LAST_UPDATESat, 23 Jun 2018 9pm

Experts Give Insight Into The Long And Short Of Election Campaign Periods

The election campaign period will start tomorrow following the finalising of candidates in 222 parliamentary seats and 505 state seats.

Campaigning will run until 11.45pm on May 8, making the duration to be just 11 days, which is longer than the nine days observed by Singapore but much shorter than the six months observed by Indonesia.

Pakatan Harapan president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah has previously asked the Election Commission (EC) to consider setting 21 days as the minimum campaigning period.

For illustration purposes onlyFor illustration purposes only"For GE14, I would like to suggest for EC to consider setting a minimum of 21 days for campaigning to allow candidates and parties to approach the voters," said Wan Azizah, as reported by NST.

She noted how the campaign period ran for at least 35 days during the 1959, 1964 and 1969 general elections before it was shortened to 16 days in 1974, 15 days in 1982 and only 10 days for the three subsequent general elections.

"The duration was shortened to nine days in 1999, and eight days in 2004, which was the shortest period in the GE history," she said, adding that the campaign period was again raised to 13 days in 2008 and 15 days in 2013.

But is it really important for campaign periods to be longer than what have been allocated by the EC? Malaysian Digest sought to find out.

Longer Campaign Periods Will Benefit Candidates In Rural Constituencies

Former Sungai Benut MP, Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail believes that the 11 day campaign is stressful and too short a time for candidates campaigning in large constituencies.

Tawfik Tun Dr IsmailTawfik Tun Dr Ismail“This is especially so in East Malaysia where the only way to reach a village is by boat or by long treks. It’s not a problem in Peninsular because of the availability of roads and highways,” he said, highlighting how different it is for candidates contesting in different constituencies.

While social media is available, it still cannot replace campaigning on the ground because he opined that voters are able to judge the candidate better through person to person contact.

“A person’s demeanour, his reaction to spontaneous questions, can change a voter’s mind.  Social media can be impersonal,” he said.

First-time DAP candidate, Young Syefura Othman, or popularly known as Rara, similarly thinks that 11 days is quite short due to geographical issues in large constituencies like in Sabah, Sarawak and even Pahang.

“I would prefer a slightly longer campaign period, maybe 14 days, because I prefer to meet the voters on the ground, personally, and doing house visits,” said the DUN Ketari candidate.

Young Syefura OthmanYoung Syefura OthmanShe added that the shorter campaign period would favour the incumbents in rural constituencies and urban voters in urban constituencies would prefer the shorter campaign period as flags, gatherings and sorts can be a nuisance to urban people.

To compensate for the shorter timeframe, Rara said that she has to work around the clock because she stills prefer house visits and walkabout to meet the voters rather than just holding ceramah and gatherings.

“So now I’m doing a house visit even at night. Of course the advancement of technology and targeted social media campaign could help to overcome time frame given but in a rural area like this, traditional campaign method still prevails,” she shared her own experience.

However, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) vice president and caretaker Asajaya Assemblyman Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah believes that 11 days of campaigning is enough as he noted that political parties have been campaigning for months and even years for the election.

“This (11 days campaign) is sufficient because as it is, campaigning by all political parties has started months or even years ago…so it’s good that Election Commission (EC) set aside only 11 days for final campaigning,” Abdul Karim said, as reported by Borneo Post.

Various Platforms Are Available To Reach Voters In 11 Days

While some voters might be dreading the campaign period due to already experiencing election fatigue, political analyst Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) said that the campaign period is the most crucial part for the candidates to introduce themselves to voters.

He pointed out that newcomers are probably at a disadvantage while incumbents who have been doing their elected duties on the ground over the years have an easier task ahead.  

Prof Dr Sivamurugan PandianProf Dr Sivamurugan Pandian“Some candidates could have run for many times but some could be running for the first time, and I think first-time candidates need to work hard moving to all polling stations to make sure they are known.

“This is because voters do not only vote for the party but most of the time, voters look at the candidate and what they promise in the five years,” he said.

He is also of the view that 11 days of campaigning allocated by the EC is sufficient seeing that candidates no longer have to solely rely on meeting voters on the ground with the availability of social media.

“Although I don’t think they can reach everyone, I think 11 days is sufficient because they can use various platforms to allow the people to get to know them such as through WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Instastories,” he said.

However, he said that face-to-face interactions are still important because “some constituencies might not have access to social media as much as we see in urban areas.”

He added that political parties should be able to utilise the campaign period with a strong machinery to move around and while it is short, political parties have been politicking ever since the last election ended – allowing voters to be familiar with the local political scene.

Regardless of the duration, Sivamurugan hopes that candidates would move beyond character assassination during the campaign period, which was prevalent during GE13.

“This election endorses a lot of strong personalities and we may see a lot of character assassination but we would like to see matured politicians candidates who focus on policies that they would like to bring rather than focusing on character assassination or internal bickering – that would show that we have not moved on from 2013.

“Hopefully they would move beyond that to show that we have reached a certain maturity level not only among the candidates but supporters and voters as well,” he advised.

Voters More Interested In What Will Be Done After Elections, Not What Is Said During Campaigning

Despite the conflicting views, Dr Fatimah Zahrah, Behavioural Analysis lecturer at a private university, said that at the end of the day, the duration of the campaign period does not really matter as it is HOW and WHAT the candidates do will help change the voters’ mindset or get their message across to the constituents.

“I recently conducted a study on 1,000 Malaysians throughout Selangor and Klang Valley respectively and found that Malaysians do not care on what is being said during the 11-day campaign period, as they are more interested to know what will be done AFTER election is over,” she revealed.

Speaking from her experience as a behaviour analyst, she believes 11 days of campaigning is sufficient provided that the messages that the candidates put forth resonate with the masses, which she said is not an easy task as Malaysians are a divided lot when it comes to politics since they are emotionally involved.

For illustration purposes onlyFor illustration purposes onlyHowever, she does not disregard the importance of the campaign period as the presence of the candidates themselves will be able to influence the mindset of voters.

Dr Fatimah explained that even before the campaign period, politicians and candidates were still able to influence the people - from the way they think, to the way they behave, because most educated and white collar individuals still tune in to the latest political develops regardless.

“The campaign period only heightens the influence candidates and politicians have on the people as they consciously navigate the hows (method, strategy) and whats (messages, ideology).

“But it is during this time where the people pay extra attention to what is being said and done by the candidates, ergo, have more influence on the people because election season equates to more audiences and wider reach,” she elaborated.

Since the duration of the campaign period has been set, Dr Fatimah said that the only way that candidates can maximise their influence during the short timeframe given is by sincerely understanding the plights of the people, and more importantly offer a realistic and genuine plan.

“The problem with our local politics is that it is too personal, which the people have taken notice and are sick off. So instead of hashing old wounds and say whose ego is bigger, focus on the betterment of the country and the people.

“As emotional and divided Malaysians are, Malaysians love their country — it is the current crop of leaders from both sides that puts the people off. And their love for the country is what still motivates them to care about politics because they want Malaysia to progress,” she concluded.