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. ;)