The results from Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau are but definite proof that more than a year after March 8, 2008, the people are still resolved to show their discontentment and complete unhappiness with the ways of the Barisan Nasional in general and UMNO in particular. It is also conversely a display of strengthening support for Pakatan Rakyat, regardless of the apparent ideological and political differences in the allegiance of the 3 political parties of which it consists.
That the two by-elections are won by the Pakatan Rakyat with increased majority is of course a cause for concern for the BN and the newly minted Prime Minister, Najib Razak. Add in the fact that the whole might of the BN’s election machinery – including government machinery – was at full steam to ensure a BN victory, the win by Pakatan Rakyat is conclusively a mega achievement in the true spirit of the proverbial David and Goliath fight.
The BN has done everything within its power to win these two by-elections. The whole cabinet could be seen campaigning tirelessly in the two areas. Hotshots from the Federal Capital converged the two areas and lighted the campaign trail. Amidst the cries of reforms from within UMNO and the euphoria of a new found “unity” – when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi held the hand of Mahathir Mohammad and Najib Razak at the closing ceremony of the recently concluded UMNO General Assembly – as well as the installation of Najib Razak as the nation’s 6th Prime Minister, the campaign started and was conducted with such intensity that any independent observer would be hard pressed to think of a PR victory, let alone with an increased majority.
No stone was left unturned by the BN to woo the voters. Schools were visited by the Minister of Education. Rhetoric was aplenty – where Muhyiddin Yassin’s call for the “slaughter” of Nizar for the latter’s apparent treasonous behaviour towards the Sultan has to take the cake and its icing too – as well as name calling and the usual brow beating. (It was quite a disappointment though when the “Class F contract vending machine” which was used during the Kuala Trengganu by-election was nowhere to be seen this time). Concerts by scantily clad Chinese lady singers were even thrown by the BN at a fishing village attended by, non other than the defender of the Muslim faith, Zahid Hamidi who later famously proclaimed that the Chinese culture must be respected.
As the new Prime Minister, Najib Razak made a refreshing inaugural speech, releasing 13 ISA detainees and promising a comprehensive review of the ISA; singing the oft repeated unity, one Malaysia and fairness slogans as well as inviting all Malaysians to embark on a great journey with him. This was expected to make an impact on the voters.
The most startling show was of course reserved for the grand old man of UMNO, Mahathir Mohammad. After Najib Razak was installed as the PM, Mahathir Mohammad rejoined UMNO. He then happily hit the campaign trail, campaigning for the party which he proclaimed as a “corrupt party” just about a week before. It was thought that Mahathir Mohammad would take the by-elections by storm and galvanise the voters to support the BN.
The Pakatan Rakyat, on the other hand, had to face obstacle after obstacle in their campaign. Their rallies were invaded by the Federal Reserve Unit. Acid laced water was sprayed at the attendees. In Bukit Selambau, the police moved in without warning and even fired tear gas at the crowd attending a PR rally. When permits were given, unreasonable conditions were imposed. A certain dead Mongolian woman’s name was even prohibited by the police from being mentioned by the PR in any of its rallies. A person caught selling that particular woman’s mask was arrested. And leading to the campaign, the Suara Keadilan and Harakah – the PKR’s and PAS’s respective publications – were suspended from publication for 3 months by the Home Ministry.
The state owned mass media were of course playing their old games of blowing the BN horn while puking at everything which the PR did. Interviews with the BN supporters who would laud the “development brought about” by the BN government were shown every day and night. The newspapers were full of praise for the BN and its leaders. Not a single teeny weeny good report was made about the PR. That is what they call “balanced and factual” reporting.
Despite it all, PR still won the two by-elections. What went wrong for the BN? If it needs more than 3 minutes for the BN or UMNO to find out what went wrong for them, then may I suggest that the party be dissolved forthwith.
First of all it shows that the people don’t believe what the state owned or mainstream mass media are saying anymore. Everything they say is being disbelieved or at the very least taken with a huge cup of sodium chloride. The younger voters now are a sophisticated and educated lot. They scourge the internet for alternative news. It is, rightly or wrongly, set in their mind that whatever is being said by the mass media is a lie and conversely everything which is said on the internet is the truth. Can they be blamed for that? If the BN thinks that elections could be won by massive propaganda, positive or negative, through the mass media, it is completely ignorant of reality. The people now laugh at all the so called news and “balanced reporting” by the mass media. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that mass propaganda undertaken by the BN spectacularly backfired!
Secondly, the people just do not believe all the cries and slogans for “reform” and “change”. A case in point is the apparent differences between what the UMNO leadership is saying and what its grassroot leaders were saying at the UMNO Assembly. While Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib Razak pledged and in fact pleaded for reforms and changes, the speeches from the delegates were talking about filling up the GLCs and Universities with UMNO people! They were talking about withdrawing scholarships from those students who dare oppose UMNO. They were talking about how UMNO should wantonly use its powers when the powers are still with it.
Viewed from that perspective, Najib Razak’s release of the 13 ISA detainees and the promise of a comprehensive review of the ISA also backfired. While the true intention was doubted by the people, such move was also seen and perceived as a victory of sorts by the people. In their mind, that was the effect of the people’s pressure on the government. In their mind, if the people would unite to pile on the pressure, perhaps more detainees would be released and the ISA abolished. And so, in their mind, they were saying, let pile on more pressure by voting for PR.
Thirdly, the BN should be mindful that we are all now living in the 21st century, a new millennium. Character assassination don’t work anymore. Calling a person a traitor without basis don’t work. Spreading nude pictures of a PR MP don’t work. Opening up blogs to call really bad names against the opposition candidate don’t work. The people want engagement. The people are now smart enough to desire an intellectual engagement. Calling name is so passe!
Fourthly, the people now want answers and they want them fast. And clear. Parochialism is a thing of the past. Even the Malays are not easily bought by Ketuanan Melayu anymore. The people look at real issues which are affecting or may affect them. The economy. The sharing of the economic pie. Education. Justice. Fairness. An across the board enforcement of the law as opposed to selective one. These are close to the people’s heart nowadays.
If there is one thing which the people despise, and despise strongly at that, is hypocrisy. And this is the most important element. The advent of technology now makes it easy for the people to store data and facts and access the same within seconds. And it is just not kosher for politicians and leaders to say one thing and do completely the opposite and be found to have done completely the opposite.
In the two by-elections, the people came out, they saw and they conquered.