So, it's election time for Malaysians

AFTER much wrangling, dealing, arm-twisting and debates, it is decided that we will head to the polls.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaacob advised the King to dissolve Parliament on Oct 10, 2022. As the King consented to the Prime Minister's request, everything was set in motion.

Before the dissolution of Parliament, a viral message made the rounds in WhatsApp groups, purportedly on the dates set for the nomination and polling days, respectively. I had commented in more than one WhatsApp group that the message was speculative because the Election Commission must first meet to set dates for nomination and polling.

Nonetheless, some did think that the dates were accurate because everything was "set up in advance."

Such sentiments are telling on two fronts, (1) how some Malaysians are so sceptical of the system and (2) how the same Malaysians are not ready to listen to facts but rather believe what they want to believe.

However, despite Ismail imploring all states save for Sabah, Sarawak, Johor and Melaka to follow the Federal Government's lead and dissolve their state assemblies, at the time of writing, Pakatan Harapan held states are holding firms they do not want "#undibanjir” or polling during inclement weather.

With the horror of last year’s floods still fresh in memory, Pakatan and Perikatan have capitalised on this issue to remind Malaysians that the impending general election is less about the stability of the government and more about Barisan Nasional's attempt to consolidate power so it can work out a favourable deal for their leaders pejoratively referred to as the "court cluster."

Early in my political journey, I was told that simple messaging is always potent. In fact, as we live in times where social media proliferates, people generally have short attention spans. So the shorter the message, the more impact it will have.

However, politics is a complicated process, and at times nuances matter. I think it is important for Malaysians to ask themselves the more critical questions about our country's future regarding the economy, race relations, good governance and fighting corruption, jobs for the youth, opportunities for all, education and training and others.

In asking ourselves these questions, we must also look at the terms of Pakatan, Perikatan and Barisan. Because it is unique that in the duration of the 14th Parliament, all three major coalitions were in power at some point.

Pakatan over promised and under-delivered. Their supporters complain that it only had 22 months in power, so it could not make an impact.

I find this narrative unconvincing because, in 22 months, it could have done a lot, especially in legal and political reforms. But, without Pakatan's win, Malaysia would not have progressed democratically.

However, Pakatan was more interested in fighting itself than fighting for the country. In the end, it was brought down not by its foes but by its friends.

After Pakatan we had Perikatan. The battle against Covid-19 defined Perikatan's term. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin of Perikatan took painful decisions and locked down the country to save lives, but those same lockdowns threatened livelihoods.

However, due to the policies and risks taken, Malaysia is on the path to economic recovery. However, Perikatan's botched emergency proclamation to avoid losing political power was a low moment for the country.

After Perikatan, we had the Keluarga Malaysia Government led by Ismail from Barisan. In fact, despite what critics say, Ismail is probably the most consequential prime minister of this term because he ensured sufficient legal reforms, such as the anti-hopping laws that have restored faith in the political process after the Sheraton Move in early 2020.

However, Ismail could have gone further with his reforms, which would have been compelling.

I also believe that each coalition must lay down a compelling manifesto and a detailed action plan. Even though Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, as Pakatan's prime minister, stated that a manifesto is not scripture, it is still important to give voters the chance to decide on who best to lead them.

As the political mercury rises, Malaysians will be confronted by news from all sides of the political divide. We must assess it critically; and not buy into what politicians say hook, line and sinker.

Also, this is the first election where Malaysians have three viable coalitions to choose from – Barisan, Pakatan and Perikatan.

I also believe it is still early days to determine who will win though that is the question I get asked the most; I agree with the King's decree that the time has come for Malaysians to determine the country's political leadership.

It is also time for the loveless marriage in the form of our current government to come to a natural end.

Further, the vexed political questions I raised earlier can only be settled via a general election.

While it is not the ideal time to hold an election, there is no turning back. We must embrace it and make an informed choice based on the performance and capabilities of the major coalitions.

And for democracy to survive, we must do our part and vote. We may not like the choices because we expect more of them, but one thing we must always remember – the good must never be the enemy of the perfect.

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Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal

Ivanpal Singh Grewal is an Advocate & Solicitor. He was formerly Political Secretary to the Minister of Plantation Industries & Commodities.


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