On May 9, 2018, millions of us will head off to the voting booths. It’s General Election time and there is indeed a great deal at stake.
Those nominated for election will be dutifully scrutinised, judged and have their merits decided upon by the rakyat, with good governance and thoughtful consideration. Such a glowing tribute to the democratic process.
Well, you better get your warm milk ready and turn off the lights, because that’s how the bed-time story goes. Sorry to say, but the actual reality of democracy in Malaysia is not going to give you a good night’s sleep.
Quality candidates, those genuinely committed to the well-being of the country and the people, will routinely get overlooked in favour of much less capable rival candidates. Why?
Simply because the weaker candidate carries a particular flag, a particular “it’s the only way, the only way to save the country” party flag that routinely gets the votes and wins.
Meanwhile, the more qualified candidates fall flat on their faces because they don’t carry the same flag.
That’s “us and them” tribal politics that has been out in the sun way too long. It’s crazy, but millions of Malaysians will do it. Democracy starts to resemble a TV reality show fan-club, all bubbles but no substance, and less and less like a meaningful system of governance.
Simply voting just to change the government for the sake of, well, changing the government, is not really the best of democratic strategies. In fact, it’s not really any strategy at all.
Think about it: It doesn’t really matter anymore who or “what” is being voted. It could be a monkey or even a rock. As long as they carry your favourite flag and never knowing it is only your favourite flag based on false guided sentiments.
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Those were wise words from FDR. That may have been an American President, but the same is true for any democratic country – and Malaysia is no exception to that. So why do so many of us choose to bury our heads in the spin of false social media news, that is not at all informative and educating? Just to get the false insights that we then go on to apply it to the way we vote?
For democracy to work, truly work, it needs a well-informed voter to choose candidates based on merit, not flag, fantasy or, let’s face it, Facebook.
While social media may be a great way for one to stay in touch with relatives or re-discover old school friends, its impact on modern political discourse and democracy is definitely in the extreme. It has allowed anyone with access to a computer, a mouse and a malicious mindset to alter and distort actual reality which then creates a guided sentiment.
A guided sentiment creates herding effect.
Over the years, there were plenty of accusations thrown towards officials through social media which very often deemed guilty by readers, without doubt, even in the absence of proof or worse, proven innocent. We may believe that we have our rights to vote for what’s best for our country. But in reality, we are being controlled by how to think, what to think and ultimately.. how to vote. It is like practising democracy in Matrix.
Mark Zuckerberg was recently called before Congress in the USA to give evidence about the potentially negative effect that his particular social media giant had on the US democratic and the political process.
And if Facebook can run wild and make its tricky distortions happen in the USA of all places, it can certainly, and undoubtedly, is happening in Malaysia.
Therefore, we Malaysian, the vote wielding voter, need to wake up straight away if we want our democracy to serve us as well as it should.
First, making our voting decisions free of the baggage of pre-conceived ideas of the party over meaningful policy. Voting for anything that is holding our favourite flag, just because that’s what we “think” we have to do, is sort of wild, it’s crazy.
How long more are we going to do this? Or can we choose to start now, putting our votes and trust to the candidate who deserves it the most? The seats in Parliament are limited, and definitely no place for an ape.
This one most certainly wasn’t Franklin Roosevelt, but it fits perfectly well: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
We want a better country, but we persistently vote for the better flag. Truth is, a country is made better by the best people WE put in the Parliament.
We Malaysian need to afford ourselves greater self-respect and vote for candidates that will serve us best, not just more of the same based on what has been done before or those that promise the Earth, but actually then go on to deliver sweet nothing but only slandering.
Apart from that, democracy needs to be insulated from the potentially harmful effects of social media running wild. Malaysia recently passed its “Anti-Fake News” Bill, just weeks before the forthcoming election.
The bill identifies fake news as: “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false,” and an offender as somebody who by any means “knowingly creates, offers, publishes, prints, distributes, circulates or disseminates any fake news or publication containing fake news.”
In doing so, like it or not our Prime Minister certainly is ensuring that the earlier quoted words of Roosevelt are actually honoured and respected – that democracy only truly works when the voters are educated and genuinely informed.
Let’s hope that we all heed some of this advice come the election on May 9. There’s too much at stake for us not to.