All Malaysians have the democratic right to cast a vote but this has no meaning if it is divorced from the responsibility of holding ourselves accountable for that choice in the subsequent parliamentary and state legislative term.
But we are not in the habit of demanding information from our representatives or compelling them to put forward what we believe to be the national interest in Federal and state policy during the term. Instead we prefer to be led by the politicians. We seem to need them to tell us what to think, and we choose manifestos the same way we choose toothpaste. There are some who have told me that election manifestos and policies are the same thing. All I can say is that the standards I set for policy seem to be higher than theirs.
We don’t expect our representatives to cross the floor for reasons of conscience when voting on individual Bills. The Dewan Rakyat tends to divide only on money Bills, and even then the vote is taken by a rudimentary count of those sitting on the opposing benches—MPs are assumed to toe their respective party lines on every matter.
This does not deny that the Opposition can vote with the Government from time to time, as happened with the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1983, but of the 40 Bills that passed in the Dewan Rakyat last year can we as a nation profess familiarity any more than (say) five?
Maybe five is pushing it. Some of us might have heard of the Evidence (Amendment) Bill (No. 2) 2012, which added the infamous s. 114A to the Evidence Act 1950, but how many were aware of it prior to its passage on April 18, 2012? How many were aware that cogent arguments were made that day by M. Manogaran (DAP-Teluk Intan), Azan Ismail (PKR-Indera Mahkota), and Gobind Singh Deo (DAP-Puchong) against the Bill’s provisions for the presumption of fact in publication? Read the Hansard report yourself if you like. The debate on the Second Reading runs from pp. 2-82.
What about the other 39 Bills that went through the House? What about state enactments?
An argument has been doing the rounds that goes like this: If you can’t be bothered taking an interest in voting, then don’t complain when politicians shaft you later. This is one of the daftest things I’ve heard. If you wish to vote, by all means do so. You have a right to it, just as you have a right to spoil your vote or (under our law) to withhold it. It really doesn’t matter a damn either way if you don’t take an interest in what the politicians do after they’ve been voted into office—and the higher the office, the greater the burden.
To argue the former without the latter is to argue that one’s democratic rights and responsibilities consist in and are limited to the single act of casting a vote every five years.
This is a patent absurdity.
We aren’t choosing between a panacea and a painful death, but this is what we’ve reduced the argument to. Likewise, we reduce the argument for things like the minimum wage to what the middle-class can afford. It is as if the national interest is simply middle-class interests writ large.
I am a left-wing conservative. I happen to think that the nation has a universal obligation to all who reside within its borders and that this obligation includes (for example) the same minimum wage and benefits for all workers, foreign and domestic. I hold this view in common with the Socialist Party, at least in principle, but this is not represented in any of the other parties vying for supremacy in the polls this Sunday.
Enjoy your May Day holiday. If you have domestic help in your employ, I’m sure they can look after your brats, cook, clean, wash your cars, etc. while you sip your latte and waffle endlessly about how oppressed you are and how it is time to change things.