Elections and candidacy


  • Making Progress
  • Tuesday, 03 Apr 2018

As expected, Parliament will be dissolved imminently, thus paving the way for the 14th General Election.

It will be a "titanic" contest between Barisan Nasional headed by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Pakatan Harapan led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Dr Mahathir hopes to create history by becoming the oldest and first non-Barisan prime minister in Malaysian history.

The challenge for political parties in such times is in identifying the best candidates and the ones who have the highest probability of winning.

This is always an inexact science that requires multi-faceted feedback and it has to be balanced against party interests and also the parties' overall objectives.

For example, in Gerakan, we need candidates that reflect our non-racial approach but at the same time are popular in the identified constituencies. We also want candidates who are hardworking, articulate and stoic.

Other parties, I am sure, have their own criteria and conditions but what is most important is that the candidate can deliver the seat for the party.

But what motivates individuals to become members of political parties?

Most individuals who join a political party do so for a variety of reasons. There are those who are attracted to the ideology and values of the party. Some become members because they believe it is a pathway to position, power and pecuniary benefits. But for me, in recent times at least, many seem to be obsessed about being candidates.

It is not an affliction facing my party alone as even Opposition parties are facing a similar challenge.

A DAP member recently lamented in a tweet that he has not been asked to contest a seat in the general election.

And DAP's strategy of "dragon killing dragon" has not gone down well with some of their leaders who feel that it is an exercise mired in futility and overly high stakes and they are not open to being fielded as candidates in challenging seats.

In the 1999 General Election, DAP leaders Lim Kit Siang and the late Karpal Singh lost after high stakes battles in Bukit Bendera and Jelutong respectively.

They must have believed that they had a complete lock on Chinese votes, and that defeating the top leaders of MCA and Gerakan would make them the undisputed political representative of the Chinese community in Malaysia.

Back to the topic at hand, candidature is a supreme privilege that will never be open to every party member.

I believe the best explanation on the membership of a political party comes from India's Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley.

He says: "In the election season, many political persons desirous of being candidates succeed in getting a party nomination. Many more get left out. A political party is built upon the support of millions of political workers who have sacrificed their time and energy without ever aspiring to hold elected office. What does a politician do when after a successful political career the party is unable to accommodate him once? That is when his discipline and political loyalty are to be tested."

All too often, we hear of threats and attempts at sabotage from those who are not selected as candidates. Many who have gained from being elected into office when told to make way for younger leaders resort to throwing tantrums and blackmail the party leadership in the hopes that they will not be dropped as candidates. Some even go to the extent of leaving the party and contesting under the banner of a rival party.

In fact, this was a major problem for Barisan in the last general election where winnability had to yield in favour of local leaders and threats by incumbents resulted in a poor showing for Barisan.

In fact, Jaitley once again provides great insight; "Being a member of a political party is a privilege. It is also an act of self-oppression where personal views and ambitions are subjected to the collective wisdom of the party. At times, the party may flood leaders with privileges and positions. On other occasions, the leader may have to take "no" for as answer to his desires. How does a politician or a leader react to such a "no"? He must accept the decision with a smile. This becomes a test of his loyalty and discipline. Restraint and silence are always the preferred option. Silence is always dignified and more gracious."

I personally can relate to this issue of candidacy. It is not a story I like recounting but I would like to share it.

In the previous general election, I was offered a state seat to contest. Naturally, I was elated and excited by the offer and readily accepted it even though it was a last-minute decision. This is another feature of candidacy; it was rather rushed.

However, due to objections from certain quarters, the offer was retracted within a day and I was told that I would not be a candidate. I accepted the decision of the party with a smile and reminded myself that party discipline is paramount.

I drove right to Teluk Intan and offered my services to then Gerakan vice-president, Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong. It was the best decision I made as I was appointed as Mah's political secretary after the 2014 Teluk Intan by-election, and Mah was the Gerakan president at the time.

My advice to all those selected as candidates is to do one's best by one's voters and party.

To those Barisan elected representatives who are not selected as candidates, do one's best to ensure the selected candidate wins because the party is bigger than each and every one of us.

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