I HAVE been pondering more and more on this upcoming by-election at Tanjung Piai, Johor, ever since the untimely passing of its incumbent in September.
This will be an interesting by-election from all sorts of perspectives; I don’t see it from the usual perspective of winners and losers, between the current government and new Opposition, though, as I’m more interested to see whether the electorate of this constituency can behave differently.
I understand the frustration of many voters since the last election but our votes can make a difference on electoral outcomes. Malaysia is a great country and we are great precisely because people from so many different backgrounds can and do participate. This greatness that we have will be at risk when significant groups, in significant numbers, don’t participate as they could.
I hope Tanjong Piai voters will remain highly altruistic and not be self-interested, and will go out to vote for the right person to represent them.
Vote for good politicians with qualities that are important to us. Undetermined politicians who do things based on party lines rather than based on their own morality and sense of independence belong in the category of negative characteristics for politicians. Do not even waste your time on these types of politicians.
Avoid politicians who promise to fight for the little people even as they cater to the wealthiest and the most powerful. Reject politicians who appeal to racial nationalism and undermine norms that ensure accountability, or who try to change the rules to entrench their power further.
As the Founder of Maju (Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity Foundation), I have said from the very outset that our mission is to unite Malaysians, promote universal human rights and civil liberties, and protect the marginalised. We want to work towards a fair, equitable and progressive nation. At all times, we are to remain strictly apolitical.
So why am I talking about a by-election for a seat in Parliament?
This is one way in which we change the narrative of all discourse towards a more progressive Malaysia. In this case, how politics should be approached by a progressive society.
For far too long, politicians and political parties in Malaysia have made their appeals based on what they perceive as a constituency that values race and religious issues as primary concerns. They appeal to the most base of human instincts, ie, self-preservation and greed for their own and their own kind.
I am proposing we flip this narrative on its head. I am proposing that the people of Tanjung Piai vote for the candidate that does not favour any race or religion.
Malaysia needs elected representatives whether at state or at Parliamentary level, who will, as a matter of principle, refuse to appeal to tribal instincts. We need elected officials who will look at Malaysia for all Malaysians in an equitable and fair manner – because that is the only road on which we can all progress as a nation and a people, together.
We therefore must not only reject extremism from candidates but we must reject any candidate that panders to voters using race and religion as a reason to vote them in. These are no reason to elect representatives that are going to, at the very least, create and promulgate legislation that might actually regress our lives.
We need, instead, representatives who are intellectually capable of being legislators and are worldly and experienced, with a humanistic character that can ensure we have a collectively capable, forward-looking, reasoned and progressive Parliament and, hopefully, government.
How do we in Malaysia do this when some of our biggest and most influential political parties seem to have religion and race embedded in their core character?
I believe we need to inculcate and spread a new voter-political culture in Malaysia:
> Forget about party politics. I advocate that we start voting irrespective of party affiliations.
> Vote based on intelligence, integrity, honesty, empathy, thoughtfulness, determination and bravery when choosing our representative.
In essence, I am urging Malaysians to stop voting for parties and start voting for the person. Forget political parties. Vote the best person into Parliament and state assemblies. Let the chips fall where they will. The government will then be formed by the best among them whose allegiance will be to the people rather than to their political party and party leaders.
Let the Members of Parliament who are elected sort out what is in the best interest of the people of Malaysia and the nation when they get into Parliament. Let them figure out among themselves as individual MPs how to form a government for the people, not for their political parties or their short-term political gain or positions – which is what good Parliamentarians are supposed to do.
We cannot have our Parliamentarians being beholden to party leaders and their warlords anymore. Enough is enough. We changed the government of Malaysia on May 9,2018, and this new government has changed nothing in terms of really looking at what is needed to make Malaysia a progressive and economically advanced nation. Over a year on, not a single worthy initiative has been promoted or implemented that can be said to be groundbreaking for a more fair, equitable and progressive nation.
This new government has basically taken the people who voted them into government for granted. That is why both sides of the aisle, government and opposition, are pandering to the ultra conservatives of our societies to gain political mileage; they think this will get them more votes in the future to retain or wrestle for power – and the hopes of voters for change towards a progressive Malaysia be damned.
We need to change the electoral paradigm of Malaysia. We need to elect people based on their personal capabilities, background and character.
I urge the voters of Tanjung Piai to think about this seriously, not just for them but also for all of us who will be voters in our constituencies. We need to set our priorities and principles right for the people we vote in as elected representatives.
We need to elect representatives for the right reasons. ELECT THE PERSON. Treat political parties the way they have all treated us citizens so far, as disposables.
To Tanjung Piai voters: look at each candidate, what do they stand for, do they have all the characteristics or qualities that I have listed above? Study and analyse their speeches and ask them tough questions.
Reject, absolutely reject, any candidate who uses fear of other races or religion in their speeches and actions. Vote for the person who talks, and walks that talk, of representing all Malaysians with no consideration for race or religion.
Take note that I use the word person, not politician. Not that I am saying we should reject people who are in politics. What I am saying is that our evaluation of political candidates must be based on the candidate in his or her personal capacity.
Ensure that the person to whom you intend to give your vote has the brain to not come up with flying cars or promise you heaven after you die.
If we elect the right people to be our government, giving us peace and prosperity, we will be living in heaven on earth.
If we elect people who appeal to the tribe, to fear, who pit one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if everyone sounds like them or prays like they do, we will be playing a very old game. It is as old as time. Then, my dear readers, we are actually living in hell.
The majority of us with plenty of goodwill must call out the bigots and the fearmongers and promote the better angels of our nature.
Vote for the person who will have the courage to tell the truth that our economy and policies of racial and religious discrimination, and quotas for education and employment are not sustainable. Vote for the person who will advocate that we Malaysians think of ourselves as Malaysians first and work at policies that will ensure less fortunate Malaysians will be helped by the type of policies he or she intends to propose. Ask exactly how it is going to be done.
A rising tide lifts all boats. We need to discard mindsets and policies and politicians who say we must identify the boats to be lifted because those are their kind of boats, when all of us are on the same ocean. We need to elect people who want to move all our boats in the same direction where the tide is high.
It is time we change the narrative and the way politics are constructed in Malaysia so they benefit all Malaysians. We have to put a stop to politicians and political parties gaining and Malaysians losing. It is time we change how we view the electoral system and how we elect those who will represent us in our state assemblies and in Parliament.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sunday Star.