Thursday, April 11, 2013

General Elections

Now that the 13th General Elections will be held on 5th May 2013, the urge came to me to pen down my experiences. I feel I have the unique experience of being the only one having the opportunity covering the PUR at all levels for the electronic media, especially Radio-Television Malaysia (RTM), in the days before the emergence of the private stations and the satellite broadcast that many broadcasters dream. The new media was not heard of then. I started by reporting the activities on the ground, moving up announcing the results as one of the anchor person on Radio Malaysia and later TV Malaysia, then being given the task of chief anchor for TV and later taking charge of the coverage of the results as Director of Operation RTM.

My first indulgence with the General Elections was way back in 1955 when I was a school kid at the Pre-Merdeka PRU. I was recruited by my father and his friends to make posters for the Perikatan (Alliance). They supplied the materials (papers, paints, brushes etc) and the facts. Our spacious house at Hill Street in Ipoh was a meeting place of sort till the wee hour. I was happy to be involved as I was curious with the talk of independent among the elders, which became the objective of the election. It was held on July 27, 1955. The result surprised everyone especially the British who thought they would have the upper hand at the mixed legislature of elected and nominated members. The Alliance, consisting of the 3 main racial grouping of UMNO, MCA and MIC won hands down with 51 out of 52, making it the majority at the legislature. The odd seat lost was won by PAS in Krian.

The Chief Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj, and his entourage which included representative of the Malay Rulers went to London to negotiate independent for Malaya. Merdeka was celebrated on August 31, 1957.

Independent Malaya held its first election in 1959 for the 104 members Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives). I have no part at the election as I was doing my tertiary education. I was not a registered voter being underage.

I joined the Malay Service of Radio Malaysia towards the end of 1963. Straight away I was involved with the coverage of the 2nd PRU held on April 25 1964, collecting materials in the form of interviews with the public. I was attracted to the squabble of the political parties over air-time for them to introduce their manifesto on radio in all the language service, just like subsequent elections until today. The campaigning for the new nation Malaysia was intense. The ruling party in Singapore, the PAP participated and was the winner in the Bangsar constituency through its representative Devan Nair. He remained a Malaysian MP following Singapore’s independent the following year. I did not vote at this election as I did not have a proper address being busy house hunting.

The broadcasting coverage of the election result was relatively easy as Radio Malaysia has the field to itself. TV Malaysia was at its infancy. The rule set by the Election Commission was strict; no result was to be announced prior to the official one by the Commission, unlike today where the media reported “live” the election tally at the counting centres by using the phrase “unofficial result”. Radio Malaysia worked overtime extending its broadcasting hours to announce the results. The news room was busy as it was made the centre of operation at the congested Federal House in the heart of KL.

The 3rd PRU was held in 1969. I was in Penang taking charge of the Malay broadcast of the Northern Region. It was quite a burden. We were starting the regional broadcast with limited resources of staff. We were to give feedback on the situations on the ground. When my report on the unhappiness of the voters reached the bosses in Kuala Lumpur, I was given a good lecture on preparing a report. The election result reflected my report. The Alliance lost many seats and well known personalities, among others included the Minister of Information Dato Senu Abdul Rahman who lost to Ustaz Abu Bakar of PAS by 88 votes in Kubang Pasu, while Tun Dr. Mahathir lost to Haji Yusof Rawa in Kota Star. I voted for the first time in Bukit Bendera constituency. There were overzealous celebration by the opposition DAP which led to the historical racial riot of 13 May 1969 in Kuala Lumpur. Many changes and policies were introduced to appease the unhappiness; notable being the New Economic Policy which did not came down well with the international communities. The Prime Minister Tengku Abdul Rahman stepped down in favour of Tun Abdul Razak on 22 September 1970. The DAP came into being after Singapore was booted out of the Malaysian Federation in 1965.

I was back in Kuala Lumpur when the 4th PRU came, registered myself at the Selayang Constituency and voted there until the 8th edition when I changed constituency to Subang Jaya. The Radio operation moved to its present place at Wisma Radio in Angkasapuri. I was responsible for drafting the duty roster of the staff. The Rangkaian Nasional extended its transmission hour from 6.00 am to midnight. It went round the clock to announce the election results. I was busy interviewing the public and the candidates, as well as given the task of “gate-keeper” arranging the dissemination of the result to all the services in Radio. The SPR rule of “embargo” was strictly adhered to. The result was withheld until the SPR made the announcement. I am quite amused thinking about the situation then. The Barisan Nasional under Tun Razak got the result that they wanted crushing the opposition. Unfortunately Tun Razak passed away. Tun Husin Onn took over the leadership on 14 January 1976.

Tun Mahathir lead the BN in the 6th PUR for the first time as Prime Minister in 1982. It was a historical landmark for my carrier in RTM. I was in the management group being the pioneer Head of the newly created Sports Division. I have voluntarily retired being the face on TV for RTM to concentrate in my new role. I got the rude shock when I was ordered by the Minister Tan Sri Mohamad Rahmat to be the anchor person for the election result show. I failed in my protest. It seems I was the right person being experience in sports commentary the election should be an easy task. I was nervous as I have not faced the camera and held the mike for the last couple of years. The materials prepared by the News Room was haphazard, especially the background of the constituencies and candidates. I have to rely from memories and what I have read in the print media.

The bosses were not happy with the candidates they have auditioned. I was not among them. The situation was made worst with the advent of the computer and the IT world, while RTM was toying with the idea of using it for the election which we never did. I have the lot of news readers and well known faces on RTM assisting me in giving the result on air. It was an ardours task. I was lucky as I knew many of the candidates personally and was able to relate their stories to the audience. Most of the newspapers considered RTM’s coverage over TV was comprehensive . At the end of it I was exhausted and slept the day through.

Then came the 7th edition in 1986. I was then promoted Deputy Director of TV in charge of local productions. I was appointed the Director of Operation for RTM's result coverage, a daunting task, as our competitor was improving through experience and we have to depend on our “rusty” equipments and mettle. It was a tough job. Technology was changing for the better at a fast phase. The staff was splendid in their endeavour. There was good rapport all round. Everyone was supporting each other. The traditional method of waiting for the result to be announced officially by SPR first was no longer in practice as the “private” station jumped the gun by giving the “unofficial” version as they came via the new media. The expanding News Room took over the mettle of coverage in 1990 and the Programme Division were busy promoting the electorate to register and vote. My last election while in service at the 9th series in 1995 when I was the Director of TV. As a voter I change my Constituency to Kelana Jaya/Subang Jaya constituency after I came back from Sarawak.

The first time I voted as a pensioner was at 10th series in 1999. That was also Tun Mahathir’s last election as Prime Minister as he handed over the PM-ship to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi 31 October 2003. Paklah led the BN coalition to a resounding victory at the 11th PRU in 2004.

Due to several factors including the prominent role played by the New Media smartly handled by the opposition grouping of Pakatan Rakyat PR the BN was handed its worst result at the 12th PRU in 2008, losing its two third majorities and 5 state assemblies which was termed as the Tsunami election. The pressure was on Paklah. He stepped down as PM on 3rd April 2009 making way for Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak as the 6th Premier of the country.

Now we are on the throes of the 13th General Election on the 5th May 2013. The pundits are busy with their reading of the situation. There are even predictions that events in the other part of the world could hit the shores of Malaysia. There are already appeals for moderation and calmness in the mood of campaigning. Former leaders and statesmen are also requesting for proper decorum in the handing over of power after the election. A new generation has grown up and dominate the list of voters. Not many seniors among party leaders could read what appeal to the youthful voters due to the age difference. Though they are immersing in the New Media, not many truly grasp the effect of the ever changing situation in the world and country to truly reflect their understanding.

I am waiting for whatever surprise in store at the result of the 13th General Election on the 5th May 2013.

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