‘An election no one asked for’: How political fatigue and Covid-19 could scuttle voter turnout in Melaka

·7-min read
Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional flags are seen at a roundabout at Ayer Molek, Melaka, November 9, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional flags are seen at a roundabout at Ayer Molek, Melaka, November 9, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 13 — The prospect of low voter turnout for the Melaka state election is fast becoming a key concern for political campaigners on the ground as the lack of interest among the public is palpable.

When contacted by Malay Mail, campaigners and voters alike laid the blame squarely on the circumstances that led to the state election being triggered, with both groups sounding off that it was unnecessary, and ultimately, avoidable.

A Pakatan Harapan supporter is seen at the DAP operation room at Ayer Keroh, Melaka, November 7, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A Pakatan Harapan supporter is seen at the DAP operation room at Ayer Keroh, Melaka, November 7, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Survival first

A campaigner attached to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) campaign in Ayer Keroh, who asked to be identified only as Lim, stated that he would not be surprised if voter turnout fell below 40 per cent on November 20, which is polling day.

He said Melaka voters have other priorities now that the nearly three-month-long nationwide lockdown has ended.

“There is an underlying issue of whether paying attention to all this will eventually help people to earn a living. Many are attempting to restart their business, or settle other issues, or just trying to survive rather than bothering about the state election.

“While places like Jonker Street or Melaka town are seeing signs of life because tourists are slowly returning, this is not the case for the rest of Melaka. There are foreclosure signs and pulled-down shutters in so many other parts of the state.

“I have to admit, as a local who was born and raised in Ayer Keroh, while I want my party to win, I constantly remind my friends not to be tone deaf or condescending when persuading our neighbours to come out and vote.

“Because right now, the prevailing sentiment is that whatever the outcome, people will still get the short end of the stick, if all these political shenanigans were to happen again, when they took the risk of coming out to vote,” he said.

Pakatan Harapan’s Asahan candidate, Datuk Idris Haron is pictured during his campaign at Kg Jus, Selandar, Melaka, November 9, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Pakatan Harapan’s Asahan candidate, Datuk Idris Haron is pictured during his campaign at Kg Jus, Selandar, Melaka, November 9, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

‘People are fed up’

For Alex (not his real name), a PH political campaigner attached to the DAP election machinery in Gadek, the overall sentiment among voters is apathy.

“This is not the best time to be talking about politics, period. It may be fun for coffee shop talk and just to talk other parties down, but when this whole drama unfolded because of an ego trip, people are just fed up. Many think coming out to vote on a Saturday is not worth it, and then having the possibility of people jumping ships again.

“While we are working hard to convince people to come out and vote — telling them it is important to choose a good state government, something they have to live with for the next five years — many just want to avoid talking about it or simply laugh it off.

“I don’t blame them at all. Seeing how the entire country just exited a lockdown, people are more interested in earning more and stabilising their life one way or another. The election is not a top priority because no one here asked for it,” said Alex.

Much of the focus of the election surrounds the four assemblymen who pulled their support for chief minister Datuk Seri Sulaiman Md Ali last month, and subsequently triggered the state polls.

The four are Datuk Seri Idris Haron, Datuk Nor Azman Hassan, Datuk Norhizam Hassan Baktee and Datuk Noor Effandi Ahmad.

Now Idris and Nor Azman, both formerly Umno reps, are contesting under the PH banner for the Asahan and Pantai Kundor state seats respectively.

Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan flags are pictured along Jalan Pokok Mangga in Melaka November 9, 2021. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan flags are pictured along Jalan Pokok Mangga in Melaka November 9, 2021. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Eyes on the prize

These thorny circumstances have led people to question why they should even bother to vote if all the political coalitions involved tolerate this kind of behaviour.

“We just focus on our candidates in our respective seats. People do ask about Idris and Azman and why PH supports them, but we often remind them that the bigger picture is winning the most seats for PH.

“Whether this hurts PH in the election remains to be seen, but right now, people are asking what is the difference between PH, Perikatan Nasional and Barisan Nasional if we also tolerate such behaviour?

“Some are even asking what is the point of coming out to vote. I know this might not be representative of how the majority thinks, but this is what we are hearing more of since the campaign started,” he said.

The next Melaka government will be determined by the state’s 495,195 registered voters, with women voters outnumbering men marginally at 254,666 or 51.43 per cent.

Data released by the Election Commission (EC) also revealed that 76.1 per cent of registered voters in Melaka are between 21 and 59 years of age.

The EC has also issued 7,601 postal ballots to those eligible to vote by post for the state election.

A signboard of Lendu in Melaka, November 8, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A signboard of Lendu in Melaka, November 8, 2021. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Where the real battle for votes lies

The strict Covid-19 regulations imposed by the EC for the Melaka state election have also amplified concerns about a possible outbreak similar to that seen in Sabah after its state polls last year, as observed by Malay Mail.

While younger voters are willing to take some risk to fulfil their democratic obligations, the same cannot be said of older voters who know they are more vulnerable to the deadly coronavirus.

This is a major concern for campaigners in communities beyond Melaka city, such as Tanjung Bidara, Lendu, Kuala Linggi and Taboh Naning, which make up the Malay heartlands of the state.

Primarily consisting of kampungs or sleepy hamlets, political campaigners in these parts often engage with heads of families in multi-generational homes as the norm to canvas for votes.

However, this dynamic has changed, according to Umno political campaigner Mohd Khalil from Senawang who arrived in the state to help campaign efforts in Lendu and Tanjung Bidara.

“In the past, these heads of families would convince relatives to vote for the party that they support. But what has happened now is that younger family members are advising their elderly parents not to bother because of Covid-19.

“What I often hear is ‘my children won’t let me vote because the risk is still too high, or there are dangerous variants, or I will bring back the virus to my grandchildren who are staying with me’.

“Because of the high rate of vaccination, some people might laugh off these arguments, and then urge them to come out and vote anyway. But for me, these are all valid concerns because no one is safe from Covid-19.

“I try not to make comparisons with contracting the virus when going out to eat because that argument, in my opinion, is silly. Instead, I just have a chat on what BN could bring to the table and pass along flyers or other materials. Ultimately, the choice is for the voters here to make,” he said.

However, Khalil said he is optimistic that the voter turnout for these and similar Malay-majority seats will be higher than other places, pointing to the intense political campaigns run by BN, PN, and even PH to woo constituents.

“We have seen everyone stepping up their efforts — through WhatsApp groups, by blasting recorded messages from vans or trucks — championing their side as better than the rest. There is a major push into Malay-majority seats by PH and PN to disrupt our position here.

“From the looks of it, the actual battles are in these seats. So, they want to push everyone to come out and vote, because if you can capture these seats, then you have a good chance of forming the state government,” he said.

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