Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Charisma and Verbal Gaffes in Campaigning

Written by johnleemk on 1:35:48 pm Apr 29, 2007.

The recent Ijok by-election in Selangor was a setback for the opposition, with the ruling Barisan Nasional regime's candidate winning with an even larger majority than in the previous election. I have already opined that bringing up sensational issues did more harm than good, but another issue is the charisma of the candidate, Khalid Ibrahim. Check out this video of one of Khalid's speeches:

The thing that strikes me the most about Khalid is that he is not passionate in his speech. He is monotonous. He is, in a word, boring. Were I a voter, it would be difficult for me to seriously consider voting for him, despite his impressive credentials.

And that is not even considering that tremendous verbal gaffe he made by imploring his audience to vote for the Barisan Nasional candidate! BN has been milking this for all it is worth, and although I am not sure if it significantly contributed to Khalid's loss, it certainly did not help things for him or for his party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Worse still was the attempt of opposition propagandists to cover up the gaffe, and to claim the mainstream media had been intentionally misreporting a statement of "jangan undi calon Barisan Nasional". The video, however, is quite clearly not doctored.

The opposition really has to get on board charismatic speakers for its candidates if it wants to make a serious impact on Malaysian politics. This may in fact be the reason for the incredibly weak Democratic Action Party's survival: they have bloody good speakers.

Watching the DAP's memebers speak in Parliament is entertaining. It certainly is not boring, especially compared to the droning tone of most BN politicians — the DAP still has passion and emotion going for it in its speeches.

The passionless BN, whose sole objective seems to be to subjugate the country as its own fiefdom, has no such fiery emotion in its speeches. All its leaders are monotonous and sleep-inducing in their speech — much like Khalid.

That may in fact be the explanation for Khalid's poor performance. Until last year, he was a member of UMNO, the flagship party of BN. Khalid does not sound convincing in how he implores voters to vote for change; this may be because like BN's members, he himself does not really want change. (In other words, calling for Ijokians to "undi calon BN" may have been a Freudian slip.)

It is possible, maybe even probable, that I am reading too much into a one-and-a-half minute video clip. It may not have been representative of Khalid's performance during the campaign.

After all, Khalid is visibly tired and stressed out in the video. It may be that when he has had a good rest, he can speak passionately and convincingly about change. (And certainly I don't think he would have made that gaffe about voting for the BN candidate.)

But even so, the more charismatic people the opposition can get on board, the better. One of BN's true shortfalls is that it does not have many fiery speakers; the few that it does have are mavericks who are repressed by the establishment (e.g. Shahrir Abdul Samad, Zaid Ibrahim).

By running a slate of candidates who can speak convincingly and passionately about change in the next general election, the opposition will thus draw attention to BN's dysfunctional candidates, who sometimes sound like they couldn't convince a hot-blooded young male to enter a strip club. Highlighting this difference can only be a good thing for the opposition in the long run.

After all, if you can have people who can speak like this, who even needs policies? I'm only saying this tongue-in-cheek, but it's not far from the truth:

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