No, abstaining from voting is not an option
I refer to an article published in The Malay Mail Online named “Disenchanted by blurred lines, some middle-class youths to sit out GE14” on 23 September 2017.
The article collected the views and opinions of a few personalities about Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the coming General Election.
In the article, Tyra Hanim Razali, one of the six English-speaking anti-establishment Malaysians in their 20s and early 30s, had stated that they “either feel disinclined about registering to vote or they may abstain from voting in the upcoming general election, mainly because they do not see PH proposing substantive policies or promoting secularism.”
Freelancer Hafidz Baharom also stated that “neither side deserves my vote” mainly because he did not believe in the policies proposed by PH (including repealing the GST, ways to provide free education, commitment in combating corruption etc), and he also foresaw no difference in PH and BN in several issues including term limits of certain positions in governmental and party hierarchy, corrupt practises by the politicians.
Riza Tan, who is a first time voter like myself, has also expressed the probability of withholding her ballot in the coming General election due to the “racial-, money- and attack politics that exist in both BN and the Opposition.” She reportedly felt that DAP is being racial and “is using Chinese sentiments to get people emotional” and that the “Opposition today are simply working with each other to obtain power.”
Similar views and opinions were also collected from few other interviewees.
To summarise, there are two main concerns that need to be discussed: is PH any better than BN, and for those who believe in neither BN nor PH, is abstaining an option?
Is PH any better than BN?
I’m pleased to see young Malaysians like Hafidz Baharom who is sceptical in policies and manifestos offered by politicians. I have often stated that a society that is of high political literacy is defined by how much civic engagement prevails. There must be active discussion not just by the policy makers but the members of the public on what the government or society is doing, whether we are going on the right path, and how can we be made better off.
Of course, we can all have doubts about what each side offers. PH has its doubts about BN’s ways of implementing policies and conducting political practices – which is exactly why PH is formed and one of the main goals for the coming General Election is to form the next federal government. This is not simply office-seeking. We believe that only by changing the government at federal level, our visions and our policies can be materialised.
So the question is, can we prove that we are better than the current federal government? We can’t. Simply because we do not have track record running the federal government.
We have several comrades in PH such as Tun Dr Mahathir, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Dato’ Seri Mukhriz, and many others who have experience being in office. However, PH is a political coalition that vows to be different from BN. We cannot make our own projections on what kind of federal government PH will be, merely based on our historical knowledge of these personalities when they were in power.
However, our track record running the state government in Selangor and Penang, is a good indicator of the kind of government we aspire to become.
Before the opposition formed government in Selangor and Penang, many did not foresee the difference we could make in terms of infrastructure, water, transportation, state’s reserves, welfare, job opportunities and institutional reform that we have achieved today.
Did anyone actually believe their household water can be provided for free? Did anyone believe that the state government can offer more aid and distribution to the people while having more state reserves at the same time? Selangor and Penang did it. Records have proven that with responsible governing parties, such policies that benefit the people are definitely possible.
Sometimes, it’s not by presenting rocket science policies and measures that can best help Malaysia. Simply by doing the job properly as a government is what it takes for Malaysia to prosper. But there is always a need for drastic policy change in order to truly help the people. One drastic proposed change that is widely debated is PH’s proposal in abolishing the GST.
I’m in full agreement with Muhammad Iqbal Fatkhi, who is the editor at TahanUni, who said in the article that “if the primary concerns of youths are unemployability and cost of living, doing away with GST doesn’t solve the first and they don’t believe it can be done to solve the latter”. This is because PH’s proposal to abolish GST has nothing to do with long-term effect on employability and cost of living – but an immediate reversal and relief to a burdening taxation system implemented by the BN government.
The issues on employability and cost of living need further and more comprehensive economic framework to solve. However, I cannot explain in detail all the policies implemented and proposals made by the opposition in one article. Therefore, I welcome any concerned Malaysians to attend forums and talks organised by Pakatan Harapan or its component parties to discuss and perhaps debate any discrepancies in opinion.
Is abstaining an option?
I’m deeply concerned by what was stated by Tyra in the article that she is of the opinion that voting was not the only way to affect a change in government. This thinking is not only naïve but dangerous.
I presume what Tyra and other Malaysians who are of the same opinion meant by saying “to affect a change in government” means affecting the policies adopted by the government, and to guide the behaviour of the government.
Political parties’ mandate to rule comes from the people and the people are supposed to be free to continue or discontinue their trust in any party by exercising their votes in the general election. When the performance of the government is not satisfactory, people will vote them out and the other side will take over. This system offers a balance in power and obeys the spirit of democracy.
But in Malaysia, this system does not actually exist in the form it should. In GE13, as a result of gerrymandering, BN continued to form government with 47% popular votes while the then opposition pact had 51%.
When even the voting system lost its powerful and robust function, we must never think that we can affect a change in government by any other way. No NGOs, students’ movement, rallies or protests is relevant in bringing a change when the ruling party cannot be voted out easily.
In fact, if there is a way other than voting to affect a change in government, many politicians in the opposition will be more than happy to quit their job because politics often got them sued and imprisoned.
There are approximately 4 million Malaysians who have not registered to vote, and more than two-thirds of them are below 30 years old. Nobody can tell how many of those who are registered voters will actually come out to vote. They are potentially the kingmakers and will decide what Malaysia will be after the general election. I hereby urge all Malaysians, especially the youths to realise their importance and do their part in effecting changes to the nation.