In a corner of a coffeeshop late in the night, about 600 copies of the Star lie stacked, bundles that look as if they’d just been delivered from the Circulation mailroom.
The Circulation routing slip is neatly placed in a corner of the bundle, the packing straps still in place.
Any minute now, you think, the news vendor is about to ride up on his kapcai, and collect his bundle.
But it’s midnight on Friday. The papers are copies of that day’s edition, printed the night before. It’s been 20 hours since they were printed and packed. The bundles are still unopened.
One or two copies lie on the tables, and some late-night customers flip through their copies, briefly dipping into an article or two as they have their supper at the coffeeshop near the Sungei Pinang waterfront. Only one or two seem to be reading anything at length, and one man at a nearby table is engrossed in a fullpage advertisement.
Similar shipments have been made in the name of other candidates. Tens of thousands of bulk copies have been distributed.
NSTP is also doing the same, with free copies of the New Straits Times, Berita Harian and Metro distributed for political purposes, given away at ceramahs.
The BN ceramah is one kilometer away, at the kampung nelayan by the Jelutong Expressway. There, a few copies of Metro have been left behind on the tables.
Circulation figures have received a healthy boost from the election. In Penang, selected food hawkers have made steady business from catering to BN ceramahs – held under the name of the 1Malaysia Welfare Club as charity events, to get around election rules against giving food and drinks to potential voters.
All ceramahs mean business for someone: event management companies for putting up the stage and sound systems, souvenir suppliers, or for food hawkers and souvenir stalls. At Pakatan Rakyat rallies, it’s all private enterprise in action. You buy your own food and drinks, buy your own souvenirs or bring your own. At Barisan Nasional rallies, it’s populism gone wild in a sort of bastardised socialism: everything’s been paid for, no one knows who’s actually footing the bill, no one knows who’s getting a cut, no one knows who’s getting the prizes, and no one knows what will be the final outcome.
It’s a reversal of roles for parties associated with the opposite philosophy. Times are changing, and the parties themselves are changing.
But with the Barisan Nasional, the rallies have been emblematic of the party’s approach to government — profligacy and wastage on a massive scale conducted right before the very eyes of the public.
There’s a measure of contemptuous arrogance at work: it’s as if the Barisan Nasional wants to rub the people’s faces in their own wounds, as if to say: Here, come and get it we’re using your own money to bribe you, Come and get it. And with them you know, you just know, that somebody is collecting a bundle.
Perhaps today, there will be a comeuppance. Perhaps tonight, the results will show that the Barisan National really got it from the voters; that it is they, the Barisan, who must now pack their bundle.
We can always hope.