Understand why elections matter

Finishing touch: Election Commission staff making final preparations during the Johor state election at SMK Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah, a polling station in Pagoh, in this file picture.

GROWING up in a kampung in Muar, Johor, elections have always been a boring affair for me. What do you expect when every election, the opposition stood no chance at all? Back then, the elections were about the sail boat (kapal layar) and scales (dacing) logo which belonged to Parti Perikatan and later Barisan Nasional.

Umno has never lost the state seat where I was born, Sungai Balang Besar. Not even during the 14th General Election in 2018 and the recent state election.

The seat changed names several times, from Parit Jawa to Sri Menanti and now Sungai Balang.

The parliamentary seat of Muar which Sungai Balang is one of the two state seats (the other is Maharani) was won by the Opposition for the first time in 2018.

To say Johor is hardcore Umno territory is an understatement. In 1959 when the first election was held, the Opposition won three seats and subsequently never won more than one seat for the next seven elections.

In 1990, DAP won three state seats and Semangat 46 one seat. That year, for the first time in history, Umno lost a state seat (Parit Bakar) to a Semangat 46 candidate.

In 1995, it was a clean sweep for Barisan, which won all 40 state seats. That performance was repeated in 1999.

When the state seats were increased to 56 in 2004, PAS was the only Opposition in the state assembly.

In the 2008 election, DAP won four seats while PAS won two.

Something interesting happened in 2013 when DAP won 13 seats and PAS secured four seats while PKR won its first seat in Johor.

In 2018, together with the tsunami at national and state levels, Johor was, for the first time, ruled by a coalition that was not Barisan which won 19 state seats against 36 for Pakatan Harapan (PH) and one for PAS.

There was, however, another election that people of my generation will not forget. It was in 1963 when an election for penghulu mukim (sub-district leader) was held after penghulu Omar Abdul Samad passed away.

I was unsure if it was just an experiment by the Johor government then to hold an election to fill such a position as this practice was discontinued later.

For the 10,000-strong inhabitants of Mukim Sungai Balang, one of the 11th sub-districts of Muar, the power to vote was in their hands. What an election it was. Certainly it was a more interesting than the predictable state or parliamentary elections.

Two local personalities contested, Atan Ma’an, a former policeman and Suradi Hussin, a retired teacher.

The fight was intense with posters put up everywhere and campaigns conducted.

Atan was using the fish symbol and Suradi that of a rooster.

Interestingly, it was also a proxy fight between the Malay community (represented by Atan) and the Javanese people (Suradi).

I remember making a bit of money distributing pamphlets for both candidates.

Since I can speak Javanese I was able to penetrate deep into the Javanese areas. I was in Standard Four.

Atan won with a thin majority. He was an able penghulu. But it was tough to manage a society deeply divided by the election for many years to come.

I learned a valuable lesson in 1963. Democracy is good up to a point. It is imperfect and the imperfections hurt more that it healed.

Elections impacted upon the psyche and emotion of those involved. Not everyone can take their loss like a gentleman. Not many are magnanimous in winning.

It is important to understand the history of our elections.

Thus the book, Pilihanraya Demokrasi Malaysia, penned by Tan Sri Rashid Rahman and Dr G. Manimaran is a must-read for every Malaysian. It is a treasure trove of information, documenting more than the 60-odd years history of elections in this country – from the first time we went to the polls to the last one in 2018 that saw a change in the ruling coalition.

We need to understand why elections matter for all. Voters like us have the power to choose. And what a choice we have. According to the book, in the last election, 25 political parties contested out of 69 registered under the Registrar of Societies (ROS).

Some argue for an election to be held soonest, perhaps for selfish reasons.

But holding a national election is no easy feat and a costly business, too. When the first election was held 63 years ago, the cost to manage it was hardly RM1.47mil.

In 2018, it cost the taxpayers more than RM500mil!

The least politicians should do is to respect the decision by the people!

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. And a diehard rugby fan.

The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Johan Jaaffar , The Bowerbird writes ,


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