Lessons for Malaysia from Hong Kong polls campaign methods

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There are fewer buntings and posters and the election campaigning is more personal, observes Turtle Shell.

I am able to observe the Hong Kong legislative council elections due on 4 September at close quarters. No, not in an official capacity but as a resident here for the past two-plus months. As one who has been politically conscious, I would like to share some observations in relation to Malaysia’s elections.

I am staying in a residential area, and even though I am not in Hong Kong as a tourist, I have been to several locations here. If you miss the banners and posters of the candidates at strategic locations, you would not even be aware the elections are coming up.

This is something our election campaigning in Malaysia can emulate. All the buntings and flags flown during the campaign period in the run-up to our elections are a waste of precious resources especially for the opposition parties.

Even before the RM2.6bn donation to Najib, the Umnoputras already had extensive financial resources. For the Umnoputras, those items must represent a form of ‘dedak’-feeding for its supporters.

It is the opposition parties that I hope will strike new ground. Walk the path less travelled – free those financial resources for a more meaningful manner of campaigning.

This brings me to my second point. The campaigning in Hong Kong is more personal. In my residential area, I have received personal campaign leaflets of all the candidates vying for a seat in the legislative council. Each leaflets detail the candidate’s personal information: reason for candidacy, qualifications, previous social work, the candidate’s policy position in the council and other information that could sway voters.

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Rather than just the party manifesto in our country, the opposition parties in Malaysia can try this approach especially in those constituencies where the margin of victory against the Umnoputras in GE13 was narrow.

In the rural hinterland, we have to concede the publicity battle to the Umnoputras. But the finances freed can be used for sending more volunteers to go house-to-house to disseminate news that the mainstream media have not published.

I find it hard to accept that our rakyat in those areas are not bothered about the 1MDB scandal as they cannot conceptualise the US$7bn purportedly defrauded from 1MDB [according to some analysts]. If they know how much BR1M can be increased per household, for example, I am sure the import of the scandal will also be felt.

They may be simple folks but I believe they are religious and moral people; so I find it hard to believe they do not find 1MDB scandalous and shameful to our nation.

I have not seen any large-scale open-air ceramah in Hong Kong, but all candidates are given air time to debate one another’s positions on issues of interest.

In Malaysia, the Umnoputras’ control of the mainstream media will not allow that. For change to take place in our country, the rakyat in the rural hinterlands must be on board. They have to be convinced the change envisaged will improve their lot.

It may be an uphill battle, and we must be realistic not to expect instant results. Just look at the DAP in Sarawak. But the DAP should still be proud even though it did not win any of the rural seats it contested: doing good, improving the livelihood of those rural rakyat should be its own reward, for the time being.

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With resources freed from the buntings and flags, perhaps a mobile information van could be deployed to cover strategic hinterland areas to ensure information about the corruption enveloping Putrajaya is disseminated. It might not make an impact this time around but each opposition party having an information van would be a good start.

A start has to be made. The next general election is almost upon us, but other than the incessant bickering I hear from the opposition parties, there has been no news of efforts on their part to reach the rakyat in the rural hinterland (except, perhaps for Sarawak DAP).

“Adapt, Leave or Die,” commented one cynic referring to the choice facing Hong Kong voters. This is is in the context of efforts to win greater democracy for Hong Kong from mainland China.

I will modify it to Leave, Adapt or Change for ourselves.

In Malaysia, we know many of our rakyat have chosen to Leave. We wish them well in their adopted homelands.

Many others have Adapted and joined the ranks of the Umnoputras. Those of us still concerned about our motherland but unhappy with the status quo have also Adapted.

But among these, there are many working for Change. Yes, I will concede it is now a distant dream as opposed to the euphoria after 2008. Yet, we must plod on. Not to do so is not an option. Not to do so is to allow the forces of evil and gloom to totally envelope our beloved country.

Turtle Shell is the pseudonym of a regular reader of Aliran.

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