ISSUE Magazine

The Magic of Rhetoric by Kamarul Anwar

Throughout the years I was a student, I met a few teachers and lecturers who were more worried of being liked than being good at their vocation. To a certain extent, being popular does help as people are more willing to listen to the ones they like. Injecting humour during learning, too, has been proven to help memory retention.

Really, with the exception of the rainbow colour scheme mnemonic of Michael Jackson Killed His Brother in Uganda (merah, jingga, kuning, hijau, biru, indigo and ungu), none of the jokes stand out today. I only remember them giving us students way too much face.

“Kamu tak buat nota sendiri dari minggu lepas? Kamu ni, Kamarul… Macam mana nak jadi menantu cikgu, ni? Dah, balik nanti kamu baca sendiri buku teks. Sekarang nak dengar gossip pasal (name removed)?”

“Hey peeps, since you guys wanted an extension of the assignment deadline (just because we were all too damn lazy to finish the work), I’ll let y’all hand it in a week from the original deadline, yea?”

“Engkau taktau rasa babi macam mana? Kalau nak tau, pergi jilat Kamarul.”

“Macha, I tell you, only idiots cannot get A for my subjects. Now shut the door and copy down the exam’s answers. Swear to God, cross your heart, that you don’t tell anyone outside of this room.”

Y’all the best la, macha.

These teachers were more preoccupied with telling jokes, tattling and acquiescing to the students instead of becoming disciplinarians, nurturers and purveyors of knowledge.

Sure, I really liked them during my formal education years. Alas, I end up remembering them for the wrong reasons now.

But just like everything else in the universe, there needs to be a balance in order to achieve the desired results.

Politicians, on the other hand, have no choice but to play the popularity game because they need people’s votes in order to be promoted to their desired offices. While they are inherently policymakers and servants to the people (something which the incumbent government has long forgotten), politicians have to attempt to be relatable to the rakyat because at the end of the day, we will only vote for someone who we feel can serve our needs. For some reason we need someone to look like us, sound like us, walk like us, before we are able put our trust in them. Or in my case, to have a wife that looks like Nurul Izzah.

Thus, when Lutfi, Al and I (names arranged in the order of incrementing level of handsomeness) went to one of then-candidate Izzah’s ceramahs, it was no surprise that she ended up retaining Pantai Dalam Parliamentary seat.

Pakatan Rakyat’s alluring rhetoric

Against the backdrop of the Mid Valley Megamall and the six-star Gardens Residence, Izzah spoke to the crowd of mostly flat-dwellers about what they really wanted to hear: how shitty your living conditions are, and why that is due to the government’s corrupt ways and what Pakatan Rakyat (PR) can do to uplift your incomes.

It did not matter to the crowd if what she said was factually accurate or not. She briefly mentioned that PR’s plan to slash petrol prices was feasible because of the “peak oil” theory. However, name-dropping this theory was erroneous as its actual hypothesis carried a different outcome: after the maximum volume of oil has been extracted, oil prices will inflate because demand for the commodity will exceed supply. Oil prices will then only be reduced once the world has figured out how to use other forms of energy prevalently, and not because there’s less oil around. Either way, the oil price cannot be slashed dramatically overnight.

The important thing was Izzah – and her speech – won the audience’s hearts.

“She’s very good, right? Like her father,” said an ex-boss of mine who was also there.

Indeed she was.

She lured us in with the magic of words.

This he said with a smile after Izzah had put on a synthetic (-yet-sexy, I might add) Northern accent while narrating a story of Dato’ Sri Najib Razak dismissing UMCEDEL’s finding of his slipping popularity level.

Yes, she was funny, articulate and had a “one-with-the-people” mien. Izzah’s father Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Rafizi Ramli and a few other political figures within PR’s camp have that likeable personality, too.

But on a national scale, Barisan Nasional (BN) extended its undefeated streak at the 13th General Election.

At time of writing, Anwar Ibrahim is accusing the Election Commission (EC) of colluding with  the BN in conducting an unscrupulous electoral process which made use of “phantom” voters and gerrymandering. While the evidences of dodgy voting tactics have yet to be formally presented and are now reserved to hearsays, a couple of think tanks have presented a report with a conclusion that the latest elections were “only partially free and not fair”.

Institute of Economic Affair (IDEAS) and the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS), who came up with the report, said, quoting The Malaysian Insider:

The uneven playing field (against PR) was caused by issues such as a media with a heavy bias towards BN, the use of government facilities during campaigning and doubts over the EC’s impartiality — all of which are seen to have benefited BN in the polls.

As PR’s claims of deceptive practices have yet to be formally reviewed, let’s take that out of the factor of BN’s victory and base it simply from IDEAS and CPPS’s report.

Barisan Nasional: the power of repetition

On The Edge Malaysia’s May 6 issue, writer Janice Melissa Thean reported based on AC Nielsen Research’s data, BN and the Prime Minister’s Department collectively spent RM176 million in the first quarter of this year to buy advertising slots for its election campaign.

Mind you, the aforementioned figure only included slots on radio, television and newspapers – sans the production budget, as AC Nielsen monitors media slots only.

Budget for the flags, banners and buntings sprawling around your neighbourhood, too, were not included. By the rule set by the EC, each candidate of the Parliament Member has a limit of RM200,000 on campaigning budget, while every state representative can spend up to RM100,000. So theoretically, BN would have shelled out RM94.9 million for all of its local candidates.  That is if they played by the rules.

And the RM176 million-figure did not include the expenditure for its social media and YouTube slots, which annoyed the shit out of most netizens with songs of IM4U and Sayangi Selangor, Yakini BN before watching VEVO videos.

“I think BN’s advertising expenditure is on an upward trend. I wouldn’t be surprised if April’s expenditure is more than what they spent in the last two months,” CEO of Carat Media Bala Pomaleh was quoted in the article.

Again, it shouldn’t be a surprise, given the perpetual 1960s RTM-style BN ads seen after the Parliament was dissolved on April 3.

Au contraire, the incumbent government’s advertising expenditure for the previous elections came up to RM30 million – for the entire year.

Sure, you might go, “Oh, but every time I go on Twitter or Facebook, I’d see, like, ‘Oh fuck BN this,’ ‘Fuck BN that.’ No lah, and who watches TV nowadays? My Astro is, like, collecting dust now. OK, OK, I only watch Fashion Police. I love Joan Rivers!”

We might not realise how much mojo traditional media still possess. Well, given that the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) owns Media Prima Berhad and Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Berhad while the Malaysian Chinese Association is the parent of Star Publications (Malaysia) Berhad, BN always has conduits to spread their messages. You might not read or watch these companies’ publications and television networks, but someone else does. And then those words get around like a game of Chinese Whispers. Left long enough, these spread messages infiltrate your thoughts and conversations to finally influence your opinion and sentiment.

BN, as shitty as its ads’ production values are, has the machinery and financial muscle to pull off its persuasion magic better, if only through its omnipresence in the mainstream media. It will perpetually and pervasively whisper its messages until you will think they are of your own opinion.

I’ve encountered more than one person who remarked, “I can’t trust Anwar.” There are some who know exactly why they made that conclusion, like this one. But sometimes when I ask if it was because of something he did? They say , “Um..” Or was it something he said? “Err…”But for most cases, they will respond simply with an “uhh” and an “umm” after I asked them why they said so.

The sad state of Malay publications

In truth, there are many Malays who can barely understand English, let alone be fluent at it. So they are left with no choice but to depend on Bahasa Malaysia publications.

While this is not a fact, many would agree that magazines and newspapers in Bahasa Malaysia’s contents are full of shit.

Yuppies in the city do not understand why their rural counterparts think the way they think on different matters, particularly politics. The information they sieved through had already been distorted.

A certain higher-up of a newspaper company has recently told me that one of the English dailies were granted a license to produce a Bahasa Malaysia newspaper and “had plans to make it an objective daily written in the Malay vernacular.”

But Utusan Malaysia, which is majority-owned by UMNO, blocked the daily from doing so, lest their readers will change their viewpoints and look askance at Utusan’s content.

56 of the 222 Parliamentary seats reside in Sabah and Sarawak with PR winning a total of only nine seats. About a quarter of the Federal Government’s power lies in the Malaysian Borneo; a relative lost world in the 21st century. Deprived of development, many rural folks in Sabah and Sarawak are much more likely to be the ones not to have an Internet connection.

According to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the Malaysian population broadband penetration rate stood at a dismal 21.7% as at the end of last year, while from a household perspective, the percentage was up to 66%.

Fahmi Fadzil, Izzah’s political secretary, told Lutfi, Al and me that PR plans to have a “trial by media” on its allegations of electoral fraud, as it does not have the faith in Malaysia’s judiciary system. They hope that with more coverage given on its gathering and politicians, the rakyat will understand PR’s side of the story.

It is not up to me to say whether PR will succeed in persuading any of the 47% voting Malaysians who chose BN to sympathise the opposition.

But based on my personal experience, I believe that ultimately, whoever helming the government has to ensure that they can handle their given responsibility. Because the magic of rhetoric can only take you so far.

You don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Feature image by Safuraa Razak for ISSUE Magazine

Kamarul Anwar ISSUE

Kamarul Anwar has yet to make claims for parking and mileage for his day job.

This entry was written by Kamarul Anwar and published on 09/05/2013 at 02:00. It’s filed under Essays, ISSUE12, Kamarul Anwar, Musings, Post, Writings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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