Low Expectancy Democracy


Is Malaysia a real democracy? Most of the responses to this question focus and linger around the issue and concept of a freely elected government and the freedom of one to cast his/her vote every 5 years or so. There is no doubt that this is the extent of understanding of the workings and the concept of democracy for the regular mat or minah on the street. This general limited understanding of the concept of democracy not only shows our lack of awareness but also lowered expectations for agents of democracy.

The first myth that we have to abolish from our mentality is the attitude that the process of democracy and our role in it ends with the act of casting the vote. This means that we only exercise our role in democracy once every 5 years and in between elections, democracy would self regulate through elected representatives. An aware adherent of democracy however believes that the role of society in democracy is an ever present and consistent one. After electing our representative to the parliament, our next task is to regulate, guide and make him represent us in a constant manner. This is one of the most critical missing elements in our democracy, the role of an active and present society whom knows its rights and expect no less than quality service from elected representatives. This missing attribute can be classified as another symptom of our low expectancy and "low maintenance" (rather don’t want to be bothered with hassle of maintenance) syndrome, a theme that I try to touch here and there in this web page.

The lack of a regulating voting public has evolved the elected representative to a mere rhetorical politician who is out of touch and whose main goal for running is to achieve individual gain. Modern Malaysian state and parliamentary representatives, even though not all, are absurd examples of selfishness, and confused politicians. The main attractions of joining an election race are increase in personal visibility and the gain of wealth which comes almost naturally by being a representative of a powerful political party. It is no secret that a person who represents a party in an election would surely get numerous material and financial gain that are meant for campaigning purposes (see recent Sabah election) especially when you are representing a rich and well connected party. In addition, the glamour, fame and more importantly increased social status factor are also incentives for potential candidates to run in elections. All this can be seen as evidence of the culture of dirty money politics and abuse of public institutions (that are used to run campaigns). It also points out to the fact that the public gives too much respect to elected candidates which results in the glorification of the elected positions and the YBs themselves. Needless to say, the elected representatives are increasingly becoming out of touch (if not already) and insensitive to the aspirations of the people who elected them.

Another tragic consequence is the emergence of rigid and narrow voting strategy that calls for support of any candidate based on party lines. This means if you are a supporter of a political party A, you would most likely cross for A in your constituency regardless of the personal qualities of its candidate. Even though this is only a natural product of democracy, we cannot disregard its impairment to our rational judgement. This partisan politics also produced racial and religious stereotyping of each contesting party and Sabah politics give us the best example of not only ethnic assignments to political parties, but also Christian-Muslim divide along some hyped up lines.

Can we disregard moral character, quality leadership, genuine interest to serve the public and overall ability to get things done for our traditional party loyalty? This is an issue that calls for moral courage and principled judgement, a brave break from racial, religious and class politics. It’s a state of mind that is hard to break from especially when you are dealing with "parti pembela bangsa melayu", "parti Islam" or "parti yang membawa kemerdekaan". A good way to start is by imagining yourself as a resident of Melaka and in an election you have the privilege of choosing between a former Chief Minister and a chinese guy who was jailed for "troubling" him. Try to think about it, it’s a good first step in becoming a real participant of the democracy process.