Candidate or party?

As I write this, nominations for the 15th General Election are over.

It was a colourful and eventful spectacle, with supporters loudly expressing support for candidates dressed in their best – some even wrapped themselves with party paraphernalia.

It is a sign that our democracy is vibrant and healthy. Voters need to have a free and informed choice among various policy options and candidates to determine who their elected representatives will be. Elections must constitute competition among numerous political party-backed and/or independent candidates.

As parties lay out their manifestos, we can examine what each party is offering and make an informed choice accordingly.

The nomination process was also peaceful and orderly except for Tenom in Sabah because a convicted candidate's nomination was rejected.

Also, as we head into this election cycle, no one can tell which party or coalition will come out on top.

I was wrong in my prediction of the last general election – this time, I cannot pick up any discernible trends in voting.

Malaysians have 14 days to decide who will lead us for the next five years and I am sure we will all vote wisely.

However, this brings to the fore an issue affecting many of us, do we vote for the candidate or the party?

In Westminster-style parliamentary democracies such as ours, we tend to vote for the party, not the candidate. That is why independent candidates rarely do well in Malaysia.

However, there has also been a lot of debate about candidates this time as Malaysians have become more critical and are not ready to support political parties blindly.

For example, in Sungai Buloh, Pakatan Harapan's R. Ramanan is going up against Barisan Nasional's Khairy Jamaluddin.

It is axiomatic that Khairy has been one of the most competent ministers in the Perikatan Nasional and Barisan-led governments.

However, due to political imperatives, Khairy had to make way for Umno's deputy president Datuk Seri Mohammad Hassan in Rembau.

One would expect that being a hard-working and competent minister would be good enough for one to get a seat to contest. Alas, Umno's politics is intricate and complex.

After much searching, Khairy entered Harapan's den and to contest in Sungai Buloh.

Ramanan has been facing brickbats from activists and Pakatan supporters after his his candidacy was announced because of antecedent legal troubles and his past association with Barisan component party MIC.

Sungai Buloh has unwittingly become an incubator for a new political solicitude; does one vote for the party or candidate? It is never an easy question.

Pakatan has deflected criticism from its candidate by saying a vote for Khairy is a vote for Barisan and its chairman Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Ramanan has tried to defend himself but politics is a noisy process – no one is interested in explanations. Also, Ramanan does not have the experience and bona fides of Pakatan's former candidate, R. Sivarasa, who was put to pasture because he could not speak loud enough.

So, voters in Sungai Buloh will be closely watched and if Khairy prevails in surmounting the 29,000-odd vote majority Pakatan enjoyed in GE14s, it would be a political coup.

Let's look at another constituency, Bentong, a quaint yet enchanting town not too far from Kuala Lumpur.

Tan Sri Liow Tiong Lai from Barisan represented the constituency in Parliament between 1999 and 2018. Liow is a gentleman and a nice guy. I know this personally.

Liow lost to Pakatan's Wong Tack, the self-proclaimed hero of the anti-Lynas movement.

Yet, Wong was not a very good MP and his party, DAP, decided he did not deserve a second chance. Instead, Pakatan fielded Young Sefura, also from DAP, to take on Liow.

Many are looking forward to a Liow and Wong rematch – with Liow is expected to come out on top.

Liow has worked assiduously for Bentong and the town is better off because of him.

However, Liow, like many other good and hardworking MPs, were swept away by the anti-Barisan tsunami in the last general election.

Bentong's voters will again face the choice between party and candidate.

Also, the overarching concern for many voters, including myself, is how parties select candidates despite claiming to have a vigorous and exhaustive internal vetting process.

Pakatan and Barisan have also taken risks in dropping popular incumbents for various reasons.

Of course, belligerent incumbents who go against the party leadership should not expect renomination. However, capable and intelligent incumbents have also been dropped and replaced with dubious characters – so it begs a larger question – what are party leaders thinking?

Do we also look beyond "bad" candidates only to ensure the party we support emerges victorious? Those who answer in the affirmative risk giving party leaders a blank check to do as they please without any consequences.

Also, if we look more at candidates than parties, we can ensure each party or coalition has a critical mass of capable and competent individuals who can do good.

Malaysians must accept before we ask our politicians to be mature and critical; we must lead the way and not blindly toe party lines.

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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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