A US-style Presidential debate to round off a Malaysian General Election is still in the realm of distant pipedream – what the Malays say an event that will happen only when kucing bertanduk (which literally means cats sporting horns or for those of the porcine persuasion; like expecting pigs to fly).
But we got a hint of this delicious possibility just as candidates threw their best efforts in the remaining few hours before midnight when all GE14 campaigning officially ended. No such restrictions though apply on social media.
WhatsApp – the medium of choice for many Malaysians – continued to buzz with almost non-stop updates and counter banter attesting to the futility of such human-engineered made barriers.
There in the BN blue corner was Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak appearing on all television channels in a live 30-minute uninterrupted election special program from his Pekan home base– what in pop-culture speak could aptly be described as last kopek.
In the event, he announced a number of giveaways – tax exemption for the under-26ers, more money for civil servants and two-day holiday at the start of the month of Ramadan.
Over in the opposite corner – streamed live on social media and internet television; was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rally appearance in Pakatan’s light blue hue hoping to court support from Langkawi islanders but accessible nationwide.
Call it a head-to-head encounter by default, as this is as close as it gets to a real-live face-to-face debate.
It was a final confrontation nonetheless as both parties got the opportunity to voice out, send out and reach out simultaneously, not in physical confrontation – just that they were pitted against each other in the minds of the electorate in virtual reality.
With much of all the possible platforms of radio, television and print communication channels not universally available, the internet and social media offers a level playing field for all contestants.
And how did Ramli Sarip figure in the equation? He was one of the major rock and pop stars lined up to conveniently appear at an `eve-of-election’ concert in Langkawi. We shall not expose ourselves to litigation by hazarding a guess which entertainment impresario was behind this shindig.
There was the small matter of venue choice – boisterous music from the venue would be close enough to disrupt the concentration of those attending the Pakatan rally which Langkawians would aptly describe as merely sepelaung (audible by the strength of a single shout) by distance.
The pull factor no doubt was enhanced by the offer of lucky draw prizes quite apart from the musical attraction – however passe or waning some of the stars may be.
Back to the issue of debate debut which of course is up to GE overseer – the Elections Commission (EC), and the police; as parties (no pun intended) in the administrative and security processes that would have to buy this idea. At the rate we don’t appear to be progressing, perhaps our proverbial feline would actually need to sport a couple of horns first.
Hark back to nomination day April 28 – the 13th parliament was dissolved on April 7 having lasted two months short of its full term – and the tone of the proceedings was set.
The conduct of the EC following the setting of the election date and the omission of two prospective candidates from making it on to the ballot paper had put in under the spotlight. Its choice of a weekday for polling attracted a howl of protests. The law-abiding portal that we are, we will merely mention that the naughty promise of a long weekend promised by one party was sheepishly matched by the other – we do not want to be construed as campaigning.
There then followed the incident of an opposition party billboard being physically altered on the grounds that one of the three images on the poster was impermissibly featured.
Early voting came for scrutiny after a police report was lodged about identity theft.
Overseas voters have protested that they might well miss the boat due to the inefficiency of the postal system. Their ire was raised when caretaker Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed responded dismissively on their plight. Early on, he also raised the hackles of prospective voters when he described Cathay Pacific’s offer to waive financial penalties for flight rebooking as promoting regime change. (the airline offered not to penalise customers revising their bookings following the announcement of the election date in order to return home to cast their vote).
The Registrar of Societies (ROS) also received its share of attention following its strict interpretation of provisions governing the conduct and administration of political parties which were seen as high handed and equivocating.
The agency was created for the purpose of regulating the setting up, management and conduct of all manner of societies – including political parties. It attracted a lot of brickbats, at times showing a fussy demand for compliance, at others wielding a large dollop of laxity .
Such woes were soon put on the backburner once campaigning gained momentum into the second full weekend and the sound of polling day bells began to peal ever louder.
On the campaign trail, things began to heat up. The well-oiled, well-heeled party that it is, BN flags and campaign paraphernalia overwhelmed everyone else’s. The opposition on the other hand relied a lot on social media is to disseminate its message.
A couple of high profile corporate figures chose to hitch their flags on to BN’s masts while a number of former cabinet ministers chose to voice their discontent.
These individuals from all sides of the political divide at times have appeared to have come up with the darndest of statements, drawing a certain amount of public ridicule in the process.
Then there’s the subject of data manipulation. All sides must no doubt be aware of the surreptitious use – or abuse, as the case may be – and of the fate suffered by the now defunct Cambridge Analytica.
Technology has opened a whole can of worms with online browsing establishing behavioural patterns than have been harvested and used to great effect by the Russians in elevating Donald Trump to the US presidency.
Who is to say that unbeknownst to us, the very same thing is taking place which is somehow shaping our choice of candidate? Already, your You Tube viewing experience is being interrupted ever so annoyingly by overly long ambush advertisements with feel good storylines.
Now, since in no way did this editorial piece fall foul of our election laws; I can head to my designated polling station, confirm my name on the electoral list, dip my little pinky in ink, find my cosy booth and award an X to my choice of MP.
See you again in five years.