GE13: The sly persuasion for votes

  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 10 Apr 2013

Nazi-era propaganda still being used to prop up support and smear rivals.

HERE’S a solemn promise from one “phantom voter”: I will be back to cast my ballots on polling day.

Self-appointed polls watchdogs can question the place of my domicile but I’m a registered voter in the Kota Melaka parliamentary constituency and the Banda Hilir state seat.

And I’m no newbie to the show because the next general election would be my eighth consecutive polls since 1978.

But I must confess that I have not lived in the constituency continuously throughout the 35-year period.

Before the 1982 elections, I was working for the now defunct National Echo and based in Kuala Lumpur.

The memory of riding my trusty old Honda Cub a night earlier just to vote before making the return trip back to work remains clear.

The southern stretch of the North-South Expressway then was only between Seremban and Kuala Lumpur.

The bumpy ride on the winding road via Alor Gajah, Simpang Ampat and Pulau Sebang before hitting the highway was still worth the trouble.

It was a lot easier to vote in the 1986, 1990, and 1994 elections when I was based in the state as The Star’s staff correspondent.

But by today’s reckoning, I’m regarded a “phantom voter” because I don’t live in the constituency.

Sure, no one at the polling stations for the state and parliamentary constituencies would recognise me as a “local” today.

But despite having lived in Kuala Lumpur since 1994, I chose to return to vote in the parliamentary and state seats in the 1999, 2004 and 2008 elections because I still regard the historical city as home.

The stilted old kampung house in Jalan Panjang (now Jalan Laksamana Cheng Ho) where I grew up might have collapsed by now.

I can’t tell for sure because even the access road to the lane has been fenced off.

In any case, Kota Melaka, where DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang made his political debut in 1969 despite hailing from Batu Pahat, Johor, has largely remained the party’s fortress.

The constituency has often been described as a DAP stronghold although the largely Chinese–based opposition party has lost some states seats within it.

The most shocking defeat was suffered by Kit Siang in 1982 when he decided to move from the Kubu state seat to stand against former bodybuilder (now Datuk Wira) Gan Boon Leong, then a political unknown.

No one gave Gan, the Barisan Nasional candidate from MCA who once held the Mr Asia title, a chance to beat Kit Siang.

All the more so when he mostly conducted his campaign at traffic light junctions in town, pleading with voters to give him a chance.

But against the odds, Gan won and emerged the giant killer of the elections, proving yet again the unpredictability of political contests.

As it turned out, the people of the state constituency decided to support Gan for Banda Hilir and Kit Siang for Parliament.

Such sentiments may seem highly unlikely these days with the noxious level of political acrimony.

But is there a method to determine how people decide when it comes to voting?

According to political scientists, voters rely on three rule-of-thumb strategies to make up their minds.

The mental shortcuts, called heuristics in psychology, are Affect, Ideology and Attribution of Responsibility.

Affect is simply based on the factor of likes and dislikes. If one likes a politician, he or she is likely to vote for the person over another who is not as likeable.

Peer pressure is another form. People are also likely to support someone whom their friends and family members prefer.

As for ideology, it is natural for people to tend to identify themselves with others with similar beliefs and leanings, like in the case of Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat supporters.

They would vote for a candidate from their bloc no matter what his or her shortcomings because they regard themselves as followers of the same crowd.

The third factor is based on how blame is attributed for failures of the person or the party in question, as in whether it is the individual or the system that is wrong.

But the reality is that when it comes to politics, people end up being persuaded mostly by propaganda.

Its defining goal is to control what people believe and to retain ideas which they consider to be undeniably true.

Political parties, some more so than the others, tend to use propaganda to prop up their ideals as the only truth and malign rivals as obviously wrong, rotten to the core or downright wicked.

It is the sly persuasion of large groups of people who should really know better.

And truth is little has changed since the days of the notorious Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister in 1933.

Among his key principles were:

> Propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and spread through attention-getting media;

> Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans;

> Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying targets for hatred; and

> Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies but offer some form of action or diversion, or both.

Recognise their use today, especially in cyberspace?

Yes, the main tenets of Goebbels’ propaganda are still very much alive, even here in Malaysia.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan thinks this explanation of politics by Mao Ze Dong is most apt: Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.

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Politics , Government , voting in GE13


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