Even if you’re disillusioned, you should take part in the democratic process and cast your ballots.
IT has come to my attention that there is apparently a growing number of young people who are so disillusioned with politics and politicians in this country that they have decided not to vote. I am uncertain what the numbers are as I am unaware of any poll being conducted on this topic.
For all we know, this phenomenon could just be coming from a small group of vocal, urban sophisticates who are too cool for school and feel the need to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi.
Nevertheless, if there are large numbers of totally uninterested or utterly fed-up youths out there, some sort of response would be prudent. I am certain they would not be reading this, because young people generally don’t care what old fogeys like myself have to say; but here are my thoughts on the matter anyway.
Firstly, I am actually quite sympathetic to the feeling of cynicism towards Malaysian politics. A complaint that I have read and one which I sympathise with is that some feel that no party (or coalition) represents them and their values.
The blurring of the lines amongst the political parties has been upsetting indeed. Disappointment is the general feeling that I have.
For example, I am disappointed (and not a little embarrassed) that I was duped by PAS in the last two general elections into thinking that they have become more progressive. Whatever change that I perceived turned out to be a thin veneer, easily shattered by the death of the late Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat.
And to see the other opposition parties cozying up to the fourth Prime Minister still makes me squirm. Despite their protestation that the old man is now fighting their cause, this new alliance does appear to show that realpolitik will triumph over principle when push comes to shove.
This is further reinforced when he helps create a new party to oppose the Government. And hey, guess what? It’s race-based. Talk about realpolitik.
However, if we want a new party to be formed, it simply is not realistic to hope it will happen in the current climate. The fact of the matter is the parties that have been created in the past 20 years, at least the ones with a feasible chance of winning anything, have been breakaways from existing parties (Amanah, PKR, PPB) and they have had big personalities to capture the imagination (PKR, PPB). If we are going to have a new party start from scratch, it will be very difficult indeed.
The reason is that the stakes of elections are simply too high. A political party will compete at the state level or the federal level.
There is nothing smaller to dip your toes in and to build grassroots support. In other words: we don’t have local elections.
In my view, it is vital that local elections be reinstated. This is because local government issues are the ones that affect most people’s lives most immediately.
Local government therefore ought to be accountable via the ballot box. But also, at this level a new party can build their reputation and experience before going up to the big fights.
Can we get local elections again with the incumbent Government? I doubt it. The only way is to change things and the only way to do that is to vote. So if you long for a new party to vote for in the future, you need to vote now.
My second point is that if we don’t use the democratic process (such as it is), what else do we use? In a country where the agencies that can elicit change are truly independent, for example the administration of justice, then elections are not necessarily the only way to get things done.
For example the judiciaries in countries like India, the Philippines and Britain have been instrumental in creating ground-breaking changes in the law regarding the right to life, the environmental rights of future generations and the freedom of expression. Can we expect such changes now?
Can a new Government make these necessary changes? Only time can tell, but that is part of the democratic process.
They may make promises and it is up to us to make sure they keep those promises. You can’t even start that process by not voting.
Azmi Sharom (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.