How to vote

MARCH 8 —   Do you feel the country is heading in the right direction?

This is the only thing which should preoccupy your mind when you walk into the polling booth.

Everything else is white noise.

So, before the day, walk around your neighbourhood, along the office cubicles, stand in the local hypermarket parking lot, stare at the local pub pricelist or station yourself to a great view of a busy highway, for instance.

There is also the opportunity to call your old classmate, scream out a conversation with the guy who walks his dog through the park, intimate to the local garage foreman or Facebook messenger an old flame.

Whichever way, it is completely up to the individual voter, no matter how much counsel he seeks or is offered.

Regardless, don’t forget it is binary.

Is it heading to a better place, or not?

What you have to be convinced about is that your opinion is not second to any other person’s.

The what

A country is an abstraction, constructed by men. It is defined, and then in due course redefined with great care not to profane the original intent, which is obviously contradictory. Which is par for the course, since countries are not about avoiding contradictions but to manage the contradictions they’ve inherited without imploding.

Its political system determines access, rights, wealth and redistribution while considering them in terms of degrees, principles, values and past mistakes. Often these countries are vestiges of the colonial age or kingdoms, which is a roundabout way of saying, it’s useless to argue about the cards handed out, which means it is about making it work rather than hating it for how it looks.

Democracy is the tool to measure the inhabitants’ resolve and provide the institutions to leverage — despite the contradictions and difficulties — in order to shift the country forward.

Why?

Because like evolution, nations chart their betterment, to be stronger than in the present. Otherwise, they decay till their demise.

Which then brings us to the key question, how to vote when you know how you feel?

Feeling good

If the country is going alright, in your mind, then henceforth you are compelled to vote for the Barisan Nasional (BN). To support the set of conditions which upholds the present administration.

While critics may ridicule the position and claim it is an inferior choice, it does not dissipate your opinion. However, be mindful, nor does it insulate you from hazards caused by your opinion.

You have to defend the choice because they are in power thanks to your support. Can’t say I chose but I won’t explain. On the same token, you are not expected to explain till detractors are convinced, that is impossible.

To a reasonable level.

It is the price of being a democratic participant. Your choice is examined in lieu of the performance of those you chose to back.

But if not (feeling awful)

However, if in the case, when mulling the question whether the country is indeed heading in the right direction, you find yourself not of the opinion it is, then it is time to act.

To choose a path which moves the country in a different direction.

While some people look into themselves and use gut instinct; others by counting the pros and cons in their own sliding scale to a numerical certainty; most will determine by a combination of emotions and intellectual processing.

It does not matter.

But if you feel it is wrong, to ignore your own judgement and to persist in voting for status quo is cowardice.

For you ignore your own conscience.

The demand here is for voters to abide by their own opinions.  

If you are overwhelmed by the number of choices in the “opposed to status quo” segment, refer to the primary objective.

To steer the country. That is only possible within a first past the post primitive Westminster system, through factions with the ability to realise it.

Which means voting for regional parties like PAS is useless. Voting for Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) is admirable but ultimately symbolic only in most instances. The coterie of Borneo parties outside BN and undecided on Pakatan Harapan are disruptions not sources of optimism.

Voting for independent candidates is extra useless. Harsh, yes, but in a binary structure of power, independents are distractions. #undirosak will assume the same mantle as PSM.

You have to return to your main opinion, that the country is likelier heading to a storm rather than to a tropical wonderland, and therefore use the vote to steer the country to the latter.

If that is the opinion you hold.

Otherwise, the efficacy is mangled.

It’s constituency, not Putrajaya, no?

It is flawed in this system.

In Malaysia, power is centralised. Highly centralised. While voters pass power to their respective MP designates through the vote, in case of victory the winner ends up at the beck and call of his party leader.

The idea of an autonomous political mind is foreign.

A minister callously humiliate opponents and business officials, but as long as he does not pick on the prime minister, the leader of his coalition, he is fine.

Which means, two things:

Arguing for constituency focus via the local candidates fails to bring a reasonable shift. If the MP is with the national winner, he won’t challenge the national administration by convention even though he’d bring the bonus of national services to the constituency. 

When he calls the Public Works Department, the reaction is positive. However, he will have zero impact when the prime minister chooses to ignore leadership errors, since he belongs to the party/coalition of the prime minister.

His silence is certain.

Change will only occur when there is national power to naysayers, and that power is determined by the number of MPs possessed by the side you believe is best situated to supplant the government of the day.

Again, this is conditional on you being of the opinion the government is flawed.

The think

To ask, which way to vote to alter the future?

This would answer the contention when it is three ways, or even four ways contests.

How will my vote add to the victory chances of the MP most likely to back the side which will change government?

There is the common refrain — choose carefully, for the vote can’t be retracted. No, it can’t be. But that is not a reasonable way to argue which reality in the future is better. We don’t know. We never do.

We rely on our opinions, the one we arrived at independently, or even if not.

There is no Dicken’s moral play of having an eye into the future, to consider present decisions. The present decisions must be made by us non-George Baileys.

We decide in the dark. It was the case when we walked out of the cave to face the wild exterior, it is the same today deciding between the familiar, new and perhaps in the Malaysian context, the oh too familiar gift-wrapped.

A nation, a young nation, may lack judgement but it cannot lack courage to follow its own conviction.

If the majority of us are quite happy with the driver of this happy camper, then relax and sing a happy tune. If not, then act in a way to shift the status quo.

Enough of protest votes, let’s have action votes.

So, again to the start.

When you walk into the polling booth, consider only one thing: Is your country heading in the right direction?

[It’s not lost on this column, that this is the 10th anniversary of the 12th General Election where more than seats were won by the votes.]

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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