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Poster campaigns in the town proper of Tanauan City, Batangas Province

CY compares the election campaign here with that of the Philippines and concludes that Malaysian political democratisation lags far behind that of the Philippines.


Political advertisements indicate the political strategies for disseminating propaganda. They also reflect the political vibrancy of a country in the context of its freedom of expression. While Malaysians are still fighting over the slogans, the propaganda and the ridiculous pictures used in political posters such as what happened in the Hulu Selangor by-election, this “war of posters” has become a thing of the past in Filipino politics. In Filipino elections, especially in the contest for higher level positions as seen in the recent presidential election of 10 May 2010, freedom of expression has expanded beyond posters erected in the streets into the living room of every household, and beyond that too.

Admittedly, the candidates who contest at the local-level for the posts of governors, vice-governors, board members, mayors, vice-mayors and municipal/town councillors continue to rely on the distribution of leaflets. These leaflets carry information about the candidate’s personal background and list the projects or programmes that the candidates have achieved.  A quick look at the poster campaigns on the streets reveals that the posters are quite conventional: pictures of the candidates, the posts they are contesting, their electoral numbers and then political slogans such as “vote for change” and “bring back your senator”.

But at the national level campaigns, the politicians, especially those who are running for the posts of senators, vice president and president have to rely extensively on television advertisements, which were regularly aired during primetime.  I noted advertisements by presidential candidates Ninoy Aquino (popularly known as “Nonoy”); Manny Villar (a senator who is a powerful businessperson in the property sector); Joseph “Erap” Estrada (the former ousted president) among others. There were also advertisements by the vice-presidential candidates like Mar Roxas and Binay; senatorial candidates such as Jinggoy Estrada, son of Joseph Estrada, and “Bong” Revilla, an action movie star. Other presidential candidates such as “Gibo” Teodoro and Bro. Eddie, did not appear on television as frequently, except during news bulletin.  Perhaps, this was due to their lack of campaign funds.

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Invariably, the television commercials tried to portray the candidates as people friendly. They were always smiling, hugging the old folks and the children; in the midst of youth, the poor, and the working class. Some advertisements involved songs that were easily memorised such as the ones used by Jinggoy and Bong. In Bong’s case, he ‘adopted’ the once popular song “Otso,” which means “8”, and which was also Bong’s candidacy number on the ballot. But most commercials were also issue-oriented touching on, among others things, creating jobs, eradicating poverty, improving education and eliminating corruption – issues that directly affect the majority of Filipinos nowadays.

Calendar of Vilma Santos' governorship campaign for Batangas ProvinceWhat was interesting was that some advertisements contained dramatic elements about the personal lives of the candidates. In Manny Villar’s initial commercial, it focused around his childhood life in Tondo, a down-and-out area in Manila and how he then became successful and is now providing help especially on housing projects to the poor. A subsequent version of his advertisement focuses on his mother who speaks about the trials and tribulations, then successes of the family, all very personal. Other congress candidates use their father’s legacies to advocate the unfinished work for the nation. As for Nonoy, his commercial was more oriented towards issues of corruption, which was less personal than Villar’s. But a twist did take place: in one advertisement that showcased Vilma Santos, a candidate for Governor of Batangas, the candidate focused her attention on Nonoy, indeed, refers to him as “Noy”, which is very personal. The advertisement ended with her proclaiming that she trusts Noy to bring change.

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In sum, the old styles of political campaigns – such as holding rallies when speeches by the candidates are broadcasted over loudspeakers – are still the mainstay; so too putting up posters and distributing leaflets, especially in the rural/local areas. That said, political television commercials have also become essential if one’s campaign especially for the higher posts is to be successful.

It is true that billions of pesos have been spent when such amounts of money could have been better spent on improving the delivery of services and in upgrading the education system. That’s politics, in the Philippines.

But while the Philippine has its own political challenges, we in Malaysia are still grappling with basic issues such as freedom of speech and expression. What’s more daunting is that we are propagating campaigns based not on substantive issues concerning the nation, but on personal attacks such as ‘alchoholicism’, ‘gambling’, words such as ‘liwat’ and ‘babi’, as witnessed in the run-up to the Hulu Selangor by-election.  We are still too much into the politics of racism. And when it is not racism, it is character assassination and sabotage – some say, gutter politics!

From this perspective, Malaysian political democratisation lags far behind that of the Philippines, at least in terms of political participation and organisation. The existence of the ISA and OSA, the limited space for political expression and the short period for political campaigns (campaigns in the Philippines last for at least three months!), the control over the media and curbs on political gatherings all ensure that there’s less political awareness and discussion and therefore less political participation. We need to be involved more in order to deepen our democracy.

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