I have given this one a lot of thought. I have so much to say that sometimes my own thoughts contradict one another. But before I continue, I want to emphasize that I am not telling readers who to vote for. I am simply saying, if you want change – your vote counts.
I have spoken to many about this, people from various backgrounds, ideologies, and intellectual capacities. From the simple to the complicated, the righteous to the pragmatic, the concerned to the apathetic – everyone has something to say.
One of them sounds like this:
“I reserve the right to not vote.”
I fully agree. There is no contest that each of us reserve the right to do whatever we please as long as it is according to the law. I come from Penang, the little island up north of Malaysia that has always been keen to set itself apart and welcome any sort of positive change. I also know for a fact that if I fail to make a trip back home to cast my vote on the 14th General Elections, Penang will still be okay and we will move forward.
But I am still going home to vote. In fact, I wanted to volunteer carpool services (with the cheeky intention that one out of the five passengers would be the rare ‘opposition’ voter to make for an interesting ride) – but alas, I got into an accident a couple weeks ago and my car is still in the workshop. Instead, my brother and I bought flight tickets back, even if that meant taking an extra day off from work. I applied for my annual leave with the reason, “Berkhidmat untuk negara (Serving the country)”, of which my boss gladly approved.
I don’t believe my state government is a lot better – it would be naïve to think so. Us Penangites have our gripes and complaints about them too, because we don’t believe in settling for small victories. We’re not keen on being comfortable. The people consistently put pressure on the state government for something more, something better.
That’s what we call progress.
We’re not going to sit around to wait for a squeaky clean, corruption-free government. We just want an effective one that works for its honest, tax-paying citizens.
And when duty calls – we do our part to change or affirm the status quo.
I remember that one of the first orders of business when I arrived in London late 2016 was to head to the Malaysian High Commission to register as a postal voter with some of my Malaysian friends. There were rumours that there was going to be an election in 2017 and if we did not register by the end of 2016, we will never make it. We ended the evening making new friends and a picnic in Hyde Park. Of course, the elections never came, but we did our part. Elections next year instead? Sure, let’s do it all over again.
“What’s the point?”
Rewind a little bit more and I remember the last general election. I remember attending my first ceramah and left feeling hopeful and inspired. A change was going to come – the sentiment was loud and the people were restless. I remember feeling anxious not wanting to spoil my vote. I remember the celebratory honks from cars that pass us by as we lined up to vote like we had already won. I remember gripping the edge of my seat as the votes were counted. I remember being angry when random “blackouts” were reported and results were turned. I remember rejoicing when Penang proved her grit in a landslide victory.
I also remember how short-lived that joy was when the last vote was counted. I remember the sombre mood the morning after as I caught my flight back to KL.
So it is no surprise that people have given up this time around.
What’s the point trying to invoke a certain kind of change that will probably never happen?
But, also, what’s the point in folding our arms and standing on the side-lines to ensure that no change will ever happen?
I used to tell people, “If you don’t vote, you cannot complain.” I take that back. Complaining is also one’s right. You can complain about food that you didn’t cook or order. You can complain about the family dinner that you were forced to go.
But we can all agree on one thing: Complaining doesn’t solve anything.
It’s just noise.
The point is, we can do something.
“I don’t need to vote to invoke change. I’m already doing my part on a grassroots level. We don’t need politics to effect change in this country.”
If you are already doing your part for a better Malaysia, kudos to you. I am humbled by my friends who are actively involved in organisations that are making an impact in various areas such as education, sustainability, the refugee crisis and even policy-making. I personally feel like I can and should be doing more too. I’m working on it.
The rejection of traditional politics, or anti-politics is becoming a popular notion today especially with the rise of distruptive culture. People are becoming braver and more empowered to take issues into their own hands and do something about them without relying on those sitting in high positions and bypassing unnecessary bureaucracy. When goons in suits create mindless policies that are more eager to throw citizens behind bars rather than protecting them and instigate racial sentiments for their own benefit – they become the very fools that they take us for.
And while we are trying to create ripples of change on our own accord, we cannot deny the waves that politics conjure – good or bad – on a larger, far-reaching scale.
Can you imagine what billions of funds can do for our education system if used correctly? Or the transportation system? Or simply improving the accessibility for fellow citizens living in rural areas?
I’m not vouching for any manifestos or promises made. I’m simply asking us to picture the possibilities that could come from a government that works with and for the people for the long, steep run. Will either party deliver? I don’t know.
But I know we need to believe that one of them might try a little harder.
Because on the grander scheme of things – that is what we’ve got.
Dear non-voters, I respect your right to abstain from voting.
But please hear me out.
In an ideal world, your non-votes will give a message to the world. It should tell us all that something is wrong, and you are not making a decision unless someone cleans up their act. The competing parties should listen to you and strive to win your votes by giving you what you want. They should ask, plead and even beg for your paper and promise to be a better government. You will then strike the best deal, help the deserving party to win, and be on our way to a better governed country.
Here’s the harsh truth. Let’s put biased patriotic feelings aside and put on the logical hat for a second. Take a small step back and take a look at what’s really happening at the moment. One party is trying to convince you to go to the ballet box. Another one couldn’t give a damn. You know which is which. Why? Simple. Your non-vote changes nothing for the status quo. It doesn’t tip the scale. It doesn’t tip the scale that one is already comfortably sitting on. It’s a simple combination of probability and math.
If you like the status quo and want things to be just the way they are, then so be it.
However, if you want change – mum’s not the word this time around.
And I know that for most of you who are abstaining to vote, you have the same desire and frustration for change.
But why should we be so insistent for a change just for change’s sake, even when we don’t even know for sure might be for our own good?
But we should fight for the possibility of one. That it is possible for us to choose our government. That democracy still has its merits.
That in the years to come, when the future generation (which could be us or our children), comprising of brighter and more capable individuals take the helm to lead – the country will give them a chance. That there is a reason to stay and a reason to serve. That this work-in-progress is worth investing in.
That being called Malaysians no longer just mean good food, bad traffic and skyscrapers.
That Malaysia is home and not just a pit-stop – and believing that the line “Tanah tumpahnya darah-ku” actually tells of where we come from, and where we will eventually return.
And it all starts with a mini reunion at the ballot box this Wednesday.
It has been five years.
If we want change, let’s not wait five years more.
Yang Menjalankan Tugas,
Sidenote: I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by motivated individuals who want to do their part for the upcoming general elections. One of them is my cousin who currently resides in the United States, but have been a part of the programming initiative of helping people obtain rides to their polling locations. Visit https://carpool.pulangmengundi.com/en to offer your services or hitch on one today!