Without a doubt, we are in to the final lap of what must be the most hotly contested general election in our nation’s 56 years of history – an election many would consider to be a pivotal moment.
To many, the match is between the incumbent ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), and the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat(PR). To some the choice is between Najib and Anwar, whilst to others it is between maintaining status quo or change.
But I want to put it to you that this election is not about BN or PR. Why? Because in any contest, the winner is the one with the better skills, strategy, funds and luck. But in an election, the winner or loser is decided not by the contending parties but by the audience – or in this case the voters.
For in a democracy, we the people have the power to decide who wins or loses, who is to serve us as our government and as the opposition for the next 5 years. This election is really about us – the voters – being able to exercise our democratic right to vote in a free and fair election.
More than ever before, if we are registered voters, we must vote in the upcoming 13th General Election. If you are still undecided or unconvinced as to whether you should bother, let me offer you 10 reasons on why you MUST vote in this election:
1. IT IS OUR RIGHT – Under Article 119 of the Federal Constitution, if we are a Malaysian citizen above the age of 21 and are not of unsound mind or have not been convicted of any crime, we have the right to one vote in the constituency in which we reside. Currently, however, should you wish to exercise that right, you must be registered as a voter with the Election Commission.
2. IT IS OUR DUTY AS A CITIZEN – Going beyond our right, it is also our duty as a responsible citizen to vote. Choosing not to vote is like a family member who chooses not to take out the trash in the house but then complains about the stench, or who chooses not to participate in the decision-making process of repainting the family home but later gripes about the colour chosen.
We lose our right to complain about the state of affairs in this country whenever we choose not to vote when we can. Hazen Pingree, mayor of Detroit in the late 19th century, said, “Voter apathy was, and will remain the greatest threat to democracy.”
3. IT IS STRENGTHENING OUR DEMOCRACY – We are not a true democracy until everyone in the majority of eligible voters casts his vote. Some would say that Malaysia has a healthy and vibrant democracy as we had a 75 percent voter turnout in the last general election.
But because we have an electoral system where you first have to register as a voter before you can vote, the actual number of eligible voters casting their votes is only around 53 percent – if you include eligible voters who did not register and those who did register, but did not vote. If you take voter turnout against the total population of 28 million in 2008, it is only 28 percent of citizens whose votes decided who now governs all of us.
We can definitely improve on this number by making sure we register ourselves and then turn up to vote on polling day. Power to the Rakyat!
4. IT IS WHERE EVERYONE IS TRULY EQUAL – It doesn’t matter if you are the Prime Minister or a labourer, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, as long as you are a Malaysian above 21 with no criminal record and are of sound mind – you have one vote each. Such is the beauty of democracy: everyone is truly equal at the ballot box.
In this sense, in a functioning democracy, the system ensures that rights of the masses are protected so that the rich and powerful cannot exploit the system to their advantage. If we don’t realise this fact, and allow the rich and powerful to buy our votes or to bully us into voting for them, then we don’t have a democracy.
5. IT IS MINIMIZING THE IMPACT OF ELECTORAL FRAUD – With the revelations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry in Sabah about the ‘citizenship for votes’ scandal, there can be no more doubt about the lengths this government is willing to go in order to secure election victories.
Even now we are discovering unusual spikes in new voters in some marginal constituencies such as Subang (32%), Kota Raja (30%) and Hulu Langat (25%) – all coincidentally held by PR.
Who are all these new residents and voters? Are they foreigners being given the right to vote (like in Sabah) or are they phantom voters (people who uses another’s identity to vote)? A huge turnout of valid voters can dilute the impact of such dubious voters.
6. IT IS HOLDING OUR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE – Political satirist P.J. O’Rourke commented, “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” There is truth in that observation.
Perhaps we are where we are as a nation because we have given the keys of power to the same coalition for 56 years, and they have gotten drunk with power to the point that they don’t feel the need to be accountable to us anymore. We need to remind them of who the real boss is in a democracy. We want to hold our government accountable, be it BN or PR.
7. IT IS THE BEST WAY TO BRING ABOUT REAL REFORM – The result of BN’s political hegemony over the last five decades is that the ills confronting us are systemic, i.e. part of the system. Corruption, abuse of power, violations of human rights, racial discrimination and intimidation are part and parcel of life in Malaysia. Is BN capable of reform? One just has to look at the fate of ex-PM Tun Abdullah Badawi to know that it is impossible.
Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” If we don’t use our vote to bring about systemic change, I fear that our children will one day in desperation have no choice but to spill their blood on the streets to bring about that change.
8. OUR VOTE DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE – In 2008, BN won 139 parliamentary seats whilst PR won 83. To form a government with a simple majority, PR needed 112 parliamentary seats; thus, it was short by 29 seats. Based on the results of that election, 39 seats were decided by less than 6 percent of the voters who turned out and 57 by less than 10 percent. Thirteen seats were decided by less than a thousand voters.
GE13 will be an even closer race as both coalitions are more ready than they were in 2008, with the stakes higher for both. Our vote will make a difference.
9. WE ARE VOTING FOR OUR CHILDREN – In any general election we are voting for a government that would carry us into the next five years of their term. But in GE13, perhaps for the first time ever, we might have a viable alternative government.
The choice for us is clear, we either vote for more of the same or vote for change. If we are dissatisfied with the way our country has been managed and believe that things should be better, then this is our chance to vote for change. We are not voting for our own comfort, but for all our children.
However before we make our choice, it is imperative that we find out for ourselves the vision of the future these two coalitions are offering by reading from a variety of sources – not just the mainstream media and general talks and forums. American journalist Tony Snow commented, “Voting is a right best exercised by people who have taken time to learn about the issues.”
10. IT IS A PRIVILEGE WE STILL HAVE - According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2011, Malaysia is ranked 71 out of 167 countries surveyed. 25 countries are considered “full democracies; 53 including Malaysia are considered “flawed democracies”, 36 are “hybrid regimes and 53 are “authoritarian regimes”. Malaysia’s score of 6.19 out of 10 is just 0.2 points away from being considered a hybrid regime.
Yes, we are a democracy but just barely. If we don’t use our right to vote and to reform our democratic system, we may slide further down the ranking and pay the price for our apathy. Compared to many countries ruled by hybrid or authoritarian regimes, we are privileged, but it is not something we should take for granted.
Not too long ago I was at a forum where the speaker started off his talk with a question to the audience. He asked, “What or who do you think is the biggest obstacle to political reform in this country?” The audience offered various answers: Mahathir was a popular one, Najib, corruption, the judiciary, etc. But his answer took us by surprise. He suggested that it is the Rakyat and proceeded to explain why. At the end of the session, most of us grasped his point and agreed with him.
Our apathy and fear have allowed our elected officials to mismanage our national wealth, enact laws that violate our constitutional rights, make use of our public institutions to serve their own ends and divide the people of this nation so that the elite among them can rule over us.
For too long we have handed over the power of governance to ambitious and greedy politicians, and then sat back to watch in despair and hopelessness as they trampled upon our rights and future. With the awakening that started from the last general election in 2008, we, the voters of this country, have a golden opportunity to reclaim our power and our voice. Let us not lose this chance to vote.
Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual–or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country. – Samuel Adams, one of the founding fathers of the U.S.A.