THE Cameron Highlands by-election ought to have been a cautionary tale on what not to do in an election campaign.
The fact that it was called because of a corrupt act of money politics brought into sharp focus the need to play it by the rules.
Instead, there were simply too many incidents of rules being flouted and it was ironic that a number of these incidents involved the very party whose complaints of wrongdoing led to the by-election being called.
“This by-election could have set the tone on what a clean and fair election should be like. But it was a cautionary tale that seems to have been wasted on the political players,” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.
Barisan Nasional’s Ramli Mohd Nor, the first orang asli to join Parliament, won with a majority that was five times more than the winning majority in the general election (GE14).
But as Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Sharkar Shamsuddin admitted, Barisan won on the strength of Malay and orang asli votes.
Pakatan Harapan candidate M. Manogaran’s support came largely from the Chinese and Indians.
“The racial divide makes me worry for the future,” said Sharkar, who is also the assemblyman for Lanchang, Pahang.
It is evident that the majority of Chinese still refuse to support Umno while the Malays reject DAP as anti-Malay and anti-Islam.
There are several conclusions to be drawn from the polls outcome.
The orang asli vote was very important but the glaring fact is that when Umno and PAS join forces, they can win without the help of the Chinese or Indians.
But Pakatan, even with overwhelming Chinese and Indian support cannot win without Malay votes.
There has clearly been a retreat in Malay support for Pakatan. The anti-Icerd rally was proof of that – and the ruling coalition could be inching towards dangerous terrain unless it can regain the confidence of the Malays.
It was quite a shock to Pakatan that despite the endless play-up of the FGV or Felda Global Venture scandal, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is still popular among the Felda settlers in the Cameron Highlands area.
The reason is that their lives were better under Najib than under the current government.
Another stunning thing about the by-election was the thrashing that Pakatan leaders had to endure from netizens, be it on Facebook or Twitter.
It has to do with the fact that the people judge you differently when you are in power and they expect more of you.
Moreover, this is the age of social media where everything and anyone is fair game, be it Pakatan’s attempt to use the forestry department vehicles to campaign or Chef Wan’s remark about wanting to slap Najib.
Both incidents were roundly scorched by Najib’s Facebook followers.
Things that netizens used to hurl at Barisan are now being directed at Pakatan leaders and it has been hell for them to be at the receiving end.
At the same time, much of Pakatan’s troubles were a result of own goals.
Manogaran scored the first own goal at the start of the campaign with that racist remark that Malays do not even want to buy kuih from orang asli.
Then, he broke election laws by entering a polling area wearing a shirt with the Pakatan logo.
And after all that, he accused Barisan of playing the race card, causing a storm on the Internet.
One netizen said: “Barisan played the race card, you played the stupid card.”
In contrast, his opponent Ramli could be the first Barisan candidate to have not said anything stupid during a campaign.
Actually, he did not say anything of significance at all but his credentials as an ex-police officer from the Semai tribe put him in a class of his own.
Even the once untouchable Lim Kit Siang was not spared especially after he made what could be one of the greatest boo-boos of his career when he offered to give full citizenship to the orang asli if they voted for Pakatan.
The DAP leader was also heckled by Malay diners when he and Manogaran tried to lead a lion dance troupe into a restaurant.
Lim and Najib were the two leading and opposing figures throughout the campaign.
Lim has been so successful at blackening Najib’s image among the Chinese base but nothing Lim said seemed to resonate on Malay ground.
He looked ancient, his speaking style is out-of-date and his Bahasa Malaysia is terrible.
DAP needs a younger and more contemporary face and voice to reconnect with the Malays and to connect with the millennials whom, as former Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi pointed out, will decide the next general election.
There is no denying that Najib, despite his 1MDB troubles, played an important role in the Barisan campaign.
He was the one the orang asli wanted to see, hear and touch.
He has somehow mastered the art of social media and his FB postings can draw as many as 25,000 likes within hours as well as thousands of comments.
A video of him driving a jeep through the rushing waters of a river got more than 53,000 views.
He has four million followers on Twitter, 3.7 million on Facebook and 556,000 on Instagram.
But more than that, he has ignited some sort of Malay groundswell especially after the way he took on Pakatan leaders like the Lim father-and-son team as well as Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad during the highland campaign.
Some imagine that he is trying to make a comeback but they could not be more wrong.
Najib’s resurgence has to do with the fact that he is willing to be the opposition voice that Malays are looking for to articulate their discontent with the current government.
Najib’s “Malu apa Bossku” slogan has struck a chord with the younger set of the B40 who obviously do not like leaders who constantly label them as lazy.
“Malu apa” means “so what?” and it encapsulates that anti-establishment sentiment of the underclass.
He has tapped into the discontent of this group of young Malays who feel marginalised at the moment.
The Cameron Highlands polls gave Najib the stage to project his newfound role as a leading opposition figure and it is possible that he helped Barisan extend their Malay support beyond Cameron Highlands.
But will he be able to bring his opposition voice to the next stop in the Semenyih by-election?
Source : The Star