By Koon Yew Yin
The recently concluded mammoth Stadium Merdeka rally – Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat – has provided a much needed infusion of new life into the opposition campaign. Although they have invigorated their challenge to Barisan Nasional (BN) rule, opposition leaders must realize that they have an uphill battle to dislodge BN from power.
Instead of boasting or congratulating themselves on what they have achieved at the rally, it is essential that the opposition parties work harder in taking the fight especially to the Barisan strongholds.
The next few months will be crucial. The opposition must only show that it is alive and kicking. Pakatan Rakyat (PR) needs to prove that it is the superior coalition to run the country. The campaign to convince Malaysians to vote for change can work if PR keeps in mind the following key strategies.
Strategies to ensure electoral victory for PR
Run a principled and ethical campaign. Malaysian voters know that the BN is a party that thrives on spinning and dirty tricks. From race baiting to inciting religious sentiments to demonization of the opposition, BN are masters of the sleazy campaign. The PR should not emulate the BN. Fight a clean campaign. This will resonate with the basic positive values and good sense of Malaysians.
PAS and DAP must not kill the coalition by disagreement on religious concerns or any other part of their manifesto. Loose cannons end up shooting at themselves and their allies instead of the opponents. Every small dispute will be magnified by the mass media which is more one-sided and partisan than in the 2008 elections. PR leaders from the top down must remember that discretion and opening their mouths only when necessary is the art of the political war.
Design an innovative campaign aimed at the grassroots and heartland of UMNO and BN support. Mobilize election teams to fan out in swing constituencies to show that there is stronger inter-racial unity and solidarity among the opposition coalition parties while focusing on the common needs of the Malay or non-Malay electorate.
Develop a progressive outreach that can incorporate the concerns of the smaller but nevertheless significant minority voters such as Indians and natives of East Malaysia.
Focus on the fixed deposit vote bank of the BN amongst civil servants and Felda and other rural voters. These two constituencies are the likely game changers.
PR must especially focus on the Malay electorate which once again are having peanuts thrown at them in the BN’s desperate attempt to bribe their way into power again. This should not be a major obstacle as Malays have woken up and are fully aware of the cronyism and corruption costing hundreds of billions of ringgit which have enriched a small elite of UMNO and BN leaders and insiders.
Target a campaign focusing on national issues such as the high cost of living; crime and insecurity; lack of employment opportunities; decline in education standards, etc. but don’t ignore or underestimate the power of local issues.
The water issue in Selangor and the attempt by Syabas and Rozali to use water as a weapon to bring down the Selangor government has backfired. This issue alone is worth hundreds of thousands of votes. Feature the ordinary man in the street in Cheras and Ampang Jaya having to queue up for their daily water and their views – this will be more effective than having opposition politicians give long speeches and blast at BN misdeeds during ceramahs .
In Perak my home state, the palace coup which brought down the legitimate PR government is a major sore point with many citizens. But there are new issues which should be brought into the campaign. Perak has a large Felda, Indian and Orang Asli population. They are well aware of the mismanagement and greed of previous BN regimes. Their votes will go to PR only if the opposition can convince the masses that they will do a better job of running the state and resolving the problems of the rakyat.
Energize first time, young and women voters to go to the polling booths, even if they may be located in Barisan-held constituencies. They may vote for the Barisan but do not discount the possibility of last minute switches in voting and party loyalty. For this possibility to emerge, PR must have their youth and women leaders and manifesto and empower them. From my observation at ceramahs, much time is given to the established leaders who often give long and boring SOS (same old stuff!) speeches. My suggestion: keep speeches short and sweet and provide a platform for women and young speakers. Remember about 50% of voters are female and the youth can convince their parents and relatives to vote wisely.
Finally, turn the BN’s superiority in media coverage, money, resources, manpower, state support, etc. to the PR’s advantage. Many Malaysians sympathize with the underdog especially if it has been unfairly tied up, beaten and abused by a superior authority that cannot stand any opposition. Remember all Malaysians dislike bullies. Voters understand that the BN has remained in power for so long not because of their virtues or honesty but because they have abused the electoral system and democratic process.
They all know that they and their children have been taken for a long downhill ride by the Barisan parties. All Malaysians are suffering from inflated water, toll, electricity and other high living costs. Every voter will have at least several experiences in which they and their families have suffered from the bad governance of BN. The election voting booth is the place to finally get themselves and the country on track towards a better future.