RANDOM, general observations about covering by-elections since March 2008:
There has been a lack of substantive campaign issues. Umno always plays the race and religion card, and thinks prosperity and development are the only things that will make everyone happy. Of the eight by-elections in the past 18 months, I think the Kuala Terengganu by-election in January which PAS won was an exception because of the oil royalty deficit that the federal government owed the state.
The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is good at playing the underdog and empathising with the average citizen’s desire for fair treatment.
PAS’s ceramah rhetoric tends to focus on an Islam that stresses inner piety, in contrast with Umno’s portrayal of upholding Islam by building schools, mosques and providing funds for haj pilgrims.
Rural motorcyclists are leisurely riders to the point of being annoyingly slow. I always thought mat rempit came from the kampung. Instead, the ones who speed are motorists with outstation licence plates, most likely a journalist from Kuala Lumpur late for an assignment.
Strangers are kind. The surau where Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was going to break fast with Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was located in a small village with a tight warren of narrow paths. Parking space on the village’s only paved road had all been taken up. A villager let me park in his compound. “Quickly,” he said. “You don’t want to miss Anwar.”
Babies and young children stay up past bedtime to accompany their parents to ceramah. I wonder if rural youngsters grow up politicised at an early age.
Children playing on a slide while their parents listen to a BN ceramah in Tanjung Putus
When talking to the locals, Malay Malaysians are generally more willing to discuss their political affinities than Chinese Malaysians.
Telling people that your news organisation is internet-based draws two types of reactions depending on whether they are Barisan Nasional (BN) or PR supporters. BN-types will become cautious — “Tulis betul-betul ye” — while PR-types are more welcoming — “Oh, bagus, bagus. Kita tak percaya suratkhabar lagi.”
Few people understand the difference between blogs and online newspapers.
When lost and intending to ask a police officer for directions, expect him or her to say, “Saya pun tak tau. Saya dari luar.” When at least five police officers tell you that, you get an idea of how many personnel they brought in to monitor one by-election.
Police officers do make traffic worse during by-elections.
Male Umno politicians will shake a woman reporter’s hand; not all in PAS will.
Political parties are allowed to provide transport for voters to polling centres. There is no law against this, but I wonder what happens inside the vehicles. Campaigning is supposed to end at midnight before polling day.
Deborah Loh grumbles when she has to cover by-elections but ends up enjoying them. That doesn’t mean she’s hoping for another one, though.
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