Malaysia Today (unpublished Brave New World)
05 March 2008
"Who to vote for then? Well for one thing, it won’t be for the politician who promises to clean up the drains of Petaling Jaya. That’s not what my MP or my State Exco Member is supposed to do. That is the job of the Local Authorities."
My eight year old boy and his nine year old cousin were in deep conversation last weekend. Very serious stuff because they chased me out of the room and demanded privacy. It turns out that they wanted to establish a political party and they were writing their manifesto. After a bit of poking around, I found out that the manifesto is pretty much limited to one point: my nephew wants to be Prime Minister. My son on the other hand does not seem to have any idea what is going on.
Normally, this would be the time when I make a, oh so witty, comparison between the 12th Malaysian General Elections and the exploits of two primary school boys. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anything and I just put this little anecdote in because, well, I think it’s cute and funny and I know the rest of this article won’t be.
So, elections are here again and on Saturday, I shall be going to the polling station with that merry tune running in my head. You know the one; mari lah mari, pergi mengundi, jangan lupa kewajipan, pada negara.
Who to vote for then? Well for one thing, it won’t be for the politician who promises to clean up the drains of Petaling Jaya. That’s not what my MP or my State Exco Member is supposed to do. That is the job of the Local Authorities, in my case the Petaling Jaya City Council and I have nothing to do with those guys. I should of course. I should have the right to vote for the men and women who deal with such important matters like my huge contributions to the MBPJ football team via all those parking fines I’ve paid. But I don’t.
Now the candidate who promises me that he will try to reintroduce Local Authority elections, he will have my attention. But really, wild dogs roaming the streets and poor street lighting should not be what an MP is primarily concerned about. They are elected so that they can be part of the law-making machine we know as Parliament and they have bigger issues to fry, like corruption, the state of the judiciary, governance, racist supremacy ideology, fundamental freedoms, etc.
Ideally, I would look at the individual candidates and try to figure out where he stands. But this is not very practicable because these candidates are not really individuals; they are the human faces of their political parties. So, what about the parties then? Perhaps I can find one that matches how I think. Frankly, I don’t think there are any that truly reflect my values and aspirations.
Besides, aren’t the constituencies arranged in such a way that one party is more likely to win anyway? When one looks at the way our electoral system is managed, when you can win almost forty percent of the votes and yet only get ten percent of the seats, it is easy to get cynical. Does this mean that voting is a waste of my time? Indeed not.
Elections are a cog in the machinery that is democracy. They are an important cog, but just a cog nonetheless. Of course it is nice if the candidate you choose wins, but even if he or she does not, there is still reason to vote. Because Malaysia uses the first past the post system and because each constituency is not equal (some constituencies are tiny and so each vote counts more), there is a tendency to view everything in terms of seats won.
Of course this is important, because a party without a two-thirds majority has much less freedom to do what it wants to. A major factor here is the ability to change the constitution. Without a two thirds majority a ruling party does not have the freedom to change our main source of citizens’ protection according to their whims. Of course the number of seats won is important.
However, personally I think the percentage of votes is the true indicator of what the people think and want and it is just as important as the number of seats won. This is because the battle for democracy does not happen only once every four or five years. It takes place every single day. And knowing that a large group of the population feel that issues like good governance, honesty, integrity equality and civil liberties are important gives momentum and strength to that day to day battle.
It is with that thought in mind that I will go humming and skipping to the polls, come Saturday. And no matter what the results are on Sunday, I know one thing for sure, if democracy and human rights are important to me, then the quest to ensure my country respects both will continue on Monday, as it will for as long as I draw breath. The only thing that elections determine is who makes up government. Whether we are free or not, is up to us the people to fight for.
(Azmi's previous take on the General Election can be found here: Azmi Sharom on the 12th General Election)