MARCH 30 ― The day after the 13th general election in 2013, in which Barisan Nasional (BN) lost the popular vote, Utusan Malaysia splashed on its front page: “Apa lagi Cina mahu”? (What more do the Chinese want?)
The article by a senior news editor at the Umno-owned newspaper accused the Chinese of ingratitude, claiming that the BN government had fulfilled almost all of the community’s demands. The racist outburst was, perhaps, understandable, given that BN had spent a lot of money on the 2013 election and yet, performed its worst ever by winning only 48 per cent of the votes cast and 133 seats in the 222-seat Parliament.
BN made it seem like it was the end of the world even though it still won the election; it has won 13 times consecutively since Independence.
But what is unfathomable is BN’s refusal to do some soul-searching to understand why more than half of the electorate voted against them. The majority of Malaysians (voters, at least) did not want BN as their government.
If BN had asked: “Apa lagi rakyat mahu?” (What more do the people want?) instead of pinning the blame on a single race, perhaps BN might not have come to the point of no return by bulldozing through the Election Commission’s (EC) controversial redelineation report.
Instead of fixing their mistakes in governance, BN became increasingly racist over the past five years, unabashedly propagating Malay-Muslim superiority and casting fellow citizens of other ethnicities and faiths as enemies of Islam.
BN did not try to empower people, expand space for expression, or reduce corruption. Instead, the BN government sought greater control over the populace and wondered why people hated them and blamed them for everything.
The government can’t be blamed for everything, of course. There is only so much the State can do to control the economy (it shouldn’t, in the first place).
But when the government sets itself up as the be-all and end-all instead of empowering people to take charge of their own lives and to have a greater say in running the country, then it’s no wonder that Malaysians blame the government when things don’t go well.
When public unhappiness over the fall of the ringgit, rising cost of living, and eye-popping corruption scandals grew, BN desperately tried to quell the outrage by simply locking people up under spurious laws that make “annoying” someone a crime.
Rinse and repeat.
Until finally, BN pushed through the constituency redelineation report on Wednesday after a debate in Parliament of less than three hours.
Instead of creating additional seats in highly-populated urban areas, the EC expanded Opposition strongholds in Selangor instead so that five Parliament seats will now have over 100,000 voters each. According to activist Wong Chin Huat, the average size of federal seats that BN won in the 2013 election was about 48,000 voters, compared to 79,000 voters in Opposition seats.
BN seems intent on winning the 14th general election not by convincing voters why it should be elected for the 14th time in a row, but by giving its supporters a greater voice than other citizens.
If BN is indeed confident that it is the best choice for Malaysia, then it should play fair and compete on its own merits. The BN government has some real accomplishments, after all, like the MRT.
Elections are about winning seats, not votes. So the ballot box is meaningless if your vote is only one out of 150,000 in a single seat, or if you are moved out of a marginal seat to a constituency full of like-minded people.
BN keeps reminding people not to do inconvenient things like street protests and to express themselves by voting once every five years instead. But that option has disappeared since one’s vote, in towns and cities at least, is now almost worth nothing.
Even though parliamentary democracy (or rather, the first-past-the-post system) has its flaws, the main essence of democracy should be upheld ― a government of the people, by the people, for the people.