THE formula has not changed and it never will. But not many accept that the mindset of voters who elect people into power has changed. Driving around Permatang Pauh and its neighbouring areas, the sea of bunting, posters and even large billboards is a reminder that the "war of being seen" is still relevant in a society that should have evolved and progressed to another level where issues form the thrust of campaigns. After 13 general elections and numerous by-elections, the "winning formula" still thrives on promises – most of them forgotten the day after polling – and discrediting the opposing candidate with unsubstantiated allegations, lies, half-truths, scandals and of course ... sex! Even if they were bosom pals in the past, in the election battle, all gloves are off and hitting below the belt is allowed. Permatang Pauh has seen a good mixture of all these ingredients over the past 10 days and is likely to see more over the next two. The result is not going to change anything, ever. The next time around, it is going to be the same "good old thing" all over again as the people continue enjoying the goodies and handouts that come with elections. It is not just Barisan Nasional (BN) and the power of the supporting media. Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has also learnt to fight fire with fire. The sexual innuendos by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Wanita leader Datuk Seri Sharizat Jalil have not been left un-repelled. One set of gutter politics begets another, though not necessarily in the same form. The so-called extravagance of the wedding of the prime minister's daughter has become fodder for another mode of attack. His wife has been drawn into the crossfire. No one wins. But who cares, as long as there is something to spice up to tell the information-hungry electorate. After all, hearing from the speakers is a far better prospective than reading juicy stuff online. The 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) issue has taken more than its fair share of discharge of information in the campaign. The equally vociferous BN leaders have been over-generous with their attacks on Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, making it appear that "a housewife" is not fit for high-level politics. Suhaimi Sabudin, the BN candidate is pleading ignorance, letting the bigwigs do the talking but will this absolve him of the depths gutter politics has taken his campaign to? So, barbs are traded at every given opportunity at late night ceremah, walkabouts and meet-the-people sessions. How will it affect the voting? Will the electorate continue to be viewed as gullible folk who will buy tall tales? Gone are the days when promises of a "klinik bidan" (maternity clinic) or a surau in the neighbourhood will sway the votes. The younger and more educated voters, especially those who are on social media platforms, no longer accept such promises as collateral. With GST and its related problems, PR has suddenly found their initial campaign being galvanized as the government stumbles on one aspect after another. And with a "friend" like MCA Wanita chief Datuk Heng Seai Kie, Pakatan and Wan Azizah have one less worry. By shoving her foot into her mouth with an outrageous statement that pits the Chinese against the Malays, Heng had played the race card – not exactly an Ace of Spades but a Joker. Her comparison on taxpayers and the demographic patterns of the Chinese community demonstrates that all her party's chest-thumping talk of racial unity, harmony and moderation is nothing but rhetoric. Her statements, made on her rounds in the Rompin by-elections, are reverberating all over the country, especially in Permatang Pauh where the PR campaigners did not hide their glee in accepting such a "bonus". With arguments and substantiation based on hearsay and distorted figures pulled out of thin air, GST will continue to haunt BN. Given so much distraction, what then are the issues being campaigned on? No one can give a pin-point answer as the election has gone from just choosing the right candidate to many other issues. It has come to a point of no return.