One way to help effect change in the coming general election is for people to join and participate in civil society movements, says Toh Kin Woon.
Why is the next General Election (GE) so important?
Never before has a general election elicited so much excitement and interest as in the forthcoming 13th GE. Why is this so? What is the excitement all about? The answer lies in the fact that, unlike previous elections where the outcome was highly predictable and one-sided in favour of the Barisan Nasional (BN), the result of the next GE will be more even.
In fact, based on feedback and responses collected by various respectable public opinion polls, there is even a good possibility that the alternative Pakatan Rakyat comprising Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Pas, will win a simple majority. It is this keen contestation and strong competition between the two coalitions for power at both the Federal and state legislative elections that has aroused so much enthusiasm and excitement. Malaysians, both at home and abroad, are excited at the prospect of a change of the coalition that will govern the country over the next five years.
Why is regime change so important?
Why do people want a change of government at the national centre of power in Putrajaya? They have such a desire, because if it happens, it will usher in a two-party system. The hegemony and monopoly of state power for so long held by Umno – and which has been the cause of so much of the rot that has engulfed our country – will be broken. Together with a strong and vocal civil society, Malaysia’s political and electoral system will be made more contestable and competitive. The power to decide the destiny of the nation will then be returned to the people.
These healthy and positive political developments will be further reinforced if PR, should it win power, restore local government elections, implement decentralisation, pass a freedom of information act, abolish all legislation that restricts freedom of speech, movement and assembly and conduct elections that are clean and fair. To these must be added the need to stamp out corruption and cronyism, break up the Umno-business nexus, stop state-perpetrated violence and torture, halt all activities that are toxic, hazardous and environmentally destructive and close the gap between rich and poor.
In short, it is hoped that PR will institute a system of good governance that provides an expanded space for democratic discourse and peoples’ participation.
What can we do to bring about regime change?
While the much hoped for change is desirable, it can only come about through people organising themselves and acting in concert towards achieving the common goal of change. For a start, we must mobilise voters to turn up in huge numbers to vote on polling day. Bersih 2.0 has launched ‘Jom Undi’, urging voters, including those residing in places away from their polling centres, to return and cast their ballots.
The response to this campaign has been very encouraging. Under the auspices of Bersih, registered voters living and working in Singapore, Hong Kong and China plans to come back on polling day. Those who can’t make it are pressuring the Election Commission to allow them to be registered as postal voters.
Many anticipate the forthcoming elections to be full of fraud and malpractices, which may distort the outcome of the elections. A high voter turnout will help mitigate the negative effects of such fraudulent practices.
It is important, too, to monitor the conduct of the election. Several civil society organisations like Bersih 2.0, Malaysians for Free Elections (Mafrel) and Merdeka Centre, together with political parties, have set up teams to monitor and observe the conduct of the next election.
But such an exercise can only be effective if it is supported both in terms of human and financial resources by the general public. People must therefore volunteer to be trained as polling agents, counting agents, monitors (Pemantau) and observers. All must participate in this monitoring exercise to ensure a higher level of professionalism, honesty and integrity in the conduct of the next election by the Election Commission.
Another way to help effect change in the coming general election is for people to join and participate in civil society movements that:
- challenge abuses of power by state institutions;
- oppose environmentally destructive projects such as the production of rare earth by the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant in the Gebeng industrial estate near Kuantan in Pahang, the use of cyanide in gold mining in Raub, the construction of mega dams and rampant deforestation in Sarawak;
- expose and condemn violence and torture by state institutions such as the police and the MACC;
- oppose infrastructural development that destroys heritage,
- support gender equality;
- call for clean and fair elections; and
- join in the natives’ struggle for their customary land rights.
Through such active engagement and participation, activists help raise the awareness of the general public as to the many burning issues confronting the country and swing support for parties that advocate change for the better. Already, many such movements are in action.
One of them is Bersih 2.0, which has through a few massive peoples’ mobilisation, raised the consciousness of the voters as to the many weaknesses and limitations of the current electoral system. Bersih 2.0 has called for these to be corrected through the fulfilment of its eight demands by the Election Commission.
Then, there is Himpunan Hijau, which together with a couple of other green organisations like Save Malaysia Stop Lynas and Stop Lynas Coalition, has been organising many protest activities against the setting up of the toxic Lynas plant.
Similar protests against cyanide gold mining and the environmentally insensitive oil and gas industrial complex in Pengerang in Southeast Johor have been organised by residents in and around the sites of these projects.
Many existing and some newly formed civil society organizations have been active in demanding transparency and accountability in decision-making, equity in the distribution of wealth, conservation and preservation of heritage and justice for aggrieved families, whose members were victims of torture and violence perpetrated by certain institutions of state power. Examples are Malaysians for Beng Hock, Royalti, Damn the Dams, Anak Felda (Children of Felda) and Pertahankan Taman Merdeka Negara (PTMN) (In Defence of the National Independence Park).
Through these struggles, people learn of the many abuses, greed and cruelty of the wielders of state power. They then disseminate these to the general public whose awareness of the defects and weaknesses of governance by the current BN regime is further heightened. All these, together with political parties opposed to the BN, coalesce into a big, broad movement clamouring and working for change.
Dr Toh Kin Woon, an Aliran member, is chairperson of LLG Cultural Development Centre and member of the Bersih 2.0 Steering Committee.