IT WAS clear even to a layman that the 14th general election battles were largely fought in the digital world. Messages – good and bad, including political smear campaigns – were flying at the speed of light through cyberspace, spreading like gossip along the digital grapevine known as chat platforms.
It makes one wonder what role traditional campaign materials such as posters and bunting played in voters’ decision-making process. Did the proliferation of their banners along streets and other public places help a candidate to win?
Is it time candidates and political parties rethink and reduce the physical campaign materials that mostly end up in landfills after the elections?
StarMetro spoke to environmentalists, landfill experts and the public to better understand the situation.
Waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said the posters, bunting, and banners might have played a great role in the past, especially between the 1950s and 1990s.
He said it was the only way the voting public in the past could familiarise themselves with candidates, but it may be of less significance today with the availability of the Internet.
“I do not think people are moved to vote for someone based on the number of posters or party flags they see on the streets.
“In my view, these campaign materials are a waste of resources and we have to think green.
“It was more relevant in the past when there was a lack of an effective communication medium. Now we have good Internet access and easy availability of newspapers as well as other mass media to disseminate information, more so in urban areas.
“I strongly suggest that all local authorities and even the Election Commission set new regulations to encourage electoral campaigns in future to be environmentally-friendly,” said Theng.
Malaysian Nature Society president Henry Goh said all political parties and their candidates tapped into social media to campaign during GE14.
He acknowledged that while bunting and banners bearing the candidates’ faces and their campaign theme were informative, party flags mattered less to the public.
“Those uncollected items will eventually be taken down by the local authorities and will end up in the landfill.
“Some of the items are not recyclable either, so this must change in the future,” he added.
Environmentalists and Organic Farming project coordinator Tan Siew Luang said the election candidates should practise self-regulation in how they discard their campaign materials.
“Instead of regulations set by the authorities, the political parties, candidates and even the public should have guidelines on what they would do with their used items.
“In GE14, some parties did cut down on these materials.
“Bunting and banners with faces of candidates were only placed at strategic locations.
“I feel candidates’ posters, showing their faces, are still relevant but party flags especially the small ones could be minimised,” said Tan.
She urged political parties to carry out more surveys regarding the suitability of locations to display these items instead of randomly placing them on streets, which might also obstruct motorists’ view.
MBPJ Waste Management and Public Cleansing Department director Lee Lih Shyan said: “Personally speaking, these campaign materials did not shape my judgement about a candidate.
“If we are moving towards circular economy and (3R) reduce, reuse, recycle, then these items must be recycled.
“Of course, the bottomline is there should be equal rights, so candidates are free to choose whatever method to get their message across,” he said.
SS20 Damansara Utama Rukun Tetangga chairman Eileen Thong said the posters and banners by the roadside did not influence her decision on which candidate to vote for.
“In this day and age, I felt the money could have been better spent on other aspects instead of printing so many campaign materials.
It did come across as a waste,” she said.
Petaling Jaya Section 14 resident Selva Sugumaran said it seemed to him there was an excess of party flags in Kuala Lumpur compared to his neighbourhood in Petaling Jaya.
“I think the candidates with more funds spent a lot more on these materials compared to others.
“Some had so many party materials but this was not reflected in the election results.
“I feel this should have been better regulated.
“Items must be at least be printed locally, which will help our economy instead of being printed abroad and imported,” he pointed out.
Gasing Indah Rukun Tetangga chairman Eric Chew opined that people were more informed these days and there might be less need for printed campaign materials.
He said campaign materials were informative but if they are not recycled after the campaign period, it was a waste.
“We get to know our candidates through the campaign materials but they must be reused once elections are over,” said Chew.
Friends of Kota Damansara Jeffrey Phang said these campaign materials might be intended to have a psychological impact.
“However, they mattered less in GE14. When you see a lot of campaign flags from a party, you may have this perception that the party has a serious team.
“The GE14 results proved people were motivated by other factors,” he noted.