or provides any food, drink, refreshment or provision for the purpose of corruptly influencing others to give their vote during elections." Again, a police report was lodged with the necessary hard evidence, and we have seen no action taken to date.

These aren't the only freebies. Two days before the campaign ended, BN "donated" 400 brand new bicycles to a local school. Students were seen brandishing brand new mountain bicycles home that very day. Our DAP leaders joked during the nightly ceramah that if the constituents had asked for new motorbikes or even cars, they would probably have gotten it during this period.

At the karaoke entertainment centres organised by BN, not only do the participants get "free" entertainment, they will each receive RM20 as a "token of appreciation" for every song they belt out.

And the ugliest of it all? Outright cash in exchange for votes. See Malaysiakini report here with all the photos. Our party worker, Thing Siew Shuen captured the utter lack of morals and integrity of MCA and Barisan Nasional on film. These voters collected RM100-200 each.

Even the scale of the campaign in lobsided, for a constituency of less than 10,000 voters. We had all the MCA cabinet ministers down in Machap every day for walkabouts (on our tax payers' expense, by the way), skipping the Parliament which was in session. At least our parliamentarians turn up after the Parliament adjourns. The Deputy Prime Minister himself was in the villages for at least half the campaign period. The Melaka Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Ali Rustam was sitting in the local coffee shops til nearly midnight almost on a daily basis even before nomination day.

Hence, looking at it objectively, despite the hardwork that the DAP team put up throughout the campaign, it is unsurprising that the dent we managed to strike on BN's previous majority was limited. Look at it reversely, the fact that we even managed to strike a 481-vote dent inspite of the odds is certainly an achievement in itself.

Could we have done better in Machap? On hindsight, probably not much in the short term, under the current circumstances.

There is a total lack of support for us in the Malay and Indian polling districts, as shown by the results. The two largest Malay majority polling districts - Felda Hutan Percha (1,159 voters, 72% Malay) and Melaka Pindah (1388, 73%), our votes increased by a meagre total of 8, while BN's total increased by 63.

Hence despite probably DAP's best effort to date in Malay publicity materials (professionally designed and reader friendly Utusan Roket), our candidate walking the Malay ground extensively as well as a fair few ceramahs held in these areas, we achieved literally nought. The above hasn't even taken into account the extensive participation by PKR in these areas canvassing for votes on our behalf. Both Datin Seri Wan Azizah and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim came on the last 2 days to campaign on our behalf as well. Yes, we achieved literally nought.

Similarly, despite our Tamil team campaigning hard door-to-door at Tebong, which had 738 Indian voters with the assistance of PKR, our vote count increased by 33 to 165. BN however, managed to increase theirs by 45 from 992.

The only possibly positive outcome from the results is the fact that we managed to reduce the majority in the Chinese majority polling districts of Machap Baru (2,161 voters, 92% Chinese) and Machap Umboo (1,647, 90%). For the former, which was a MCA stronghold, we have managed to reduce the majority from 914 votes to a more respectable 387, a 58% reduction. For the latter, the impact was less significant reducing by only 11 votes to 279.

It should also be noted that contrary to the Malay and mixed constituencies where turnout increased, the total voter turnout declined by some 302 votes in the 2 new Chinese villages, believed to be due to younger voters working outstation. The strategy by the Election Commission to set the election date on a working day clearly worked to discourage these voters who are more exposed to national and urban issues from returning to vote. Could we have managed to increase our vote pool otherwise? Possibly.

Therefore, based on the analysis, should we possibly give up on the Malay and Indian votes, particularly in the rural districts? Certainly not! As many readers have pointed out, for DAP to have a future, we must extend our reach beyond the Chinese and urban Indian voters. However, realistically, this isn't going to happen overnight, and supporters should certainly not expect it before the next general elections. After that however, it must be all systems go.

With the Ijok by-elections nomination day set in 2 days time, it is hoped that PKR will do even better. With a slightly more urban outlook, swinging the voters over with our messages (as opposed to 'hard cash') should hopefully have a better chance. DAP will certainly make our presence felt in this by-elections, especially if welcomed by PKR members.

Enough of reflections. ;) It's time to move forward. Don't forget, help is still needed to get my machinery started ;).

And for a more thorough analysis of the Machap by-elections, read Ong Kian Ming & Bridget Welsh commentary on Malaysiakini. ;)

13 comments:

sani said...

TONY

DAP wouldn't have done much better in Machap, regardless of what you did.

Machap folks were 'Blessed' with an opportunity to finally collect dividend, which should had been theirs all along. Yet, they can decide again, as the general election should be coming again real soon. Having said that. pledges are just that until they are full filled.

Some people would say that, in a 1st past the post system, popular votes don't matter. I beg to differ. DAP in getting a 4-6 % increase in the popular vote (in Machap) is still better then BN's slip of the about same percentage. What about BN's reduced majority of about 6-8 %? If DAP lost, BN is even a bigger loser, what with the whole might of goverment fund to'Distribute'. Look at it this way, should BN had only the amount of funds that your party had....anyone dare to predict how much ballots they would have garnered?

Tony, i won't mind finally to put my studies to practical use in Malaysia, to together move forward.

johnleemk said...

"With a slightly more urban outlook, swinging the voters over with our messages (as opposed to 'hard cash') should hopefully have a better chance."

I still maintain that focusing on governance issues isn't something suited for a rural or working class audience; even many middle class voters probably aren't too concerned about corruption as long as their stomachs and pockets are full. BN actually doesn't have too great a track record on bread and butter issues, so there isn't any reason not to whack them hard there.

mob1900 said...

One issue DAP seem to leave out:
Education.(maybe I'm wrong coz I wasn't there)

To the rural folks, to have access to better education for their future generation is the key to make them realise certain coalition are jeapordising their sons/daughters' hopes as we had seen our education decline for so long. These are silent wishes every parent at Machap will appeal to. MCA has TAR & UTAR, they are milking every drop of it.

Education is your strength, dude.

Tony P said...

John,

Agree that issues like corruption, NEP and other national issues don't resonate with the audience, particularly in semi-rural seats. Mob1900, I don't want to be presumptuous, but I dare say even "education" as an issue has a limited impact.

If you have been to our ceramahs in Machap, you would have quickly realised that the "national"-type issues have been used sparingly, and even when used, often connected to their existing daily lives. Issues which we focused on was things like "ambulance without drivers", or "drivers with broken ambulance" or "ambulance without oxygen" which resulted in some possibly avoidable deaths in Machap. (I'm only using the above as an example, its not the only issue we raised!)

You mentioned bread and butter issues. Yes, in principle I agree that it is the way. The question is what bread and butter concerns to raise in Machap?

For these constituents, the bread and butter issues seems resolved through BN's formulaic blatant abuse of government machinery to give cash, build roads, install street lamps, repair houses and offering free food.

What can DAP or the opposition "offer" in response in terms of bread and butter? Yes, we can argue that it's only one-time. We also argued that you can vote opposition, and yet BN will continue to pour the money. Plus of course, you can say that BN is abusing government machinery - as experience tells us, this doesn't really stick, particularly in these type of seats.

What's more, do we talk the economy? The residents do not look any further then what affects them directly, and in this case, record palm oil prices and high rubber prices are making them extremely satisfied economically. Goodness, these high prices are globally determined and our government doesn't even have a say in it. It sort of didn't matter that the long term impact of some of our misguided economic policies will "destroy" our bread and butter in the longer term. The question is "immediate" and they want it now.

Suggestions will definitely be helpful ;)

Tony ;)

Anonymous said...

Those who have never lived in rural and new villages don't understand how difficult it is just to ge basic needs and improvements. I recall living with uncollected garbage, clog drains and flooding, Chinese schools cramped until students sit in the corridors. Without govt working for you, everyday life is a struggle.

DAP should look at this as doing people of Machap a favour. Each time one of this by-election occur, the money poured just gets bigger and bigger. I expect the largese to be poured in Ijok to be even bigger. Samy Vellu will make sure of that. The fact the money gets bigger and bigger just an indication of the dissatisfaction of BN. In the end, its the bankruptcy of BN that must happen in order for real change to take place. BN is bankrupt of idea, it is not bankrupt of resources. The scary thing is that voter fear that BN may bankrupt the entire country and the people before it let go of power...

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Tell me one thing if you were the incumbent in the Machap by-election and you had the BN machinery at your disposal. Would you have done anything different from what you had described BN would do? Don't talk about those things that were against the law like handing out money and things like that.

But you would definitely have used the BN machinery to your advantage as well right? Legally that is of course.

So that's the thing that you would have to accept when you went into the opposition, although I think you knew full well what you were going against given your intellect.

Remember you went into the opposition with "Your eyes wide open". I think you definitely see very clearly now.

Anonymous said...

you are tagged, boss...not sure if you've done this 50 posts to independence yet...

sani said...

Tony

I totally agree with Anonymous 10.17am. Sometimes when our eyes are wide open, the reality might not look so good.

Couldn't disagree with Anonymous
10.08am as well. All you need is to go to Dr Tan's Kepong and have a look. Paying 2007 taxes but getting 1956 services.

Take Kepong as an case study. The people there might be a bit rough, but well inform. They know how to differential between bribes + real service (have any one been to Dr Tan's clinic? Pay a visit + you will understand why he keeps getting into Parliment). Thus Dr Tan had been getting just enough vote to take the seat, both in 1999 + 2004. Again using the 1st past the post system to the fullest. That make both Gerakan + MCA putting in some effort but sending DAP to the Parliment.

Again Anonymous 10.08am hid the nail right on the head. Since the BN is zero on ideas, is the opposition just gonna highlight that weakness? Or come up with a reachable package for the people?

Remember!!! The garbage could be left uncollected only for a short while, before the rakyats have to give in, Tony.

Tony P said...

Hey Anon 10.17

Sure, if I were with BN (God forbid), the I would certainly have used the BN machinery. There's nothing wrong with that. Incumbent governments will always have the advantage in elections - anything from picking the election date, to being able to determine policies to its advantage.

But are my observations above "legal" as per what you have described? BN machinery is no way equivalent to Government machinery - there is a major difference. In fact practically all of the above mentioned practices by the BN in the by-elections contravenes Malaysia's election laws.

So yes, entering politics with eyes wide open means that you know the mountain that you have to climb, but it doesn't mean that you can't try to tunnel your way through it. Put it simply, just because I'm going in with my eyes wide open, it doesn't mean that I should not bother challenging the way things are.

Otherwise, as I always say, I'll be better of becoming a golf pro. ;)

Tony

aawilliam said...

Hi, guys the link here is worth to ponder for a while.
http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/66045
Non -Malays will continue to pee in their pants,but not the people's of Sitiawan(maybe there are too many kopitiam around here)another word,the people here love to share gossips.MCA's function always full house and so are DAP's.You never know who support who.What BN gave we take when we vote,you know la,who we vote.WE are all well informed and we are also not that forgetful,for what our YB NGEH have done for us.The coffee table talk helps a lot.

jien sing said...

So funny that some people still don't get the idea that BN's machinery is actually their own pocket...

Worse still, their comments can be summarised in 11 words "If you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em"... they might as well take things as given and stop reading this blog...

Nik Nazmi said...

Tony,

Look forward to seeing you in Ijok! Would love to have been in Machap, but I was overseas then!

Anonymous said...

Dear Tony, I wish it is that simple: that BN won Machap is due to political corruption committed by BN. If you are not careful, I think DAP and PKR will repeat the same mistake in Ijok. Don't just blame BN for fishing votes. I think we need to understand why the voters themselves are willing to be bribed. After all BN can give and promise whatever they wish, the voters can still vote for opposition after receiving all the goodies. I am sure the people in Machap can see dirty tactic deployed by BN? Or can they?

We always think we have a simple solution or explanation to a complex problem. The reality is things are not that simple. Do most voters really know what is going on in the country? Do they really know the long term implication of election BN? How do you explain why Penang voters would vote DAP for National Parliament and Gerakan for State Government election after election (Oh, I know about wanting a Chinese to the CM of Penang)? Why are they so kiasu and kiasi? How come no opposition is able to explain and convince the voters of Penang that Gerakan is really a garbage party within BN. How come no one is able to convince the people of Penang that the “Pearl of the Orient” is really now a “Garbage of the Orient” under BN’s rule.

So my dear friend, let’s not talk about a rural constituency like Machap. I think in most urban centers, people nowadays hardly read anything. Most are too busy or occupied with their daily chores and many may not even know why their life is so miserable. You can’t really gauge political awareness based on people who visit your blog.

Oh one more thing. Please talk less about your PPE from Oxford. KJ also has a PPE from Oxford. Sometimes I wonder if KJ is you and you have the opportunity to be KJ, would the roles be reversed. PPE does not count very much right? I am just thinking aloud, sorry if I hurt your feeling.