The American presidential election caught the world’s attention and everyone waited with bated breath for the result. When it was announced that Barack Obama would continue for another term after defeating Republican candidate Mitt Romney, I could not help but reflect.
It was the vote of the people who put him in charge of the country’s future.
However, Obama defeating Romney came as no surprise to those who have followed the election, especially the third presidential debate that displayed Obama’s suaveness and dexterity in argumentation.
But I digress. Malaysia’s last general election was in 2008, the same year Obama was sworn in as president of the United States. To Malaysians, the opposition winning several states was like a breath of fresh air that was overdue for half a century.
However, the excitement quickly subsided and here we are four years later – between a rock and a hard place. While the opposition has made several significant changes to its states, it is often at loggerheads with the establishment over someof its controversial policies.
When asked, several opposition supporters would say, “How much change can they do in just four years? Give them a chance.”
The same can be said of Obama who inherited problems left behind by the Bush administration. The opposition here also had to pick up from where the previous state governments left it. Especially in Selangor, where for the past few months it had seen itself embroiled in controversial issues such as the Langat 2 water treatment plant and the PTPTN (student loan) freeze.
Are we to give the opposition a chance to take over the reins of the country? Do we trust the coalition enough? Selangor was no pretty state after the opposition took over and things might have improved further, apart from a greatly reduced water tariff.
There is no doubt that the ruling party had been around for far too long and that over the years, the patience of Malaysians had grown thin: too much red tape, controversies, scandals and cover-ups that leave us with nothing but a bitter after-taste.
The segment of the population that has been most vocal are the urban Malaysians. No surprise there, as this group is generally better educated.
It is the urban population that believes in “change”. It sees itself as the guiding hand of the country to the uninformed.
But it’s easy to lose perspective and believe that your voice constitutes the majority when there are other people out there who hold different beliefs and require different policies from those advocated by the urban population.
Social time bomb
At the end of it all, we want to explore the idea of democracy. What is it, really? Americans love using the word and see themselves as a beacon of this ideal (although history has proven otherwise more times than we could care to put on paper). Ideally, democracy carries with it the belief that each voice in society carries equal weight.
Though we might not actively participate in parliamentary discussions, debates and policy-making, we indirectly do this through organisations that advocate our causes.
Most people also forget that democracy itself is also a tyranny of the majority, leaving the minority at its mercy.
This is where political parties and parliamentary representatives come in. They fight for the rights of the minorities to ensure a fair voice in the system, so that no one is left behind or impeded.
In a country such as Malaysia with various ethnicities and cultures, it’s not hard to imagine a social time bomb ticking away. Several anthropologists (both local and overseas) have expressed great surprise and wonder over how even after 55 years, we are still strong as a nation despite the minor occurrences of racial strife.
It makes me wonder that perhaps Malaysia is indeed ripe for true democracy.
When we argue over Malaysia’s claim to be a democratic nation when its actions are contrary to democratic principles, we cannot disregard that at 55 years of age (or 49 if one takes into account the integration of the Borneo states), our nation is still in the infancy of democracy.
Even in American history, it took 94 years after their Independence before African-Americans were actually allowed to vote. At our age, we are moving steadily perhaps even beyond anyone’s expectations.
Malaysia’s current state of democracy may not be the best in the world, but if we keep on fighting for our rights, we may be able to steer this country towards a better direction.
Martin Luther King Jr, an American activist in the civil rights movement, once said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” He dreamt of an equal America and saw the nation struggle to attain it. If we don’t fight for our rights, then no one will.
Obama’s recent victory shows how the voice of the people can be heard through their votes.
Though Malaysia does not practise the system of directly electing our prime minister, we still have to assume responsibility over the choice of candidates.
While we may have problems like “dirty” electoral rolls and the surge in illegal immigrants in Sabah and Sarawak, these controversies show how vital a vote is in deciding who holds the steering wheel of the country.
Are we ready?
Word of caution: regardless of the winner in the outcome of the next general election, we have to prepare ourselves for possible immense changes.
While it may be true that a new government may bring in a different sets of policies, laws and cultures, it is wise to remember that the political atmosphere in Malaysia has remained the same for so long that distinguishing the political practices of both parties is not easy.
Change is naturally unpleasant but necessary. The Arab Spring dawned like a glorious revolution for democracy in the Middle East, but the newly installed governments are now hanging precariously on to power.
Some of these governments are even on the verge of reverting to their old form of governance due to the strain of sudden change, thus nullifying the efforts of the revolution.
We can march on the streets, hold rallies and shout for change, but before we do so, we have ask ourselves: Are you ready for change?
Aziff Azuddin is a journalism student.-FMT