For such a long time, subtle threats to race, religion, unity and chaos have been grist to the mill used as populist fodder for many politicians.
Fed up with continuous fear-mongering, poll-watchers wish for the debate in the run-up to GE14 to focus on issues that matter and for the protagonists not to insult the intelligence of prospective voters.
Observers say that Malaysia is a matured democracy where politics with the culture of fear should be a relic of the past. Politicians and institutions that are in charge of upholding the integrity of elections therefore should also be more aware of their roles to inform voters, rather than using tactics merely to scare them.
Politicians and institutions that are in charge of upholding the integrity of elections therefore should also be more aware of their roles to inform voters, rather than using tactics merely to scare them.
The people should be provided proper arguments as to why they should part with their votes.
At a forum recently, potential candidate for the next General Election Maria Chin said the debate must not stray“ into contentious territory that “instills fear” into voters.
She referred to the considerable percentage among voters who do not go out to vote during elections despite being registered voters.
“If in future, (Malaysians) do not go out and vote, we will continue with the culture of fear. The conscience level of voters have reached a better level and politicians should not use loaded words to create fear. If we let them (politicians) to put the fear into us to speak out and vote, we may fail this country. I have faith in the people to vote right,” said Maria.
She was speaking at a forum titled ‘Warring the Culture of Fear’, along with panellists from opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and psychologist Professor Madya Dr Hamdan Salleh.
All three panellists said that such tactics may soon not work as Malaysian voters become more educated of their rights as voters.
Psychologist Hamdan said that as politics in Malaysia is full of impossibilities and ‘unsangkarable’ sic (the most unexpected), the culture of fear is used again and again by politicians in every election.
“How do you convince those who are sitting on the fence, as sooner or later, the fence will poke them in the rear?” asked Hamdan.
As to why politicians tend to use the culture of fear more among the Malay voters, Hamdan said this is because Malays form the biggest bank of voters and not because they are easily frightened.
As this is the target group of politicians who need their support to survive, it is natural for politicians to focus on them.
Saifuddin meanwhile said that it is thus logical for threats to be used by politicians from both sides to play on the mindset of Malay voters, using religion, race and unity as their shifting goalposts.
Psychologist Hamdan said that as politics in Malaysia is full of impossibilities and ‘unsangkarable’ (the most unexpected), the culture of fear is used again and again by politicians in every election.
He said that there is much labelling and smearing involved, when politicians try to sway votes their way.
“There is the good and the bad kind of fear. If there is too much fear, we (politicians and voters) will lose focus,” said Saifuddin, adding that the good kind of fear is the fear of corruption and abuse of power.
The bad fear, he said, is that of believing the threats of politicians who play up tragedies and paint potential chaos while capitalising on the vulnerability of voters, who fear to lose what they have.
Saifuddin explained that as General Election looms, the finesse of fear-mongering will be intensified – along with head-spin and hate speech.
He said such fear-mongering should not be tolerated by Malaysian voters, for this will lead to the demonization of the concepts of democracy as voters will choose because they are afraid and not because the candidate is the right man for the job.
When asked if the opposition would counter fear-mongering with fear itself, Saifuddin said that is out of the question, as this will be akin to insulting the intelligence of the voters of a democracy.
“We have a lot of respect for the voters and voters have dignity,” said Saifuddin.
Psychologist Hamdan said that memes of images and narratives of racial profiling and religion are main elements in the fear-mongering by politicians.
He likens this to brands such as “Pampers” to mean diapers, “Colgate” to mean toothpaste and “Milo” to mean any chocolate drink.
He said that memes are used in psy-war to create negative perception to play up on the emotions of the people which will then be translated to behaviour.
He said the words such ‘towel’, ‘kipidap’ and ‘keranda’ are political memes used among the Malays.
“To counter fear-mongering, there is no point in bringing thick books, for Malaysians like short stories but they do not want to read,” said Hamdan turning to colloquialism simplistically.
The forum was moderated by Ahmad Fahmi Samsuddin and organised by Institut Darul Ehsan.