Friday January 18, 2013
On your mark, get set, go...
By WONG SAI WAN
FOR those of you who missed it, the race for the 13th general election started in earnest last Saturday as both sides of the political divide showed off their political might with different strategies.
Pakatan Rakyat held its massive Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat at Stadium Merdeka, with its supporters marching in from their usual gathering points in a show of strength.
The numbers were huge but far short of the million-man march they were boasting about.
However, Barisan Nasional had a different strategy in its kick-off to the polls when it set out to woo the very people who empowered the Opposition in 2008 – the Indian community. On Saturday, Barisan boss Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak went to Semenyih to attend a gathering organised by the Indian Progressive Front (IPF).
The next day, he headed to Klang to join the community there in celebrating Ponggal.
It is almost a reversal of roles when compared with the run-up to the dissolution of Parliament in 2008, when the Indian community were the darlings of the Opposition and welcomed the likes of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as heroes to the chants of Makkal Sakthi.
Barisan, then led by Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, adopted the “show strength by numbers” strategy with the usual massive gatherings as adopted by his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
There were, of course, other factors, apart from the numbers game, which resulted in the 2008 political tsunami. But one of the consequences of the 12th general election is the rise of the political strategists, now being used by all political parties.
Previously, such people would be “employed” by some think-tank and remained in the background, and their advice would be kept from those who are not part of the inner circle. However, almost every political party now has a chief strategist position and these people speak openly of their role, just like their US counterparts.
All of us have heard of PKR’s chief strategist Rafizi Rahim after his famous expose of certain Barisan leaders.
The DAP has appointed ex-Gerakan think-tank fellow Dr Ong Kian Ming as its chief strategist.
Barisan has a slew of advisers, ranging from political thinkers to ex-newsmen and even corporate figures.
Former Ambassador to the United States, Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis, is also among such advisers to Najib, although many see him as the person who is to sieve through the numerous advice the Prime Minister gets each day.
Both sides have had their thinkers huddled up for years to come up with a strategy for this mother-of-all-battles. However, I doubt the leaders will accept everything that these strategists and advisers have mapped out. I am sure the leaders will have their own input.
Pakatan seems settled on using huge rallies as a way to gather their votes especially after the successes of Bersih 2.0 and 3.0, as well as Saturday’s Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat.
They want to batter their opponents into submission with large gatherings ala Arab Spring with the hope that it will give the impression that they have wide support.
The perception game is important in any election, what more in what is supposed to be the mother-of-all-elections. The impression of massive support is just as important as the actual support as it will influence the actual votes cast on polling day.
Dr Mahathir’s Barisan used this to great effect in the 1980s and 1990s, where massive “meet-the-people” sessions were the order of the day. Journalists could easily tell how close the elections were then, as Barisan would have more and more of such organised gatherings.
This is not lost on Anwar who was then part of this team.
Najib’s Barisan has decided to take a more straightforward approach by dealing with the issues directly and specifically.
So on Saturday, Najib fixed his attention on the Indian community, who had supposedly abandoned Barisan, in the hope of reversing the trend. Prior to 2008, the Indian votes were considered a sure thing for the federal ruling coalition.
However, many have acknowledged that the community lit the spark in the 12th general election and threw their support behind Pakatan.
Word on the street is that the trend is now reversing as the community supposedly feels left out by the upbeat Pakatan.
Barisan is bent on exploiting this.
Another clear indication that the starter’s gun has been fired for this 13th general election race is the realisation that the deadline is actually March 21 and not April 28 as widely expected.
March 21 is the date when the Johor State Assembly tenure expires while April 28 is when the Parliament term ends. It is widely accepted that Najib wants a general election for all (except Sarawak, which held theirs in 2011) and would therefore need to see the King to dissolve Parliament before March 21.
Except for a few candidates, I am sure that most of the people on both sides already know who is contesting where.
The next 10 weeks will be critical for all sides in this marathon that started 58 months ago – a marathon that will quickly move into a full-fledged sprint.
> Executive editor Wong Sai Wan (firstname.lastname@example.org), who has covered the past seven general elections, is expecting to witness more history being made as both sides pull out all the stops.