COMMENT In the mad rush towards elections - and winning at all costs - basic decency often gets thrown out of the window. Since nomination day, this abandoning of moral, ethical and even legal standards is reaching fever pitch and epic proportions, in a last-ditch attempt by political parties to change the minds of those still undecided.

The spin doctors and the creative connivers pull out all the plugs in a desperate attempt to reach the hearts (especially) and minds (via twisted logic) by peddling fear, anxiety, reward, risk and any others that voters may have a propensity to buy into.

The best, or should we say worst in this case, trawl through their minds and through everything else to find the key inflection points which will strike the right chord with different groups of voters. In the last 10 days or so, it has become pretty obvious what they are.

Since the mainstream media is outright controlled by the ruling BN parties or by people who are very sympathetic to them because of all they have obtained through their connections to those at the top in BN, it is almost totally these media that push the most abysmal of advertising and descend to the lowest, basest levels of editorial content to a wide audience, hoping that some of them will convert to BN.

It is a desperate tactic, and like all desperate moves, it is a dangerous one which can backfire and have dire consequences which are exactly the reverse of what is intended as this article by a senior advertising industry executive who prefers to remain anonymous has pointed out.

The news and advertising coverage targets the three main racial groups in the country, Malays, Chinese and Indians. For the Malays, the mainstream media such as Berita Harian and Utusan Malaysiapaint a picture of PAS abandoning Islamic principles by aligning with those parties which are not Islamic. It stokes up deliberately religious and racial fears to bring Malays into the BN fold.

For the Chinese audience, they play up the fear of Islamic law and hudud. The New Straits Times and The Star notoriously run stories over and over again on their front pages about how PAS intends to introduce hudud law if they come to power. But even the least bit of analysis will show the possibility is remote.

NONEThe advertising that accompanies the rubbish that is passed out as editorial content is just as or even more insidious. With the opposition parties virtually totally shut out from advertising in the mainstream papers, except token numbers with some newspapers, BN advertising has a field day.
But public reaction has been strong this time. A petitionwas organised against RAPP KL which was responsible for writing a number of advertisements for The Star.

The basic message to the Chinese community is that a vote for DAP will be a vote for PAS and will mean hudud law in Malaysia and all the restrictions that it imposes. And for Malays it's the other way around, a vote for PAS is a vote for DAP and the erosion of Malay rights and Islam.

No more monopoly on truth - or lies

The maxim for the advertisements seems to be one taken from the most quoted line of the most notorious propagandist ever, Joseph Goebbels, who ran Hitler's propaganda machine: "If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth." But in this day and age of the Internet, there are many more sources for information than newspapers and pro-government media, even if they still have a wide reach. There is no more monopoly on truth - or lies.

Much has been said about the hudud issue and how PAS' intention to implement it poses a danger to non-Muslims and their way of life. But the fact of the matter is that it is really a non-issue in the general election. PAS has always been for the implementation of hudud law but it has never got its way because there is not enough support for it.

NONEIt would need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to change the constitution to implement hudud law. That's an impossible scenario for PAS to achieve in the foreseeable future. For all intents and purposes, the question of hudud law is a utterly irrelevant in these elections. Likewise, neither Malay rights nor Islam is under threat from anybody no matter what the election outcome. The status quo will remain as far as these are concerned.

And if anyone says or not-so-slyly implies that a change in government is likely to cause instability, uncertainty violence, economic hardship, etc, what kind of a democracy are we? Are we not entitled as citizens of this country to collectively change this government if we want to?

And if we do, is it not our right to expect that the handover of power will be smooth, proper and without any untoward incident? And if even that is denied us, are we wrong in exerting our rights by any means available to us?

Any attempt to drum into voters that any of these - hudud, threats against Malay rights and Islam, uncertainty, risk, violence, etc - are reasons why we should vote for the incumbents is a blatant effort to stray voters away from the substantive issues in these elections and appeal to their baser more irrational emotions. Most Malaysians, I dare say, are sick and tired of these repetitive threats and coercion towards the exercise of our free will.

In these elections, let us weigh carefully the substantive issues in our minds of what both sides represent, equip ourselves with the right information and make our considered decision to cast our vote on Sunday without succumbing to threat and coercion and with the full knowledge and confidence, that no matter what the outcome, the decision of the voters will be final.

P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of KiniBiz. He says no matter how many times you repeat a lie, it remains a lie. And it gets bloody annoying after just a little while!