What kind of election campaign can we expect?

AS soon as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri, announced Parliament's dissolution on Oct 10, 2023, I found myself thinking about what I did when the previous Parliament was dissolved on April 7, 2018.

Back in 2018, I was in the thick of things, as they say.

I was tasked with managing the campaign of my boss, former Gerakan President Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, in Teluk Intan.

Since Mah’s slim victory against Dyana Sofya of DAP in the 2014 Teluk Intan By-Election, my team and I worked very hard to ensure we could replicate that victory in the next general election.

I remember going home, packing my clothes and belongings, and taking a rather large suitcase because I expected to be in Teluk Intan for a month or more.

After wishing my parents goodbye and speaking to my girlfriend (now wife), I set off on the morning of April 9, 2018, for what was an eventful one month that culminated in Barisan Nasional’s defeat on May 9, 2018.

So, what kind of election campaign can we expect this time around?

The announcement by Ismail that he is calling for early elections was met with less excitement than before.

Some expressed anger because it's flood season.

Some expressed relief because the political uncertainty would come to an end.

Some expressed excitement because elections are a boon for certain businesses.

Some expressed worry because there is a fear this election may result in a hung parliament.

So, with all these conflicting emotions, some asked me how I felt.

First, I was happy I did not need to uproot myself again and head to Teluk Intan. As much as I love Teluk Intan and will always have a special place in my heart for its people, I do not have the stamina and wherewithal to run an election campaign or be a candidate. I have put it behind me because the loss of 2018 still brings very bad memories personally. I do not blame anyone, but democracy is unkind to losers.

I was also worried that many state governments might not dissolve their assemblies resulting in Malaysia having endless elections like India or the United States.

I was somewhat relieved that an election will do some good to bring certainty to Malaysia's vexed political landscape and possibly settle some of the political issues we face.

The new government will have a sufficient "landing" to tackle the many difficult issues facing our country, especially global stagflation and the impending recession.

However, it has been a week since Parliament was dissolved, but nothing has fallen into place.

Only three state governments, Perak, Pahang and Perlis, have dissolved their assemblies.

Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan have made it clear that they will not be dissolving the state assemblies where they form the government.

At the same time, all the major political coalitions are huddled in discussions over seat sharing, candidates, and campaign management.

In the 2013 and 2018 elections, respectively, I was deeply involved in this process. To give readers some perspective, this is how it generally works.

Barisan, Perikatan and Pakatan leaders will all meet to decide which seats each of their respective components should contest. This process is easier for Barisan and Pakatan because both are established coalitions with traditional seats allocated to each component

party. Some seat swapping will occur, but I do not expect it to be significant.

As for Perikatan, it is a little more complicated because it is facing its first general election.

Both Pas and Bersatu will have to divide up the Malay-majority seats, and for Gerakan and the Sabah-based parties, it ought to be more straightforward. Still, they will have to compete with Bersatu's non-Malay associate members.

After this is done, the individual parties will meet to decide on their candidates. This is always painful because many want to be candidates, but tickets are limited. But this time, I am told the excitement of candidature is not as robust as it was in the past because resources are limited, and many are in for a tough fight.

For Gerakan, candidates will normally be asked to put in a written resume, but the best candidate is not always selected because party warlords and internal politics always factor into the equation.

For example, in the 2018 general election, Gerakan replaced a popular assemblyman in a state seat in Johor because the state party chief wanted his man as the candidate. We lost the seat, and the dejected assemblyman left the party.

After the Election Commission announces the polling and nomination dates, expect things to heat up with posters and buntings appearing everywhere.

However, this time, I also sense a general lack of motivation and foreboding, compared to the last general election.

Some attribute this to resentment over how we changed Prime Minister three times in the term of the last Parliament. In contrast, others feel voting is pointless because politicians rarely keep their promises.

I would caution against apathy. Voting is a sacrosanct obligation of every Malaysian aged 18 and above.

Further, with the anti-hopping laws in place, we will not see the political somersaults we witnessed in the past.

But as the respective coalitions present their manifestos and election chatter heats up – I expect the excitement and interest to increase as well.

At the same time, it would be good to attend the hustings and see what candidates have to say. I expect to be doing that.

I also hope Malaysians look more at the candidate than the party.

In the last election campaign, many told me Mah was a perfect gentleman from the wrong party. Maybe this time, people will be more open to giving candidates like Mah a chance to do some good.

But we must vote because as the saying goes "rakyat adalah hakim negara."

If Malaysians choose not to vote, we deserve the government we did not vote for.

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Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.


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