Why do voters need ice cream, petrol and beer?

People queue up at a petrol station during the 2018 general election campaign, where Khairuddin Aman Razali pays for their fuel. Social media reports indicate he has been employing the same tactic again recently. – Facebook pic, November 9, 2022.

Commentary by Mustafa K. Anuar

NOMINATION day finally arrived after voters saw a few politicians being dropped from the electoral race, while as a result anger heightened and fights broke out in a few party operation centres.

In less than two weeks, we would expect the election candidates to go into overdrive in wooing voters like love-struck, seductive suitors.

If recent practices and incidents are anything to go by, some parts of the courting would take a form that can only be deemed as unsavoury and crass.

The form could get even cruder, what with the intense competition in multi-cornered fights.

One of the trite and cheap tactics used to attract voters is to give money to passers-by, say, those on motorcycles – many of whom are presumably of lower-income background – who are then obligated to paste a particular party sticker onto their bikes.

A video clip shows a former plantation industries and commodities minister – who seemed inclined to be perceived as well-connected with and deeply caring for the ordinary people – was seen standing by a petrol pump, ever ready to pour petrol for free into the tank of a motorcycle that came along.

It must have been a hectic and tiring day for the politician concerned to have scurried from one station to another, even if he drove a powerful Vellfire.

Or, you could find a former finance minister getting his hands dirty like a motor mechanic by changing the motor oil of someone’s motorcycle. His hands are also good at handling oil palm.

Surely, you cannot get any closer to and more caring for ordinary Malaysians than this.

Another strategy is to simply give out RM50 or RM100 to anyone, particularly the youth, who is willing to queue up for easy cash. After all, someone once vouched that cash is king.

The young recipients would then, in a true traditional form of indebtedness, kiss the generous hand that possibly flaunts an expensive branded watch. This, incidentally, is not the kind of asset declaration for which many voters are hoping.

Then there is a photo of a bun, wrapped with a picture and name of a former international trade and industry minister, to be distributed in an apparent hope that a voter’s bite would give inspiration to make the “right decision”.

Another photo shows a tin of biscuits, the front of which flashed the name and picture of a former federal territories minister. The voters are supposed to nibble the biscuits while being thankful for small blessings.

A few Malaysians may wonder whether these are fake photos that made their rounds on social media, because these, if real, would put the politicians concerned in a bad light, depicting them as individuals who could resort to such gross means of gaining votes.

Not to be outdone, a video clip shows a candidate playing the character of a generous Indian ice cream seller, giving out free ice cream that could titillate the palate of voters as well as schoolchildren. It’s picture perfect.

And certain politicians, who thought they knew how to make voters happy and be thankful, sent a boatload of canned alcoholic drinks to villages in the interior.

It is conceivable that there are other candidates who would also employ such questionable methods to try to convince voters that they should be the chosen ones.

Such modus operandi suggests a deliberate and cynical aim of manipulating the ignorant among some of the receiving voters.

However, there are also voters who eagerly accept the handouts, particularly cash, because such crumbs could make a slight difference to their lives, which are mired in poverty, even though only for a day or two.

The purportedly magnanimous givers should look into the mirror after having demeaned fellow human beings in such a manner, especially when we are mindful that the handouts and physical assistance are largely executed as electoral baits.

As intimated above, some of the recipients have been trapped in abject poverty for decades because they’ve been neglected by those who were in a position of power to otherwise uplift their living standards.

Or worse, development funds that were meant to improve the socio-economic status of the poor did not reach them or were insufficient because the national coffers were plundered by the corrupt, a few of whom may seek their political fortunes once again in this election.

Obviously, a band-aid approach towards helping people, especially the poor, at the hustings is only aimed at giving the voters a feel-good factor, which is self-serving.

A cartoon posted on social media says it all. A girl, standing outside her house, shouts to her mother to warn her that a politician and his supporters have come to give bribes.

Surely, after more than 60 years of the country’s independence, Malaysians generally deserve a better and humane treatment than this.

Such banal tactics are obviously a far cry from an initiative to enlighten the public about party policies to improve, say, public transport, the quality of education, availability of affordable housing, public hospitals and food security. This approach is instructive.

Time will tell whether the supposed zest to serve the interests of ordinary Malaysians, particularly the poor and the needy, could be further sustained beyond the level of ice cream, bun and beer after the polls. – November 9, 2022.

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