A thinking voter’s checklist

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 Not sure which party to vote for? Let us reflect on a few crucial issues. This time, when the general election comes, many of us might be swayed
by propaganda that things are going to get better if we stick to the
known. But before we make our minds up, let us reflect on a few crucial issues.

Basic human rights for all

Now human rights might not mean a lot to some of us. But if our own rights are violated, we will surely think again.

It is a basic universal right that anyone who is arrested for an alleged crime must be charged before a court of law and be allowed to put up a defence according to the principles of universal legal practice. The ISA is an affront to such a basic human right. It should be abolished and rejected by all right-minded citizens.

Freedom of expression is also a basic democratic right, which has been systematically curbed in Malaysia with the introduction of various undemocratic laws and regulations.

We the citizens of Malaysia demand:

•    the repeal of the obnoxious ISA, which allows detention without trial.
•    greater freedom of speech, assembly and association, including the repeal of the Police Act
•    a professional police force that respects human rights
•    an end to custodial violence and police brutality


Independent judiciary

Since the sacking of the former Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas in 1988, the credibility and independence of the Malaysian Judiciary in the public eye has nose-dived. It virtually acts as a subservient branch of the Executive rather than as a separate branch of government that should serve as a check-and-balance, along with Parliament, against Executive excesses. The revelations made in the Royal Commission of Enquiry have been shocking and at the same time exasperating since the investigations have not been allowed to be comprehensive and all encompassing.

All citizens, whether in high places or low, powerful or weak, rich or poor deserve to have justice meted out in court by fair and independent judges according to the principle of natural justice.

We, the citizens of Malaysia, demand:

•    fair courts with competent and qualified judges,
•    due process and natural justice.
•    justice for all – not only for the rich and powerful.
•    justice not only to be done but to be seen to be done.


Press freedom

There is too much concentration of media ownership in a few politically well-connected hands. This leads to less freedom of the press. In addition, repressive laws deter free and independent reporting.

We, the citizens of Malaysia, demand:

•    freedom of the press
•    the repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act,
•    the abolition of the requirement for publishers and printers to apply for an annual licence.
•    the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act to facilitate a free flow of information and to promote greater transparency and openness.

Fair elections

Malaysian elections have increasingly become sullied by money politics; literally millions of ringgit are spent to win elections. The Election Commission and the courts must play their role in seeing that candidates strictly adhere to the legal campaign spending limits. Other forms of electoral fraud such as the use of phantom voters, multiple registration of voters and the illegal transfer of voters to different voting areas must be stopped.

We, the citizens of Malaysia, are disgusted with the way money and power is used to win influence and votes.

We demand:

•    the eradication of vote buying and corruption
•    the elimination of phantom voters.
•    an end to politicians making false election promises
•    limits be placed on the amount of money that can be spent during election campaigns, and
•    a stop to the use of government funds, agencies and facilities during the election campaign.

 

Local democracy 

A very important and basic right of citizens was set aside when local government was abolished in the early 1970s. The excuse then was that as city councillors were elected, there was too much inefficiency and corruption at the local level of government.

Malaysians know that today there is inefficiency and corruption – more so perhaps at the state and federal levels of government. Inefficiency and corruption must be tackled as separate problems and not be used as an excuse to deprive citizens of their basic right to democratic representation at the local level of government. It is the right of all citizens to have duly elected representatives in town councils as practised in the past.

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We demand:

•    the restoration of representative local government
•    the election – and not appointment – of town councillors
•    adequate funding and facilities for municipalities.
•    no local taxation without representation!

Holistic development

Development must not only stress economic growth but also the fair and just distribution of income and wealth among all the people. Development must ensure that all citizens are entitled to basic economic and social rights.

We demand:

•    a minimum wage of RM900 plus RM300 COLA for all workers as it constitutes a basic economic right. All work enjoy a relatively decent and humane life on their wages.
•    widespread distributive policies in the area of taxation
•    benefits for the economically disadvantaged in the form of micro-credit facilities and increased social security benefits.
•    an end to the privatisation of public goods and amenities – namely education, health, water and other public utilities. There is no proof that privatisation can improve the quality of services. Instead, privatisation has led to increased rates and fees without improvement in services. Privatisation, as it is being carried out, only benefits the politically connected.

It’s tough making ends meet

The prices of petrol and many food items — cooking oil, flour, bread, fish, meat and vegetables have risen. How can we feed our families so that they get a balanced diet?

Add to this transport, medical, education and other necessary expenditure and you get the picture. A good government should make sure that the cost of living is not always going up.

Affordable, quality healthcare

We demand:

•    affordable and quality healthcare in our public healthcare system (i.e. general hospitals).
•    higher government funding of our general hospitals so that people of all income groups can be taken care of properly. We are especially concerned about the rising healthcare costs for older people, migrant workers, the sick and marginalised communities who can least afford it.
•    committed healthcare personnel especially doctors and nurses, who must put the patient above all other considerations.
•    stricter regulation of the private healthcare sector. 


Decent, affordable housing

It is a disgrace and a major failure of the government of the day that housing remains unavailable and inadequate for many Malaysians. The government has allowed housing developers to build luxury housing and condominiums, which are only affordable to the very rich and  MM2H foreigners. Such a policy has only helped to enrich a small number of developers while leaving the vast majority of citizens exposed to high or barely affordable rents.

As citizens, we demand:

•    more affordable house for all, which means more low cost and medium cost housing and fewer grand projects and expensive condominiums
•    a cap on the ceiling price of low-cost houses at RM35,000 and easy loan or rental facilities so that the poorest Malaysians will be able to live in decent houses.
•    a revamp in the design so that there is enough living space for a family.
•    better management of low cost housing projects so that they will not rapidly deteriorate and turn into eyesores.
•    more parks, green lungs and playgrounds and better public transport in housing areas.


Education to nurture thinking Malaysians

The role of our education system is not only to produce a well-trained and productive workforce, but also to develop character and to nurture critical and creative thinking. Our education system must also promote respect and acceptance of our diverse religions and cultures and foster national integration. Today our education system is undergoing rapid but erratic change but its quality is suspect. Children and parents are obsessed with exam performance and going to school is not a joyful exciting experience for children who have to cope with a heavier workload.

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We demand:

•    quality education within school hours so that students will not have to depend on extra tutorial classes.
•    that the quest for academic excellence  include the obligation to provide space and access for the development of diverse talents among children, from the creative to the scientific.
•    a system that nurtures thinking, inquiring minds infused with values such as social concern, integrity and compassion.
•    a school environment that is safe (against crimes), one which is comfortable (with ample furnishing, no more heavy school-bags) and enjoyable (with humane and caring teachers).
*   a comprehensive study of our public universities which have been increased and the enrolments  expanded very rapidly, leading to declining standards, and unemployment among the ill-prepared graduates;

•    a re-evaluation of the impact of privatisation upon higher education and an end to entrepreneurs treating education as a commercial, profit-making opportunity.

Environmental protection

In the name of economic progress, many development projects have degraded the environment. Thus, for instance, our land and rivers and sea are polluted by industry. Certain housing projects and highways cut into hills and turn our cities and towns into concrete jungles, increasing the possibility of landslides, floods and misery to many Malaysians.

We, the citizens of Malaysia, are highly disturbed by the arbitrary and often facile way in which precious state and other land is alienated for so-called development projects.

We demand:

•    a conscientious and holistic approach to development that will not cause irreparable damage to the environment.
•    consultation with citizens before any approval of land use for development projects is contemplated. In particular, local plans must be drawn up with wide-ranging public participation.
•    independent environmental, social and traffic impact assessments
•    that strict laws and regulations be imposed on developers. The authorities must ensure that land development does not prove to be unhealthy and unsafe.
•    a cautious approach to biotechnology based on scientific assurances of long-term safety for people and other living organisms.
•    clean air and water.
•    sustainable and environmentally friendly waste disposal systems that do not pollute the air and earth.
•    affordable, efficient and sustainable public transport and pedestrian friendly streets instead of congested roads.

Agriculture and food security

With the government’s emphasis on agro-business, large tracts of land are now earmarked for cash crops, which do not necessarily benefit ordinary Malaysians. To make matters worse, excessive and careless use of pesticides has poisoned much of our foodstuff, particularly vegetables.

We demand:

•    agriculture that is environment-friendly and caters to the basic needs of the ordinary Malaysians.
•    That farmers be allowed to maintain their independent sources of livelihood instead of putting them at the mercy of huge agrobusiness and agrichemical corporations.
•    a ban on GM food until it can be conclusively proven to be safe for all living beings and the environment.
   
Women

Women contribute just as much as men to the economic prosperity of the nation. On top of it all, they carry a bigger responsibility in nurturing the young, in preparing food, and in maintaining a liveable space in our daily lives. But they lack power in government and politics and they are also more easily subjected to violent crimes involving their sexuality.

We demand;

•    affordable, high quality childcare facilities especially for low- and middle-income working women.
•    a high standard of maternal and reproductive health care for all women. The duration of maternity leave for all women should be extended to at least six months.
•    a minimum allowance for non-working women whose household income is below a certain range. Women tend to spend their money on the improvements to their households and less on excesses compared to men.
•    effective action to tackle the rising incidence of violent crimes against women and children, namely domestic violence, rape, incest and sexual harassment.
•    the setting up of more Women’s Crisis Centres, throughout the country.
•    specific mechanisms to increase women’s political representation at all levels, from local government to the senate.

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Indigenous communities

Many among the indigenous communities do not seem to have benefited from government development projects and remain desperately poor. That said, we would argue that their cultures and lifestyle must be respected and perpetuated especially if they are in complete harmony with nature. But their respective cultures must not be maintained solely for the gaze of the tourists.

 

Wasteful projects 

We abhor the unnecessary, expensive projects that waste our country’s resources to satisfy the egos of certain people. Billions of ringgit, which could have been used to uplift the standard of living among Malaysians, have been squandered on unproductive mega projects. Mega projects also provide easy opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to engage in corrupt practices such as kickbacks and bribes. The money spent on mega projects could easily have been used to vastly improve our education and healthcare systems, wipe out poverty, provide social security benefits, and solve the housing problem once and for all.


The disabled and special children

A government sincerely committed to a caring society should not merely have slogans about caring but give us more action. Groups in our society who have special needs include the aged, the differently abled (eg. the blind, those in wheelchairs, the bed-ridden, the autistic and those with Down’s Syndrome). Are our public facilities user-friendly for such people? We need to have wheelchair-accessible public buildings and public transit facilities that cater for the needs of the blind and other physically-challenged folk and the aged.

Very often, the mentally-challenged are ignored because they merely seem “strange” and “odd”. How many parents with autistic, or other mentally-challenged children have asked desperately, “Why aren’t there adequate facilities for teaching our children who have these special needs? Why are we left to our own limited ways to help our special children to learn and grow?” If only some of the money spent on wasteful projects were used to help special people, we could really be proud of “Malaysia Boleh”, i.e. Malaysia can and will care for its own citizens with their different needs.

Public security

Malaysia was once regarded as a safe country. But there have been a spate of snatch thefts, break ins, assaults, rape cases, murders, and armed robbery of late.

How many of us wake up with a shiver when we hear noises at night because houses in our area have just been broken into? It isn’t only our valuables, it is our physical safety we are worried about. Will we be hurt? How effective have the authorities been in protecting our bodies, our homes, our families?

Or are security personnel merely interested in curbing dissent and cracking down on peaceful demonstrators demanding their rights?

We need to find out if our model of development, which treats human beings as cogs in the development machine, has alienated people, especially those cut off from the mainstream of development. Has the dehumanisation of the human person in society contributed to a rise in crime? Has the lack of integrity in public life, the corruption and abuse of power filtered down to the rest of society and manifested itself in increasing violence?

These are some of the concerns that we should bear in mind when we go to the ballot box. We must vote for democracy, for public participation in decision-making, for respect for basic rights and for the holistic development of the human person in harmony with the rest of creation.

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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