In terms of seat numbers in the state legislative assembly, the result of Saturday’s Semenyih by-election changes little.
Yet the symbolic significance of the win for Barisan Nasional on this occasion – when the previous Pakatan Harapan assemblyman had succeeded by nearly 9,000 votes a mere 10 months earlier – is lost on very few.
Despite having the backing of government machinery, the PH candidate Muhammad Aiman Zainali was unable to go the distance. His inexperience, unfamiliarity with Semenyih voters and complete lack of oratory prowess were rather pitiable and even somewhat absurd in an individual seeking to be elected as a leader of the people, especially when compared in broad daylight to BN’s Zakaria Hanafi, a veteran politician well known in the area.
Compounding 30-year-old Muhammad Aiman’s problems were the allegations of nepotism stemming from him contesting in his late father-in-law’s former seat, and of fraud in light of his non-existent PhD qualifications (an issue which had also been playing out on the national arena around the same time, much to the embarrassment of numerous PH leaders).
Almost from the beginning, therefore, the PH campaign seemed to suffer from a serious “integrity deficit” – worsened by the federal government’s peculiar and misguided “election goodies”, like the abolition of toll (which in any event hardly affects Semenyih dwellers) and BSH (where RM100 for single adults, coping with rising costs of living, seems somewhat insulting). If nothing else, these announcements were half-hearted, ineffective and reeked of desperation.
PH’s core message of “Najib is Bad” missed the mark too – ironically, because the popularity of the individual in question has recently skyrocketed by pointing out, in simple, often humorous and very relatable terms, the current administration’s failure to meet its manifesto promises, corresponding to the very real struggles faced by the average Malaysian today.
And it is this need to live in the present which PH seems to have forgotten. Relying heavily on, and exploiting, the alleged misdemeanours of a former leader, who now holds no major leadership position, does not spark confidence for voters who want to see whether those they voted in nearly a year ago will look after them today, tomorrow and the day after.
As the economy slows and times feel tougher than before, looking to the past for validation without having answers for the present day can never be the way forward.
After all, taking aim at another person’s character does not, and cannot, strengthen one’s own integrity – the latter can only be derived from genuine attentiveness to local issues and a sincere commitment to meeting promises (or at least, to being honest about their progress).
Failure to heed this lesson will only result in another Cameron Highlands, another Semenyih, and – according to all predictions – another Rantau.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.