Not voting should be the last resort

  • A Humble Submission
  • Thursday, 25 Jan 2018

Informed decision: There are many choices for voters both at state and federal levels.

OVER the past few weeks, the calls for a boycott of the upcoming general election have been gaining traction. So too the calls for voters to spoil their ballots.

There have always been such calls but largely on the fringe. However, they are now becoming louder and louder following the announcement of Pakatan Harapan’s divisive choices for its Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister candidates, coupled with the long simmering negative sentiments that some have towards politics.

There is a segment of Malaysian youths who are politically aware but are so disillusioned by politics today that they are willing to give up their right to vote for candidates who are vying to represent the voters.

Democracy is not just voting. Democracy is not something that is exercised every five years.

Make no mistake, boycotting elections or spoiling votes are all part and parcel of democracy. They are themselves democratic practices.

If the traffic lights in your area do not work, you do not have to seek help from your elected representatives. You do not need to involve politicians to address such problems.

However, if you want to make institutional reforms or change the law, it must be through the legislative process, in which our elected representatives represent the larger populace.

If you do not care about who represents you in the legislative chamber, how can you abolish bad laws or reform institutions?

If you do not vote and as a result, you are represented by a representative who

does not care about your concerns, how can you do anything about laws and institutions?

One of the arguments for a boycott of the general election or for deli­berately spoiling votes is that voters are not offered real choices. The claim here is that both sides of the political divide are just the same.

If you do not like the candidates from the main political coalitions, you can vote for the other political parties that may run in your constituency.

It is also presumptive at this juncture to say there are no real choices. Since Parliament has not been dissolved yet, there is no certainty as to which candidate will stand in which constituency.

Further, if you are unhappy with your constituency’s candidates at the federal level, you can still make a choice at the state level and vice versa.

If you are unhappy with particular individuals, then you can organise yourselves and campaign against those individuals wherever they may stand.

Instead of looking at parties and leaders, you can zoom in on the candidates.

Listen to what each of them has to say during the campaign period, and make a decision based on what you think about the candidates and not as a proxy vote for who will govern Malaysia.

To say that you do not want to choose a candidate because there are no real choices is an argument that does not hold water.

There are so many choices you can make, so many layers to those choices, and so many strategies that you can utilise with those choices. Not choosing a candidate should be the last choice.

Syahredzan Johan is a partner of a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur with an interest in the laws that shape our country. He can be reached at The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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