Six state polls: Uphill battle for unity government with the visuals against them

VISUALS are exceedingly vital in driving results in elections, more so than the facts and figures.

This is so because the average individual possesses a short attention span, invests little time reading through texts, and even less time comparing statistics between the performances of opposing political parties.

But what are visuals? It is an event that very decisively implants a short but powerful message into the hearts and minds of the people, leaving little room for interpretation.

And it is this aspect that will present a formidable obstacle for the unity government to scale come Aug 12.

But what are the visuals? The first involves the then prime minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin declaring on national television that he would rather step down than bow to the demands of certain parties seeking to escape Malaysia’s justice system.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin

This open and vivid declaration enveloped Muhyiddin – and conveniently – his party in an aura of innocence that few could challenge. It is also this aura that contributed towards Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) many wins in last November’s 15th General Election (GE15).

Very likely, this powerful visual will propel his party into the proverbial battlefield in today’s state elections across Selangor, Penang, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelamtan and Terengganu.

To further bolster the narrative of PN as a clean, incorruptible party is the very fact that Pakatan Harapan (PH) could be seen in bed with Barisan Nasional (BN). The latter two were oblivious to the mud and dirt slung at each other during the gruelling weeks of the general election campaign.

Visuals are strong drivers of perception

That PH chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was holding hands with his BN counterpart and UMNO president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi can be said as a spit into the eyes of the voters who bought the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) narrative that BN was unfit to rule.

If we were to examine their relationship in detail, it won’t take long for us to realise this is but an alliance of convenience or as they say, the choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (left) and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahis Hamidi (Pic credit: Anwar’s Facebook)

But would voters look beyond the obvious into the subtlety of political manoeuvring? Many would not. The obvious visual paints PH as an accomplice to the corrupted BN led by Zahid.

The departure of many UMNO members to join the opposition is another visual that paints a powerful image of UMNO no longer being what it was. To better describe it, the UMNO of the present is made up of opportunistic individuals looking to enrich themselves at the expense of the nation.

All these narratives don’t have to be true. But perception oftentimes trump reality and visuals are strong drivers of perception.

Towards the racial demography, the Chinese and Indians have mostly rallied behind PH and it would be hard to milk their support further. A PAS dominated state with all the constraining strictures hold little appeal to them.

The key to victory in the state election lies in the ability to capture the hearts and minds of the Malay Muslim majority. Here, the visuals are against the unity government with PN expected to expand its political influence once the battle is over and the dust has settled.

Kedah is very likely to be submerged under the green wave. Terengganu and Kelantan remain firmly under the control of PAS and Penang under DAP.

The contested territories are Selangor and Negri Sembilan. A win or loss is hard to predict but very likely. PN will gain ground in these two fights – probably a morale booster ahead of the GE16 in 2027 – even if they fail to capture these two states. – Aug 12, 2023

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