From bicycles to ‘Squid Game’, Melaka election hopefuls find fresh ways to court voters in new normal campaigning

·4-min read
Billboards and banners featuring Barisan Nasional candidate Sulaiman Md Ali are seen in Lendu, Melaka November 15, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Billboards and banners featuring Barisan Nasional candidate Sulaiman Md Ali are seen in Lendu, Melaka November 15, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

MELAKA, Nov 17 — Political campaigners and candidates for the Melaka state election are thinking outside of the box as they try to engage with voters and present their narratives amid tight Covid-19 restrictions.

One way that they, together with party personalities, are adapting to make their presence felt is by attending small-scale meet-and-greets at restaurants or community centres, and even the odd football friendly between neighbouring kampungs.

The usual walkabouts have been largely replaced by candidates partaking in morning coffee or breakfast with fellow patrons, while taking the opportunity to introduce themselves or asking about issues that are troubling the local community.

Barisan Nasional’s (BN) candidate for Lendu, Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali, for example, usually engages in small talk rather than giving speeches, in an effort to circumvent the physical campaigning ban.

This is now the preferred approach for even new faces in the race, such as Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) candidate for Asahan, Danesh Basil.

Message on wheels

As for PN’s Bakri Jamaluddin, he hopped on his bike and cycled through several neighbourhoods in Kelebang, the constituency where he is standing for election.

Nor is he alone in this regard, with candidates born in their respective constituencies favouring this mode of transport to demonstrate that they are truly part of the community.

For political coalitions like BN, in particular Umno that relies on a huge party machinery to engage with voters, its campaigners are now relegated to distributing flyers to homes or erecting party banners or buntings.

These teams of three usually place campaign materials in mailboxes, but some try to strike up an impromptu conversation with homeowners caught pottering around their garden in a bid to cajole them to come out and vote.

At the start of the campaign period, the Election Commission (EC) issued a list of dos-and-don’ts for the Melaka state polls, including a ban on walkabouts, house-to-house visits and ceramah.

Candidates are also prohibited from using parked vehicles, such as trucks or vans equipped with loudspeakers, to deliver their ceramah.

However, they are now a ubiquitous sight, as all the contending political coalitions are deploying these vehicles, with recorded messages on full blast, to remote villages and bustling commercial centres alike.

PN’s candidate for Serkam, Ahmad Bilal Rahudin, relies on a variation on the theme: A bus plastered with the coalition’s logo along with images of its key leaders, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang, as a rolling billboard.

In addition, PN has lorries equipped with LED screens playing political messages that roam the state.

Red light, green light

Others have adapted pop culture trends, coupled with social media, to draw the most attention.

Campaigners for DAP, for example, have dressed up as characters from Netflix’s hit show Squid Game to hand out cards that mimic the now-iconic invitations to the fictional winner-takes-all contest.

Instead of a circle, triangle and square, the card simply reads: “Do you dare to take the challenge? Let’s win Melaka together.’’

Perhaps a touch more unusual is Datuk Norazlanshah Hazali, who is an Independent candidate in the four-cornered fight for the Serkam seat.

He walked along the constituency’s main roads, accompanied by his horse, whose saddle bore a poster with his name and chosen symbol of a pen.

While these two examples might be on the quirkier end of the spectrum, online campaigning and instant messaging apps are the primary means by which all candidates are relying on to reach voters.

PH, PN and BN have conducted talk shows, analysis, forums and interviews with candidates and other party personalities on a daily basis via their social media channels.

Nonetheless, traces of physical campaigning are evident, such as walkabouts by some candidates that have led to crowds forming in commercial or community centres.

To ensure compliance with Covid-19 restrictions, the EC and local authorities have set up an enforcement team to monitor all 112 candidates across the 28 seats that are up for grabs.

Melaka goes to the polls on November 20.

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