Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Dump Corruption As An Issue; Harp on Bread and Butter Matters

Written by johnleemk on 2:06:21 pm Apr 3, 2007.
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A problem politicians from the Malaysian opposition have is that they are often reluctant to abandon the core policies of their intellectual, idealistic base, for the bread and butter issues that can guarantee them the support of the average voter. Issues like human rights, they think, are important in the long run, so why should we not champion them?

The truth, however, is that it is all about the audience. Politicians cannot constantly present the same story, the same platform, to different audiences. Different ideas will get different people worked up and enthusiastic.

The opposition parties seek to motivate their base by harping on things like the Internal Security Act and other governance-related issues, such as corruption. This is all well and good.

What is not well and good is when they harp on these same issues for a general audience. The man on the street does not care about corruption or the ISA. These are issues that would be "nice to fix", but what's really important for the average voter is his bread and butter, and despite its terrible performance on such issues, it's undeniable that the ruling Barisan Nasional regime has a monopoly on the public mindset when it comes to the rice bowl.

Politicians would understandably feel bad about abandoning such issues, which are clearly close to their heart. But do they want to forever talk about corruption as the opposition, or do they want to win the election and fight corruption as the government?

Like it or not, if they want the latter, the opposition must finetune its message for different audiences. The stereotype of the opposition at present seems to be that they harp on governance and rights-related issues, without dealing with any bread and butter or economy-related problems.

The opposition must reach out to the average voters, and the only way to do this is to shut up about civil rights, and to start talking about simple things, like poor public transport and terrible schools. This does not constitute a fundamental betrayal of the opposition's traditional ideals — not at all.

In other countries, politicians have mastered the art of playing to different audiences. In the United States, politicians stake out an extreme stand when they speak to their party faithful, and move to the middle when speaking to the average voters. This is realpolitik, and there's little that can be done about it. In the end, it's often understood that the politicians will carry out their more reasonable middle-of-the-ground promises, with perhaps slight extreme tendencies every now and then.

Fortunately, there's not really such a dichotomy here. All the opposition's leaders have to do is to motivate their party base with their traditional governance issues, and reach out to the typical voter with simple bread and butter issues. When in office, they can implement both policies — although obviously since the centrist voters are in the majority, it would be prudent to give priority to the bread and butter problems.

The opposition cannot continue harping on governance issues. The man on the street doesn't care that Pak Lah got a new plane with his tax money. The man on the street only cares about a full rice bowl and sending his kids to school. Promise him a bigger rice bowl and a better school, and you'll have his vote.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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