The trouble with a bubble

IN my political bubbles, the Oppo­sition has won GE14.

I’ve got two political bubbles. One comprises urban, middle-class people in the Klang Valley.

Those in the other bubble live in Kota Kina­balu or Penampang, and they are a mix of urban and rural, and middle-­class and working class.

Many of the voters in these two bubbles are pro-Opposition (but anti-­PAS). In GE13, the Opposition won in many of the Parliamentary seats – such as Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya Utara, Lembah Pantai, Kota Kinabalu and Penampang – in which those in these two bubbles voted.

The voters in the bubbles believe that Barisan Nasional will fall in GE14. Here’s a typical conversation I have with pro-Opposition voters in my Kota Kinabalu/Penampang bubble.

“This time Barisan will lose. Ini kali lah (This is the time),” said a 50-something Kadazan, who stu­died in the United States, and is a Penampang voter.

“Why do you think so?” I asked.

“I can feel it. People are against Barisan because of 1MDB and GST,” he said.

“Yes, you can feel it as that is the sentiment in your bubble. But how sure are you that people in other bubbles in Peninsular Malaysia share the same sentiment?” I argued.

“I can feel it that in Peninsular Malaysia they will vote for the Opposition,” he said.

“Have you actually gone to Peninsular Malaysia to get a feel of the voters?” I asked.

“I have read that the Opposition will win GE14,” he said.

At this stage, I was thinking of whether to change the subject to something trivial such as which beer brand he preferred, or conti­nue. My friend was into his seventh can of Tiger beer and contradicting his political beliefs might not be too wise. But I was already pumped up, so I continued.

“Barisan will win GE14,” I said, and I knew he immediately labelled me as a Barisan supporter. Regret­fully as my politics is more complicated than that.

“Yes, in your bubble you feel that Opposition will win. But that’s your bubble. There are other bubbles out there,” I said.

“What bubble?” he asked.

“Have you been in the rural Malay bubble in Peninsular Malay­sia?” I said.

He kept quiet and gulped his Tiger.

“I’ve been. I’ve gone to towns and kampungs in Kedah, Tereng­ganu and Johor and I have spoken to poli­ticians and villagers there,” I said.

For example, last year I was in Pontian, a coastal town in Johor. I had a chat with the 40-something owner of a hipster café (an eye-opener for me as I didn’t know small towns had hipster cafés).

The owner was a former accoun­tant in an oil and gas company. Times are bad for that industry and he decided to invest in his hometown.

After some small talk, me being me, I asked him directly, “Let me guess, you will vote for the Oppo­sition in GE14?”

“Why do you say so?” he countered.

“You have lived and worked overseas in Africa and Scotland and now you are an urbanite living in a small town. You are most probably angry that the ringgit is shrinking and you blame the government for that,” I said.

He laughed. He said he came from a family which supported the Opposition as his uncle was a PKR leader who might be contesting in GE14.

“How’s the mood in Pontian? Will the Opposition win here?” I asked.

“Not likely,” he said.

“Despite people making fun of Pontian MP Datuk Ahmad Maslan (who is Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister),” I said, playing the Devil’s Advocate.

“Outside of Pontian, people think he’s a joke. But most of the people here like him as he is approachable. He also helps the people,” he said.

“But with the current hate for Barisan, won’t these people vote against it,” I said, baiting him.

“You must understand that Umno DNA is entrenched with the voters especially those in the villages. Umno has taken care of them from birth until they die,” he said.

Coincidentally on Thursday, while I was thinking about the Malay bubble, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Wan Saiful Wan Jan WhatsApp-ed me a paper he has written, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in Johor: New Party, Big Responsibility.

In the paper, Wan Saiful noted that “among the ethnic Malays, the perceived threat of losing their political influence is often posed by those with vested interests as a threat to the survival of the entire ethnic group”.

Wan Saiful had interviewed Ma­­lay villagers in Johor and they told him that “the Malays in Johor may become like the Malays in Singa­pore if the DAP wins more seats because the party is a remnant of Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP).”

“They perceive the Malays in Singapore as being discriminated against by the Chinese-led PAP go­vern­­ment. No evidence was supplied to back up this claim,” he wrote.

Interestingly, Wan Saiful noted that even though many of them cited the example of Singapore Malays, none of the villagers has visited the country or know any Malays from Singapore.

You see, there are many political bubbles like that in Malaysia.

Politics is a numbers game and most probably the other bubbles outnumber your bubble.

Philip Golingai , One Man s Meat