Malaysia elections: Wooing the fence-sitters

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - The thrust of campaigning for the imminent general election has shifted towards winning over the fence-sitters, especially urbanites below the age of 40.

Political parties are actively wooing this undecided group believed to make up a large slice of the newly registered 3.75 million voters.

Although the determining factors for the fence-sitters remain anyone's guess, campaigners are working hard to make their side look and feel better than the other.

Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said the party had identified more fence-sitters in the urban and suburban constituencies.

"There could be up to 40 per cent of voters who have yet to make up their minds over who to vote for and the figure could go higher for younger voters, maybe even 50 per cent.

"I think they are still holding back their votes while waiting for the candidates list to be announced. They might also want to compare the manifestos of both sides, campaign themes and ads, and general mood closer to the polling day based on peer interaction on the media or social media," he said.

Khairy said that with such a large number of undecided voters this time around, the selection of candidates would be crucial.

"In the urban areas, we must pick candidates who can win over the independents over those who can only galvanise the party base," he said.

MCA Young Professionals Bureau head Datuk Chua Tee Yong said parties could no longer take the fence-sitters for granted.

Admitting that Barisan Nasional campaigners overlooked the voter sentiment and the shift in the ground in the 2008 general election, he said: "At that time, we didn't feel the vibes, we weren't sensitive enough and didn't feel the shift in the ground."

Chua said fence-sitters usually looked out for candidates who appeared approachable, could articulate issues well, and even whether they could converse in local dialects.

"They may also be swayed by emotive issues that can crop up during the last leg of campaigning and this can make or break the candidate's chances," he said.

PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub said that although it was not common for voters in rural areas to be fence-sitters, some were known to reserve their judgment until the last moment.

"Even party workers who transport voters from houses to the voting centres can help sway votes.

"But I think by this time, many would have already made up their minds," he said.

DAP national organising secretary Anthony Loke said fence-sitters were the deciding voters in most elections.

"They want to see whose message they can identify with, the overall mood during the campaigning period and then side with the team that looks to be winning," he said.

However, Loke said his estimated number of fence-sitters was only between 15 per cent and 20 per cent only, much lower than Barisan's projection.

"I think most voters have made up their minds. Both sides have their hardcore fans and their base support, but they need to woo the fence-sitters to win," he said.

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