No big rallies in GE14 – Personal touch strategy to woo voters

Badrul Hisham Ismail

Sharing the interest and concern of the general Malaysians, IMAN Research had initiated an observation on campaign rallies running up to the 14th General Election (GE14) beginning April 28, 2018; guided by the international election methodology of observation.

As of yesterday, based on reports submitted by our field observers deployed throughout the country, we found that the environment of GE14 is subdued and orderly, less flags and posters in comparison to previous two elections – a far cry from the euphoric mood of GE13 where parties’ paraphernalia littered the streets.

This restrained environment can be attributed to the break of the old alliance of opposition, and the forming of a new one, the decision of Pakatan Harapan (PH) to use one logo at the eleventh hour, resulting in last minute printing and a less clear picture for voters on who to support, especially for the fence-sitters.

In terms of security, other than the Yong Peng and Lunas scuffle, the overall campaign process has taken place without violence so far. It is also important to note that despite the dusk-to-dawn curfew in seven districts under the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE), election campaigns are proceeding smoothly.

Although PAS and Parti Amanah Negara (PAN) maintain religion-infused campaign strategies, Hudud and the amendment of Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (RUU 355) have been conspicuously absent throughout this period. While it is not surprising for PAN, whose tagline has been “inclusive Islam”, it is noteworthy for PAS as they are the main proponent of Hudud and RUU 355. This can be attributed to the failure of PAS to push for RUU 355 in Parliament.

In Sabah, most of the campaign issues have been on local concerns. Current public sentiment of Sabahans is that of neglect by the federal government, and the campaigns have been focusing on securing the rights of Sabahans and to no longer be coerced by Peninsular politics. The issue of statelessness has also been used by some parties as a rallying call for Sabahans to unite against the erosion of Sabahan rights against the Peninsular.

These groups are blaming the Federal government for the failure in addressing the issue on the stateless community, who were blamed for Project IC and the Lahad Datu insurgency. However, the tension has not led to any reported physical violence or targeted attacks towards the stateless community thus far.

Regarding women’s participation as candidates, there is a slight increase in general, but it is still a far cry from the desired 30% minimum stipulated in UN’s Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It is important to note that for most voters, gender is less of an issue, since voting patterns of Malaysians tend to follow along racial and communal lines. Therefore, political parties could have done more in promoting and placing women candidates to represent them, as it would not be a decisive factor.

In terms of strategy of campaigning, there is nothing new on BN and PH side. The former continues with ceramah kelompok focusing on local issues, while the latter continues to employ big rallies that focus on national issues.

The major difference in approach is by PAS, who have not been holding big rallies – their trademark when they were in the opposition coalition – opting instead for ceramah kelompok and house-to-house canvassing. For PAS, big rallies are only attended by the converted, while ceramah kelompok is more useful in disseminating information to members, and house-to-house canvassing is more effective in convincing fence-sitters.

Based on local observations, early vote by uniformed personnel and intense online discussions, voter turn-out will likely be high, owing to a conducive election mood nationwide. However, do not expect there to be a ‘Malay Tsunami’ come election day. One can also say that the “Malay Tsunami” already happened in 1998, and we have entered a new era of Malay voting patterns since then. Against the backdrop of political uncertainty and real life economic challenges, the real task will be in getting new voters out to vote.

Badrul Hisham Ismail is the Program Director of Iman Research

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