SEPTEMBER 29 ― I was struck by the maturity of British politics which was accurately depicted in Jeffrey Archer’s First Among Equals, a novel published in 1984... before I was born. Some procedures have changed since, but the culture of democracy remains.
In the UK, two-thirds of Parliament must agree to a snap general election, there is a Shadow Cabinet, lawmakers from opposing parties freely offer apologies to each other, politicians resign from office when they make errors in judgment, and aspiring parliamentary candidates must take an assessment on their speaking and writing skills, after which the local constituency committee shortlists applicants and members choose the candidate for the election (though Labour allowed applicants to apply direct to the party without central vetting after 2010).
In the US, elected officials at the local level like mayors and even state level like governors, depending on the state, can be recalled from office before their term is over. A recall election is held if a recall petition gathers enough signatures within a certain time limit, depending on the state.
Most states allow political recalls without requiring specific grounds like misconduct or incompetence. In a small town in Colorado, residents launched a recall just because the mayor planned to change downtown street parking from diagonal to parallel! Parks and Recreation ― one of my favourite TV shows ― shows American democracy at the local council level.
It would be nice if Malaysian democracy was as robust as these Western democracies. But, we have yet to elect an alternative federal government (though we did choose alternative state governments in Penang and Selangor for the past two terms and had the opportunity to observe their behaviour when they have state powers).
Opposition politicians and supporters often claim that “change” can only happen once Malaysia elects an alternative government at the federal level for the first time in history, though they are vague about how that “change” looks like.
So they insult anti-establishment millennials who declare that they may abstain from voting in the 14th general elections because both sides seem equally unpalatable.
These young people are told that spoiling their votes or skipping the ballot box altogether is stupid, irresponsible, idealistic, akin to upholding the long ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government, and a meaningless (even fascist) hipster trend.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) supporters tell millennials that if they want their concerns and clamours for change to be heard, they must vote.
No blank cheque for you
In a country where young people are so disenfranchised (no thanks to the BN government), our one vote or two (one, if you live in Kuala Lumpur) every five years is the only power we have.
I will not automatically give it away to you just because you’re supposedly the “lesser evil.” And if abstaining from voting is unacceptable to these self-righteous Opposition supporters, perhaps I should just vote for the coalition that brought a train into my neighbourhood. Or an independent candidate with environmental policies.
The ballot box is, of course, a strong method of making my voice heard. Don’t like the incumbent? Vote them out. But what do I do if both sides are equally distasteful?
How can we millennials make our concerns heard by voting if both incumbent and Opposition are deaf to us? Voting for one or the other coalition means that I am endorsing you, including your silence on issues that matter to me.
Why should you bother addressing my concerns when I voted you in regardless? You could just run a government and completely ignore my demands, which would be fair because you never promised anything to me in the first place in exchange for my mandate. I would have given it to you knowing full well that you did not pledge to implement my desired reforms.
Who is the stupid voter then?
Even though one vote on its own does not matter mathematically (one vote has never decided an election in Malaysia, not that we know of), critics point to the importance of the youth vote in polls in other countries.
The millennial vote in the US presidential election
Hillary Clinton unexpectedly lost the US presidential election last year to Donald Trump. According to an analysis of exit poll data, the Democratic candidate won support from 55 per cent of millennial voters (aged 18 to 29), compared to 60 per cent who backed Barack Obama in 2012. Trump received about 37 per cent of the youth vote, roughly the same as what Republican candidate Mitt Romney got in 2012.
The gap in youth support in 2016 for Clinton was reportedly evident in the rise in support for third-party candidates (from 3 per cent nationally in 2012 to 8 per cent last year). Clinton’s margin of support from millennial voters was more than 20 percentage points lower compared to 2012 in some of the swing states that Obama had won and that she lost.
A Washington Post opinion piece posits that Bernie Sanders could have defeated Trump if the Democratic Party had elected him as their presidential candidate. Sanders won more votes among those aged below 30 in the 2016 presidential campaign (exceeding two million votes) than Clinton and Trump combined (less than 1.6 million).
So, looking at the big picture, millennials are a force to be reckoned with. Ignore us, and lose the election.
Unfortunately, both PH and BN seem content on ignoring millennials by refusing to heed any of our demands on eradicating race politics, promoting secularism, introducing better democratic practices like local council elections, increasing wages so that they do not remain stagnant, making housing affordable, and improving the education system.
Both of you also seem willing to make electoral deals with PAS. BN has been acquiescing to demands by the Islamist party and by religious fundamentalists. On the other hand, PH may work with PAS in the 14th general elections, after which we may see PAS with immense federal powers if PH does take over Putrajaya.
So, the pro-secularism millennials are screwed either way.
PH is mistaken if it thinks that its new racial strategy to gain the elusive Malay-Muslim rural vote, by accepting Malay-only Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), will not cost it any urban millennial votes. Or perhaps it is hoping that pandering to the majority based on race and religion will contribute more gains than losses, and in that way, take over Putrajaya.
What is your ideology?
A political coalition cannot hope to win everybody’s support by remaining ambiguous about issues like Bumiputera policies, secular governance and local council elections that have a significant impact on our daily lives, or even something as basic as the economy.
Are you more libertarian or socialist when it comes to the economy and free enterprise? Nobody knows. Both BN and PH just tell us they will do “what’s best for the people.”
How can I possibly vote for you without knowing what you stand for? It’s a bit like asking someone to marry you without telling her your likes and dislikes, financial standing, political/ economic/ social ideology, religious beliefs and interests; you only tell her that you’re not a crook and you don’t have a criminal record.
A coalition also cannot sub-contract issues like civil liberties out to Chinese parties while Malay-Muslim parties play up pro-Bumiputera or pro-Islam sentiments, not when a coalition contests the general election as a singular entity, rather than as individual parties.
So when you ask us to vote, you are not asking us to vote for the party per se, but for the coalition as a whole. Voting for MCA means voting for Umno and likewise, voting for DAP means voting for PPBM and Amanah, or possibly PAS.
It would help if we knew who your coalition’s prime minister candidate is because in this country with broken institutions, the prime minister has great, almost unfettered powers expanded over the decades. The last person I want as an alternative PM is Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or anyone from his Umno duplicate party.
But, no, apparently it’s too “idealistic” to want to know the identity of my future PM before I vote, your manifesto, or where you stand as a coalition on various issues. We are not even asking you to fulfill a checklist of our desired policy positions; we just want to identify your stances on different matters so that we know how much your ideology aligns with our personal beliefs.
It is also supposedly too much to ask you to cater to our demands as urban millennial voters (like regular people), rather than to give you our ballots automatically because voting the other side (or abstaining) will supposedly cause the country to collapse.
Both BN and PH make the same ominous warnings. And both of you don’t care to address concerns by urban youths because you have either given up on us or you take us for granted.
We hate race politics
We millennials have been telling you for so long that we hate race politics and we want our salaries to rise faster so that we can eat avocado toast, buy a house, and go on overseas holidays. I’ll say it again ― we really, really hate race politics.
Do you not read our Facebook posts and tweets? Or do you need a long typed letter to your office to show how serious we are because you think our social media posts are just meaningless rants? (By the way, not all of you keep your office’s contact details updated on the Parliament website).
Since you take us for granted even though we tell you nicely what we want, then we have no choice but to threaten to abstain from voting, to spoil our votes, or to vote for independent candidates.
It certainly isn’t a political revolution. Nobody is going to highlight our “you both suck” scrawls in the pile of spoiled ballots. Political commentators will not pick up our absence in the polling stations from the millions of other voters who stayed home because they did not care.
Abstaining from voting, spoiling our votes, or supporting a third-party candidate will not make a single difference. The country will be governed by the coalition elected by other people.
But before BN celebrates the self-perpetuated ruin of PH, they should take heed that the country is increasingly urbanised and they cannot stop citizens from becoming better informed. One day, BN will unexpectedly lose power.
When GE14 rolls around, I will have to live with whichever coalition is elected for another five years.
But the difference between you and me is that I am young. I have many more elections to vote in beyond GE14.
You, on the other hand, are old and decaying with your outdated racist policies that have no place in the new millennium.
Your thirst for power will remain unquenched as younger people who have the courage to introduce a radical new vision for Malaysia sidestep you to push forth bold ideas on their own.
So go ahead and ignore us. We have decades more to live and to shape this country in our own image while you nurse your regrets in your sunset years and pass on without ever tasting power.