The Mad, Mad, Mock Elections
n colonial Malaya of the fifties, the idea of democracy and its attendant concept of universal suffrage were not widely known. Certainly, Malayans did read about elections in other countries in the newspapers. But that was all. The first experience in some limited self-government for Malayans and, with it, the chance to cast a vote for a representative of one's choice came in 1952 when municipal elections were conducted for the first time.
But at the V. I. the chance to experience some aspects of it came much earlier, in 1951, when over seventy Post School Certificate (now Form Six) pupils decided to stage a Mock Election. Three parties were set up - Labour, Independent and Progressive. Pictorial symbols were assigned to these parties as is the normal practice in countries where the literacy rate is low. Thus Labour was assigned a teacup, the Progressive candidate a house, while the independent candidate was identified by a crescent.
Mr Gerald Hawkins, the Federal Supervisor of Elections, was present to explain the significance and procedure of elections. Interestingly, the three candidates assumed mock names that were deliberately at odds with their gender or ethnic status. Thus Miss Molly Tan was "Salleh bin Mat", David Saravanamuthu was "Lim Ah Lum" and Sulaiman bin Mohd. Amin was "Letchimi" !
Each candidate made his or her election speech in turn on the stage. "Salleh" pledged to end the state of squalor in certain parts of Kuala Lumpur. His, or rather her, eloquence failed to sway the audience. "Letchimi" lacked the zest and spirit of a public speaker, but "Lim" a.k.a. David Saravanamuthu who promised, among others, to construct an ultra-modern sanatorium at Petaling Hill, seemed to win the imagination of the assembled "masses".
The audience then filed out to cast their votes. Each registered "voter" had to identify himself with his identity card and was then given a ballot paper which he took to a polling booth to secretly mark and deposit into the ballot box. A "policeman" was present to ensure utmost secrecy and that nobody voted more than once. A vote count revealed that the Independent candidate "Lim Ah Lum" had won by a majority of 6 votes over "Salleh". It was a realistic example of election procedure, something that V.I. pupils were able to experience years ahead of the rest of the country.
The next round of Mock Elections came in 1955. By now national political consciousness had been raised several notches, with the first country-wide elections to select a local government scheduled for July 27, 1955. However, the V.I. Senior Literary and Debating Society beat the colonial government at the starting blocks by staging its own "Elections" on April 14.
This time the Election clearly resembled a real campaign as pamphlets and election slogans were fluttering everywhere days before "Polling Day". Gaudy posters appealed to voters from trees and notice boards. Only four candidates stood for election - Mustafa bin Ali, Ahmad Abdullah, "Joe" Yap Chong Yee and Harbhajan Singh. Words like "manifesto" soon became part of the Victorian vocabulary. Harbhajan was an interesting candidate to judge by his campaign speech. He promised bullock carts to convey voters to the polling station and promised, in addition, to legislate against money lending. Ahmad Abdullah railed against "pompous and over-aggressive teachers" and promised to pack them off to approved schools if elected. Mustafa's agenda for reform was too mundane and lacked fire as he refused to play to the gallery. The final candidate, "Joe" of the Democratic Party, brought the house down with his wit and repartee. Even the headmaster, Mr G. P. Dartford, who was present, was writhing with laughter. "Joe" had come to the last stretch with enormous popular support from the Lower Forms and could do no wrong in their eyes. The following day's voting confirmed the trend - the winners were "Joe" and Ahmad Abdullah.
On-going political events sweeping the country aroused even more interest in elections and democracy. The London constitution conference in early 1956 had ended in a promise of independence to Malaya by August 31, 1957. There was incessant talk around the country about self-government, about democracy and about elections. Small wonder that on May 17, there was another round of the eagerly awaited Mock Elections. An official from the (real) Elections Commission came along to talk about electoral procedure. He also brought along a real ballot box which he opened up to show what was and what was not in it.
By now the candidates on the campaign trail were learning more and more tactics from the adult world. For ten days before "Polling Day", posters and banners festooned the school compound. Election rallies, planned and unplanned, were held in various corners of the school, with the odd candidate popping up with megaphone in hand. Hamzah bin Abdul Majeed of the Republican Party garnered critical early support from the Lower Formers, which manisfested itself in wild, tumultuous scenes whenever he appeared. On one occasion, in a flamboyant nod to American-style electioneering, one of his young supporters drove his father's convertible along to a rally with supporters clinging to the sides (his father was not amused). If nothing else, it confirmed a truism of politics - win over young, impressionable minds and you have won half the battle (Real politicians, please note)! Alladin, too, had his youthful following who rallied to his war cry - an exuberant "Oo-Yah" delivered while simultaneously punching the air with a clenched fist.
All manner of fantastic promises were made to the "masses" to garner votes. One candidate promised that radio and TV sets (which had not yet appeared in Malaya) would be installed in every classrooom, while Alladin bin Hashim promised to air condition, of all places, the school toilets so that pupils could "ease themselves in comfort". Amlir bin Aziz of the PUP (Pupils' Union Party) claimed that he had six million supporters. When challenged over this in his election speech on the final day of campaign, he said that these were the future descendants of his (six) supporters. K. B. Thuraisingham, a third former, pluckily tried to sing a song but this was vetoed by the chairman. Two of the candidates were prefects including the School Captain, Lee Choong Keet, but they failed to sway the masses. "Joe" Yap, with his own coterie of raucous followers and hoping to repeat his victory of the previous year, was the chief rival to Hamzah. However, after the votes were counted the next day, the winner turned out to be Hamzah and the runner-up Alladin. Both received book prizes from the headmaster, Dr G. E. D. Lewis.
And so on to 1957, the year of independence. This time, the Mock Elections were held on July 4 - American Independence Day. By a coincidence there was also a Republican Party and a Democratic Party, as well as a Victorian Party. To control the number of candidates and the number of parties, the chairman of the Senior Literary and Debating Society had requested that groups of candidates formed parties closely mirroring, in a way, real political life. So there were three parties fielding three candidates each. The weirdest party symbols popped up during the run up to Polling Day - a "Z-bomb" for one of the Democrats' candidates and a fierce-looking seladang for Goh Chin Leng of the Victorian Party. In fact symbols began to edge out candidates on the election posters, with the candidates' names squeezed into some insignificant corner. The V.I. boys had stumbled upon something that the real politicians out there would only find out years later. Vote for the symbol and party, and not the candidate!
The recess rallies were as boisterous as ever, with each candidate's supporters attempting to drown out the speeches of his rivals. Candidates were chaired around by supporters in noisy processions. Our "politicians" were also learning to make the wildest and most ludicrous promises just to get votes. For instance, the Merdeka Stadium, then being built behind the school, was offered as a reward by one hopeful to entice the voters, while Chin Leng promised everyone who voted for him free seladang milk.
The voting rules were different this time. Each voter was allowed to cast three votes, one vote for just one candidate from the same party. It ensured that every party had the same number of votes to be shared among its three candidates, in effect making that party's candidates rivals rather than partners. And yet the winner was not the party with the most votes but the candidate who had the highest number of votes, irrespective of his party! In the event, "Sam" a.k.a. Baljit Singh Sambhi of the Republican Party carried the day with 443 votes. Second was Chin Leng with 340 votes. Republican Ho Shing Chong garnered 300 votes just pipping Democrat Foo Yeow Khean by 1 vote.
There was a respite from Electionmania in 1958, but in the following year another round of the Mock Elections was scheduled for the first week of June. This time the joint organizers, the Senior Literary and Debating Society and the Economics Society, introduced refinements to the process that mirrored real life even more. The school was divided into three wards (constituencies, get it?) - East, Central and West Wards. Each ward would have its own slate of candidates fighting for a seat. "Political parties" could field candidates in all the wards but independents were still allowed. This was beginning to resemble real life as strategic alliances had to be formed among Victorians across the entire spectrum of the school if a party was going to win all three seats. And for the first time, a girl - Zawiah bte Laidin, from Upper Sixth Arts - took part. There were two main parties, the Radicals and the T-Party.
The T-Party machinery was awesome as supporters organized noisy motorcades around the school during recess. Posters, banners and rallies sprouted everywhere. In the West Ward, Radical candidate Zawiah had Arts students and the girls solidly behind her, while her T-Party rival Kanesalingam had Lower Six Science behind him. The demographics won - Zawiah romped home the winner. Independent Likit Hongladarom, son of the Thai ambassador, lost his deposit (another real life innovation !).
The battle for the Central Ward was filled with enough intrigue to make any real politician proud. T-Party whip Chan Heun Yin eloquently rallied the First Formers for candidate Foo Yeow Khean (who had campaigned and lost in 1957) . Even Kanesalingam took time off from his West Ward battles to speak for his ally. Not to be outdone, the Radicals sent their female members to woo Central Ward voters. But in the end the T-Party machinery won the battle, with Foo thumping his Radical rival 209-155.
The East Ward battle was a toss-up between Radical Cheong Yong Kuay, a popular sportsman, and T-Partyman Seto Kuan Mun. But intensive last-minute campaigning by Kanesalingam and Heun Yin enabled Seto to pip his rival 139-132. This round of the Mock Elections was described as one of the best of the series. And more and more it resembled the real world in unappealing ways as well- booing and heckling at rallies and the appearance of spoilt votes!
On April 24, 1961, another round was staged. Again there were three Wards - North, Central and South (did the school rotate about its axis the last two years?). This time there were no independents, with three parties - the What Party, the Victorian Democratic Party and the United Students' Front - doing battle across the wards. Each recess the parties held their rallies to the usual chorus of jeers and cheers. The What Party threatened to be a force to contend with from the word go, attracting big crowds while the USF could not muster more than ten pupils each time. In a final attempt to win votes, in what would have infringed on real election rules, the What Party put together an impressive motorcade hours before polling began. In desperation, the VDP and the USF held a joint rally but all was in vain as the What Party steamrollered the opposition to clinch a Mock Election first - a landslide! Ahmad Zaidee (brother of victorious Zawiah in 1959) won in the North Ward, Nik Ibrahim in the Central and Pritam Singh Sekhon completed the hat trick in the South.
Two years later, in 1963, the Mock Elections were launched on May 24, with Polling Day scheduled for June 4. However, the headmaster, Mr A.D. Baker, postponed the Elections when it was discovered that some posters were rather suggestive in nature and, in addition, had been defaced by some unknown persons. The Senior Literary and Debating Society then felt that it was too close to the term exams to resume and decided to cancel the event for that year.
The following year, 1964, the Mock Elections were back on track again, and unknown to all, for the last time. Four parties - the Yum Yum Party, the Pupils' Action Party, This Laughing Party and Your Victoria Institution Party vied for seats in West, Central and East Wards (the school had obviously rotated back to its original orientation). For the first time the Lower Forms formed their own parties, while the Sixth Formers, unsettled by the previous year's cancellation were content to sit back and watch. Yap Kon Lian of This Laughing Party gained a surprise 100-84 win over Khong Kim Hoong of the Yum Yum Party in the West Ward. Bobby Kok of Your VIP scored a huge win over Albert Tan of This Laughing Party by 181 to 110 votes. In a strategic mistake, the Yum Yum Party fielded a Sixth Former, Foo Yeow Leong, against the junior candidates in Central Ward. This enabled the PAP to ask the youngsters to 'crush the seniors', a cry readily taken up. Foo (his brother, Yeow Khean had won in 1959) was beaten, obtaining only 40 votes. In the East Ward, Jeyapalasingam of Your VIP triumphed over Sunil Kumar of the PAP by 108 votes to 95.
The (Mock) Elections Commission took some flak for not properly teaching the Lower Formers to mark their ballots (some had crossed out the names of the candidates that they did not like) and also over the fact that there was double voting (like real life?). There was also an unusually large proportion of spoilt votes. Some rallies had turned violent with no prefects around to maintain order. With the Mock Elections threatening to turn into, well, a mockery, the curtain was rung down for the last time.
It had started in the early fifties as an exercise in teaching the V.I. pupils new-fangled democratic procedures and giving them elocution experience to boot. Over the years, long after independence had come to this country, the Mock Elections had evolved into a popularity contest marked less by serious reasoned speeches but more by riotous zaniness and occasional inanities though, undeniably, it was whacky fun as well. As a crude sociological experiment it was interesting and sobering to see how they were manisfested as a microcosm of society at large, and to see how even schoolboy mock politicians could network, strategize, and plot the same machinations as their adult counterparts!
As far as is known, none of the candidates from the entire series of V.I. Mock Elections ever did become politicians (though quite a few did become real life Dato's or Datuks). Perhaps they knew or found out something about electioneering that the real politicians didn't!
Last Updated on 23 November 2003.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min