Monday, April 19, 2010

The Hulu Selangor BigTop Show

For folks paying attention to Hulu Selangor all this week, the campaign period is both a genuinely engaging pastime and a guilty pleasure.

We’ll consume all the news reports, blogposts and tweets in the hope of latching on to some genuine morsels that deserve to be weighed and considered — we’d like to think — by the P94 electorate before they cast their ballots on Sunday.

It’s all a rather bourgeois exercise by those among us who continue to wish for more issues-based campaigning from the candidates and their respective parties. We should know better, of course. Time and again it’s proven we’re stuck in the same rut.

In the end, we make do with the same old guilty pleasures: mud slinging, character assassinations, holier-than-thou morality plays and the associated gutter embellishments that colour our politics.

So, Mr Zaid Ibrahim used to enjoy a pint or two — which of course in Malaysian politics makes him the devil incarnate. So, Mr Kamalanathan says he sees nothing wrong with Perkasa’s agenda — which of course in Malaysian politics makes him nothing more than a stooge (technically worse than the devil, actually).

Perhaps the most damning of all for the electorate, is that the campaigning is almost never about which candidate, by the numbers, has the potential to serve their constituents better.

Often, it’s more about the big personalities from the two front-running factions along with promises of development and aid to be brought into the area (things that any elected government *should* be doing anyway, even if it were a coalition). Thankfully, since it’s Selangor the “developed state”, we’re spared the talk of tarred roads and basic utility.

Like a wrestling or gladiatorial bout these big party personalities will descend in formation (small frys first, building up to the main act) and make a bigtop show of it all, along with an entourage of prop supporters making up the numbers. Throw in the bearded lady and it’ll be a complete funfair, really.

For a whole week, the folks of Hulu Selangor are going to be made to feel like a million bucks (“take what they offer but vote with your conscience” remind the cynical among us).

Both BN and PR seem to happy to keep this status quo. It makes for relatively easier campaign strategising, it must be said — the same cookie-cutter approach works for any and all constituencies.

Pepper the campaign period with a few well-timed party-quitting stunts (even by relative unknowns), photo opportunities with some makciks and laughing it up with some salt-of-the-earth locals, and all’s good.

If by analogy the by-election campaign were a marketing contest, both PR and BN typically engage no higher than the Multi-Level Marketing (MLM), or direct marketing level. Like all MLMs, it’s never about the products (read: issues), it’s all about the purchase of influence and ensuring the downline votes are secured.

Among the candidates, there’ll be nothing to argue or debate in front of the electorate themselves. All the ceramahs are one-way occasions where gifted orators hold court without having to be second guessed or asked to justify any of their claims.

Then there are those “creative” banners, flyers (paragliders even) and poorly photoshopped images which come in too ample a supply to not have been a part of the planned party campaign machinery as opposed to something that could be passed off as the product of overzealous (yet strangely well-funded) “supporters.”

And oh boy, the stuff they spout at the ceramahs. Suffice it to say it’s far from PG-rated and not what you’d take your kids to. Indeed, I have no doubt that many of us would walk away from individuals who engage in this sort of mudslinging in real-life situations. Yet, when it comes to politics, all is game and acceptable. Outside, some of these selfsame politicians would even feign false modesty at the everyday harsh language we all partake in rather matter-of-factly.

Come to think of it, with tongue not-so firmly in cheek; perhaps the more discerning Hulu Selangor folks are better off with one of the independents — Mr V.S. Chandran or Mr Johan Mohd Diah — who have been ceremoniously ejected from their previous parties. At least they’ll be free of baggage and can properly serve the people.

Observers shouldn’t kid ourselves — we’ll forget about Hulu Selangor soon enough, followed by any other by-election that comes up between now and the next GE. I’m guilty as charged, too.

But those real issues of national importance that we continue to allow ourselves to be de-focused from thanks to both the PR and BN by-election campaign machinery; they are the ones that are going to be our collective undoing.

Let’s all keep our eyes on the ball for the sake of our Hulu Selangor neighbours.

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