Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Malaysia's crisis of democracy - 7 million eligiable voters did not vote

Voters lining up to cast their ballots at Sekolah Kebangsaan Pandan Perdana, Ampang, Selangor, on May 5

In GE13, seven million eligible voters decided that democracy is not worth the effort

WITH the immediate dust of the 13th General Election having settled, life has resumed, for most, and many have written extensively and reflected critically on the significance of this election.

There is no doubt that this historic election has captivated the hearts, minds and the imaginations of many for what the future holds for us Malaysians as individuals, communities and the nation.

One issue that has escaped the attention of most is the existence of a "silent" majority of the electorate. These are eligible voters whom, although eligible, did not register to vote.

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On the surface, their inactivity appears to be harmless, easily passed off as fence-sitters and almost oblivious to the political atmosphere. Delving deeper, however, shows that it is no trivial matter.

The number of votes garnered by both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan are approximately five million voters each, sizeable by any account. Consider, however, the size of this silent majority.

In mid-2011, four million voters that are eligible did not register. By 2012, these voters have grown to an estimated five million, despite the numerous countrywide registration campaigns held. However, a record breaking 2.2 million did register, which is certainly commendable.

But let us imagine that voting was made compulsory for all and that our ballots were initially, by default, crossed on a hypothetical I-Don't-Care-Enough Party, whereby turning up on election day is the only way to reselect our candidates of choice. The no-show of these five million will, by default, choose the I-Don't-Care-Enough Party.

This party is now in the same league as BN and Pakatan!

With the additional two million who registered but did not turn up on election day -- also choosing the I-Don't-Care-Enough Party by default as a result -- this party is now the real winner of GE13 with a popular vote of seven million voters!

But this I-Don't-Care-Enough Party is an oxymoron; they are simply indifferent, interested but not committed, silent or unwilling to engage in the issues at hand. In other words, apathy and spectatorism is now the true Malaysian ideology.

Although this hypothetical scenario seems too far-fetched, it does not change the fact that these seven million strong are, unfortunately, the real majority of this election. In GE13, four out of ten eligible voters have decided that democracy is not worth the effort.

The study of economics is the study of how rational human beings -- the extent of our understanding of rationality, actual or perceived, is debatable -- make decisions.

A cast vote is a decision made; an uncast vote is also a decision made.

The lack of engagement in the simplest form of democracy -- representation through elections -- though certainly not free from contamination -- by such a sizeable portion of eligible voters is a crisis of democracy by any standards.

Certainly there are other countries, either Asian or Western, rich or poor, which have regressed in a similar manner. But our Voting-Age-Population (VAP) turnout of less than 60 per cent -- ratio of those who voted to all eligible -- is the lowest among our Asean neighbours, according to International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

And yet we boast of a historic election when seven million, which is also a record number, cast invisible ballots on election day.

As Malaysia still struggles to free itself from its colonial past, race, religion and class-based identity, and moves towards a nation based on shared values, it needs the engagement from all Malaysians and not just a passionate few to bring the country forward. Getting our hands dirty in the process is necessary.

History describes all too well that vice is not found in passionate and sincere patriotism, but in the lack of moderation which can only be tempered with the engagement by all quarters: the majority and minorities, the urban and rural, the have and have-nots, the zealous and of course the spectators in the process of building, or rebuilding a nation.

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