Making candidates accountable

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We desperately need candidates who are trustworthy and accountable, those who will nurture and defend the democratic process, says Prema Devaraj.

Election fever has really set in as polling day draws closer. There was quite a bit of negotiation, discussion, cajoling, posturing and gnashing of teeth over the allocation of seats to candidates, both within the ruling coalition and the opposition. It was not an easy task. The chosen candidates were then unveiled to the public on nomination day. The candidates are now making their rounds to obtain our votes.

But do we really know what they stand for?
Let’s take a look at some of our representatives using the example of
parliamentarians’ views on women. A leaflet ‘Vote for a
Sexism-Free-Parliament’ was produced by the Joint Action Group for
Gender Equality (JAG) in late 2007, highlighting some of the sexist and
discriminatory comments made by parliamentarians over the years. Some
of these statements are reproduced in the table below.

 

Types
of sexist and discriminatory comments

Comments

Culprit

Comments about
women’s bodies and biological functions as an insult

Where
is the leak? The member for Batu Gajah also leaks every month.

Like a menopausal women
in reference to the debate of another male MP

Bung
Mokhtar Radin

(BN
–Kinabatangan)

Badruddin
bin Amiruldin

(BN-then MP for
Yan)

Comparisons of
women to inanimate objects

Toilets are
like new brides after they are completed. After some time, they
get a bit spoiled. Even if you do not use them frequently, you
need someone to clean them very 25 minutes.

S
Samy Vellu

(BN- Sungai
Siput)

Sexual
innuendos and double entendres

It
is unusual for women’s issues to be touched (raised) by men
,”
and after a pause, he added, “
but
women are supposed to be touched by men
.”

Can
I push through a little?

Mohamed
bin Aziz

(BN-
Sri Gading)

Bung Mokhtar
Radin (BN –Kinabatangan

Blaming women
for sexual crimes perpetrated by men

The
women’s dressing
menggoda
(lures) and
mencabar
(challenges) men

Shabudin
Yahaya

(BN-
Permatang Berangan)

Datuk Jasmin
Mohamed (BN- Sg Dua)

Using
references to children’s behavior and or saying women are
‘emotional’ to minimize their views.

Referred
to a fellow women MP as
a
little girl

and told her to go home and
suck
on a pacifier.

Male MP

Commenting of
women’s marital status as a put down.

Widows are
humble… but divorcees, most of them are gatal (randy)

Abdul
Fatah Harun

(PAS – Rantau
Panjang)

The list of comments and culprits here is by no means exhaustive, but it just shows the mindset and calibre of some of our representatives in parliament. Clearly, with these attitudes, there is neither any respect for women nor an understanding about gender equality or violence against women. How can we expect proper debate in parliament on any issue when parliamentarians cannot even observe basic non-sexist language or even understand that their comments are sexist and are not jokes? Their colleagues, while not guilty of uttering these sexist comments, are nonetheless guilty for joining in the laughter or not challenging their colleagues or worse still not even understanding the issue.

They are our representatives

So how do we make our representatives accountable for their thoughts, words and actions? The JAG leaflet sends a clear message – sexist candidates should not be fielded and sexist candidates should not be voted into the next government. Voters should send this message via the ballot box to these representatives and their parties if they have been chosen to stand again.

As a friend recently reminded me, the elections are just one part of the whole democratic process. This means that we, as citizens of a democracy, have a right to express our views and hold our representatives accountable on a variety of issues on a regular basis and not just once in five years. We should make our wakil rakyat accountable for the corruption in the country, the lack of transparency and accountability, repressive laws, development without consultation, the denial of freedom of assembly, the privatisation of healthcare and water, the lack of suitable housing for low and middle-income groups, the marginalisation of the disabled and the indigenous peoples, the lack of a minimum wage for workers, environmental degradation, the plight of refugees and migrant workers and so on.

Lest we forget, representatives are just that and no more: they are people chosen to represent our views and concerns.  They can only do that if they understand the issues and are committed to being part of the struggle for positive change. It is meaningless to vote for political opportunists who do not have the welfare of this country’s people at heart. In the coming elections, candidates will no doubt give fiery speeches and make extraordinary promises. But it’s up to the voters to discern fact from fiction.

Will the candidate you plan to vote for be committed to working for a transparent and accountable government? Will he or she be willing to commit to some if not all of the issues listed above? Will he or she represent your views? Will he or she be willing to be held accountable to the people of this country?

Candidates should be trustworthy and accountable people who will nurture the democratic process and principles. They should help bring forth just and meaningful development for all and not just for the few. Hold your candidate to account. Let your vote send out that message.

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