GOP presidential debateAPRIL 6 — The election is almost upon us and politicians everywhere, particularly from the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), are throwing around infrastructure projects and giving their traditional vote bank salary raises

I wish someone would give me a raise.

Pork barrel politics aside, we should take advantage of the only time when politicians pretend to listen to us once every five years.  

Hardcore supporters of either Barisan Nasional (BN) or Pakatan Harapan (PH) should go beyond voting and actively campaign for their preferred party/ candidate. They should convince family, friends and neighbours about their candidate’s merits and policy positions.

Of course, it would help if election candidates across the board thought about their stand on various issues in the first place, beyond repeating vague hackneyed sentiments of stability vs change, provider vs saviour, or gratefulness for public services vs obligation to vote Opposition no matter what.

It will be difficult to persuade fence-sitters if canvassers have very little to work with, or if they are hard-pressed to explain away corruption scandals or why “change” is possible with an autocrat.

BN and PH fans who have already made up their minds, of course, don’t have to care about these issues. But if they really want to make a difference and convert more voters, then they should pay attention too.

For the rest of us swing voters, we can take this opportunity to demand specific policy positions from candidates across the political divide and grade them based on issues we consider important.

One of the things we voters can do is organise debates among candidates in our constituency. Taman Tun residents who vote in the parliament seat of Segambut, for example, can hold a debate for the still-unknown DAP and Gerakan candidates (or any other candidates) to question their position on saving Taman Rimba Kiara, protection of the environment and green spaces, urban planning, and restoring local council elections.

Ceramahs are boring one-sided events where the candidate often talks down to voters, who have little opportunity to ask the candidate about issues that matter to them.

If candidates want our votes, then they must be prepared to defend their ideas and policies publicly in front of voters and their rivals.

Non-partisan interest groups can also pressure candidates from BN, PH and PAS, not just the party presidents, to adopt their agendas, whether it is anti-discrimination legislation, women’s rights, or asset and financial interest declarations.

Though naysayers will say that it’s pointless to make demands of individual candidates because they will ultimately toe the party line (be it BN or PH), we must at least try such advocacy since it has never really been practised before.

Malaysians only took away BN’s parliamentary supermajority for the first time since 1969 in 2008, just two elections ago. Democracy has matured a little since.

There is plenty more room to grow. When large groups of voters put pressure on candidates to take up certain policy positions, candidates will certainly inform their party presidents of the need to uphold their constituents’ interests, or risk losing support in the next election.

While pro-Opposition fervour gripped the nation in the 2013 election, Malaysians now seem a little unenthused about the 14th general election. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We shouldn’t get too jaded and question the point of voting, just because we perceive both sides to be equally bad. We can make this election all about us — the voters.

Don’t let politicians decide the election. Take the power away from them and grill them about how exactly they will represent our stand on various issues.

Gather like-minded friends and neighbours and organise debates for candidates. Show up at ceramah with placards of policy positions you want candidates to adopt.

Hound candidates on the campaign trail and record videos as you ask them tough questions about issues. Post the videos on social media.

People running for office must be honest about what they stand for because they are meant to represent us, since we personally cannot make laws in Parliament or in the state legislative assembly.

Make candidates earn our votes. That’s how we make GE14 exciting.