APRIL 17 — Ah, the elections.
Where once every four to five years, we are summoned to fulfil our numero uno civic duty: to vote.
And so like gravid salmon, many of us will be making our way back to our respective hometowns to cast ballots that not only determine who represents us in Parliament but perhaps the direction our country will take for the next five years.
A vote box too far?
But then again, for many of us first-time voters, it will be an uphill battle getting back to our respective hometowns to vote.
Other than the fact that only one day off from work is given, travelling great distances saps energy and can put a dent in your finances especially if you come from the nether regions of our beloved country.
I myself will be heading back to Tumpat, Kelantan to cast my vote. An exhausting seven-hour drive or nine-hour bus ride or 12-hour train ride away.
The question here is: How can we make our voices heard at the ballot box when the ballot box is out of reach (both literally and figuratively)?
In the background of the familiar campaign propaganda and customary political rhetoric, one action by the collective Malaysian civil society shines like a lighthouse beacon in the dark of night.
Civil society assistance
What I’m referring to are the #GE14carpool, #pulangmengundi and #UndiRabu movements. Since the announcement of the election date on April 10, Twitter has exploded with these hashtags.
The former hashtag collects people heading in the same direction while the latter two offer financial assistance for travel.
This time around, Malaysians have not only (narcissistically) pledged to return to their hometowns to vote in droves (on social media), but these same people have offered assistance to those who might not have the necessary resources to make the trip.
Since first-time voters are usually students or junior workers, these movements are able to ease the financial pressure thus making returning home not such a distant dream.
Ensuring political objectivity
Taking this kind gesture from the Malaysian public a step further, I personally believe that these movements are ensuring political objectivity at the ballot box.
As Malaysians, I’m sure we have heard of political parties or affiliated donors offering to pay for one’s journey in return for votes. Yes, yes, it is a given that who one chooses to vote for remains a secret i.e. “Undi itu rahsia.”
But then again, if a party (no pun intended) offers to sponsor your trip home, one is bound to feel a sense of debt which might influence where you place that crucial “X.”
With these movements, generous Malaysians have actually made it possible/affordable to return home to vote without that burden. #GE14carpool is not a bus provided by a political party nor is #pulangmengundi an angpau for your troubles.
These are genuine community efforts to get Malaysian voters back home while ensuring that they get to vote whichever party/candidate they believe in.
So, to all you donors out there, I salute you!
You embody the community that we are trying to build. The elders or the more affluent helping our younger or less fortunate brothers and sisters to carry out their civic duty.
More importantly, a Malaysia that looks out for one another irrespective of political beliefs. I take joy in fact that we have found another lightning rod for positive Malaysia solidarity; other than our athletes and crispy rendang of course!
May the spirit of crowdsourcing responsibility (#GE14carpool, #pulangmengundi and #UndiRabu) live through this election and spill over to other community efforts.
In any case, I bid everyone a safe trip home. Malaysia’s future is in our hands.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.