April 19, 2013
GE-13: Much fuzzy-thinking and Manipulation of the public mind
by Eric Loo@http://www.malaysiakini.com
We tend to mull over the bad things that happen to us than ponder on the good ones. Studies in psychology theorise that negative events, which trigger a “fight or flight” response, cause more heightened activities in the regions of the brain that deal with emotions – the frontal lobes and amygdala. The more negative the events, the more activities in these regions; hence, the more indelible the memory and negative recall.
The election campaign shows the theory at work. We’re more attuned to the politics of negativity than consensus. The negative priming by the media further polarises voters’ attitudes and position to pro-BN or pro-Pakatan Rakyat with few moderates in between.
Amidst the noise and mixed information, rational debates on policies that are good and right for the people and how shared goals can be achieved are diminished by the fixation on what’s bad and wrong with their opponents. Not to mention the exaggerated racial calamities if voters decide to give Pakatan the power to govern us.
Candidates are talking up their prospects of winning by tearing down their opponents’ credibility. Thus, the slurs and counter-slurs on character and broken promises from both sides of politics. Our distrust for politicians is hence magnified, and with good reasons too, with the financial frauds and sex scandals that shadow them.
There is much fuzzy-thinking and manipulation of the public mind in election campaigns. That’s the oldest tactic in politics. For decades, BN has stoked public fears of racial conflict if the opposition wins. The way I see it, Malaysian voters have moved beyond this irrational fear.
Social media activists are keeping the conversations for change going and connecting with the urbanite fence-sitters and convincing the younger set of first-time voters – estimated to be a quarter of the electorate – who have turned from teh tarik and roti in the mamak stalls to cappuccino and cakes in pop-cafes that this time, it will be different.
Hence, we owe it to ourselves to be sufficiently informed to educate relatives and friends in the heartland on how to vote wisely. I feel that change will come in my lifetime.
For a change, this is what I see are generally right and good about Malaysia and Malaysians:
- We value family. “All I am, or can be, I owe to my angel mother,” said Abraham Lincoln. And so do Malaysians. We value our parents’ influence in shaping us into who we are, where we’re going and what we can be. Grandparents, uncles and aunties still play a significant part in teaching, correcting and nurturing our children.
- We respect our elders. Friends or strangers, they’re our uncles or aunties, ‘mak cik’ or ‘pak cik’, ‘tuk’ or ‘nenek’, ‘appah’ or ‘ammah’.
- We value our community. We get involved in civic affairs, evident by the growth of civil societies, voluntary organisations and activist groups.
- We value democracy. Indeed, we are bold enough today to march peacefully in solidarity for fair and clean elections. We dare to speak up against what we see are wrong, and what we know are worth risking for.
- We no longer see government and bureaucrats as ‘datuks’ and ‘yang berhormats’ to be revered, but as servants of the people to be held accountable for what they do and say.
- We value education, evident by parents who sacrifice their lifestyles to give their children a chance to attend college and universities here and overseas.
- We value hard work and are happy to delay immediate gratifications for longer term outcomes for our children.
- We’re sufficiently educated to banter and debate across the political divide without being thrown into jail.
- We’re progressing from an insular community raised in irrational fear of racial riots to a polity that believes in Malaysians’ capacity to transcend race and religion to work together to improve our living conditions.
- We see a younger generation of social media users becoming more politically engaged. They show a capacity to carry out their conviction in hope and change – a regime change in their lifetime. Americans never thought they would have a black president. South Africans didn’t believe that they would end apartheid. All things are possible in politics.
- We have abundant sunshine and rain. Our rainforests in the battleground states of Sabah and Sarawak are still in a near-virgin condition. Our soil is as fertile as our cultures, and our cuisines are rich. We can grow any crops abundantly, and eat anytime we like as long as there are enterprising vendors who have set up a teh tarik, nasi lemak and roti stall on a street corner.
- Lifestyle is relatively laid back and cheap if we choose to stay in East Malaysia. Locals there are exceptionally hospitable, especially in the longhouses.
- Middle-agers and retirees can still make that dream road trips around the country, safely and conveniently. Our highway rest stops are among the best in the region with the customary food stalls and clean toilets. Trains and domestic flights are now affordable to all.
- We get along well with each other despite what the right-wing demagogues would have us feel otherwise. We celebrate Kongsi Raya, Christmas and Deepavali as one community. We understand and respect cultural and religious sensitivities.
- We’re earning more by the years. Our average monthly household income has risen from RM4,025 in 2009 to RM5,000 last year. Inflation rate hovers around less than two percent.
- Our standard of living is relatively higher than other ASEAN countries. Many working families have live-in maids, at least two cars, air-conditioned bedrooms and home broadband connection.
- We have one of the swankiest shopping malls in the region. Kuala Lumpur is the second best shopping city in the Asia Pacific.
Indeed, there are many things right and good about Malaysia. But we can do better if we can get rid of the mess that decades of BN rule have caused. These are:
- Emergence of right-wing demagogues. PERKASA propagates a Malay birth-right to rule and perpetuates a sense of entitlement, regardless of the lack of merits or needs. UMNO fights for Malay rights and Islam. Chinese NGOs fight for Chinese rights. The Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) fights for Indians and Hinduism, although we recognise that the movement was born from the plights of Malaysia’s poorest Tamil community.
- Money drives the politics. Corruption creates the connections. Politics open the pathway to ill-gotten wealth. Hence, the jostles and backstabs for nominations. Overlooked candidates feel short-changed, so they sell their soul to any party or anyone just to stay in politics for self-gain than for public service.
- Iconoclasts are demonised as threats to national security. Sedition laws are invoked or courts approached to silence political dissent.
- Government cabinet comprises more corrupt imbeciles than intelligent technocrats with integrity.
- Poor land and sea border control – evident by the invasion of Lahad Datu – and the influx of illegal immigrants by sea and land. The country’s intelligence and surveillance forces are in doubt.
- Rising violent crime in the city targeted at the elderly and young vulnerables. This is symptomatic of a failed and corrupt police force.
- Continuing brain drain, exacerbated by the influx of unskilled labour from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The Petaling Street of today is no longer one that I remember in the 70s.
- Budget deficit is in its ninth year, which means grave implications on public services and taxes.
- Mainstream media discourse is unethically lopsided with scarce informed analyses of state affairs or bold initiatives to expose corruption in the public and private sectors. Standards of journalism continue to slide because of weak editorial leadership and poor professional training.
This mess must be addressed if May 5 ushers in a new regime. And, if the miracle does happen, I hope the new government – after the euphoria – will not evolve to become what they have relentlessly opposed. However, if BN continues to rule, but with a smaller majority, we will endure and build more windmills to catch the winds of change and keep the momentum turning for another five years.
ERIC LOO left Malaysia for Australia in 1986 to work as a journalist. He currently lectures at University of Wollongong, Australia, and serves on the advisory committee of UPI Next, a journalism education and training platform run by United Press International. He edits a refereed journal, Asia Pacific Media Educator and conducts journalism training workshops in Asia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org