General Writings

To vote or not to vote?

A USM journalist reflects on the #UndiRosak campaign and what it means for Malaysian democracy.

By Ilaiya Barathi Panneerselvam


Whoever fight monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become monster.” Friedrich Nietzsche.

Bizarre happenings are occurring around the world. To name a few – the highly anticipated Artificial Intelligence (purportedly the fourth Industrial Revolution) with the ability to outwit human intelligence, and the nauseating U.S Presidential election, seeing Trump on the throne.

The results of Trump’s shocking win remain to be realised.
Source: The Nation,

While  U.S elections might perceivably have little impact on the larger segment of Malaysian society, an important part of our nation’s democratic process is imminent (though the signs remain inconclusive)  – the 14th general election.

The buildup to the upcoming general election has been quite interesting, at least for myself as a first-time voter. Despite my rose-tinted glasses, the current political scenario is disturbingly pernicious, to say the least.


The right to vote and democracy

As rightful citizens, every Malaysian (above 21) is given the ultimate right to vote; to elect  candidates whom they perceive and believe to be eligible representatives of the people. Yes, it is true that the right to vote every five years is a statement – a proud statement of the nation’s democratic system, according every individual the power to decide the nation’s leadership at his/her fingertips.

But before we overindulge in boasting about our democratic credentials, let’s take a detour to hear the thoughts of another on democracy.

Dr Ambedkar is an iconic figure of the Indian political system, an astute thinker who was fundamental in writing the Indian Constitution.  He strongly believes that democracy is neither exercised nor exhibited through ballot box alone. According to Dr Ambedkar, the characteristics of a democracy are:

(i) no glaring inequalities in society (i.e. privilege for one class),

(ii) the existence of opposition,

(iii) equality in law and administration,

(iv) observance of constitutional morality and

(v) no tyranny of majority.

(W.N Kuber, 1991)

Democracy in Malaysia: a fallacy?

Problems of the opposition

Coming back to our soil, Malaysia is facing its 14th general election with a growing bunch of oppositional voices in disarray, who are publicly clamoring for democracy while secretly having an affair with autocratic tendencies.

Larger oppositional parties who have a mounting influence among the public should not abuse the mandate given by the people to bully smaller parties who have been doing better work than  elected representatives.

The question must be asked, is democracy (in Dr Ambedkar’s terms) true of Malaysia? And the deeper question, are the oppositional parties genuinely championing democratic rights as they claim, or are their claims merely eye-candy of pre-election propaganda that vanish into thin air as soon as they come into power?

Are the oppositional parties genuinely championing democratic rights as they claim, or are their claims merely eye-candy of pre-election propaganda that vanish into thin air as soon as they come into power?

This might be a malicious claim promulgated by  loyalists of the government, but let us glance into our history. In the 1980s, a film called Yellow Earth used the pre-revolutionary era of the Kuomintang as a metaphor to criticize the ruling Communist Party of China (CCP), which made vain promises of modernity and prosperity. The filmmaker mocked the CCP, who claimed that disease was  developed in the pre-revolutionary era, while the cure could only be effected through revolution.


Now, in Malaysia, how ironic it is that former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir, is taking his position as  leading voice of the opposition. Some might claim that the former dictatorial nature of Dr. M has passed as his only cause is to reclaim the nation from his UMNO/BN protégés –  saving the ship from sinking, so to speak.

Yet, the initial wrecking  of the ship was done by none other than Dr. M himself. The most infuriating part is to see the opposition supporting the same legendary figure who played a crucial role in crushing the democratic features of the nation. Borrowing the concept from  Yellow Earth, the cure for the disease  is being offered by the cause himself, once again placing  the masses in jeopardy. The current attitude of the opposition and their undying claim for  election seats as if those seats belong only to them is perplexing.

A quick yet vital reminder, in the words of George Santayana, “those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it”.

The film Yellow Earth may contain deeper lessons for Malaysian democracy.


Craving for change

If this is the foreseeable future of Malaysian politics, it is no wonder that the young new voters are craving for a better change –  a change  not only in terms of political parties, but a change towards an uncorrupted system –  a structural change in the administration; a government of the people, by the people and for the people as envisioned by Lincoln in his inspiring Gettysburg Address.

A reality check with the current lineup of Malaysian politics leaves one unconvinced of the possibility of achieving this change – especially with the return of Dr. M, backed by the opposition naming him as the possible Prime Minister. This is a clear reflection of leadership inadequacy: unpromising quality which creates frustration among the undecided change-craving masses. The opposition has made a mistake in failing to utilize the growing dissatisfaction and detachment of the public with the current ruling regime who have been in power for a long time.

p18 harapan mahathir
Tun Dr Mahathir, now the face of the opposition – a divided and weakened opposition.


So.. boycott?

Significant as casting a vote may be, abstaining from voting is an equally significant statement made by the people which must be recognized.

The  inability to construct the possibility of a seismic shift in the political arena is one of the main reasons for the rising dissent through the notion of boycotting the election.

Democracy enthusiasts would rage, and have been raging over such a notion, but if the alternatives are merely superficial, a change from Alpos to Gigantes, is not the point and objective of casting a vote itself questionable? Is the vote beneficial to those who would be in power or to the masses?

Paraphrasing the wise words of Dr. Ambedkar yet again, “Laws are made by men for men. Laws has not created men, but men has created laws for his own happiness” (W.N Kuber, 1991). Radical though it may sound, if the upcoming election sees a colossal boycott, then the problem is not superficial but deep-rooted in the society. Political parties must address  it immediately without further rhetoric or camouflaged promises.

Significant as casting a vote may be, abstaining from voting is an equally significant statement made by the people which must be recognized.


Spoilt for (lack of) choice.

Deeper reflections

Many parties around the nation are persuading the public to  refrain from  boycotting or casting spoilt votes. Yet the important question of why boycotting and spoilt votes are a form dissent that is gaining  momentum remains unaddressed. As William Blake wrote in The Four Zoas, “the dark religions are departed and sweet science reigns”, I would like to end with an aspiration for  the nation’s political situation, “the dark politics are departed and sweet politics reigns”.


ASASIkini tries its best to share reliable content from third parties without prejudice and with a firm belief in freedom of expression. All articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. ASASIkini and KPUM do not necessarily endorse the views or opinions of the writers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s