Why we shouldn’t spoil our votes in this crucial general election

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Voters turn out on polling day - Photograph: Malay Mail Online

We must not fall into such despair, writes Chris Chong. Change will come – but it can only come if we take the first step towards making the government of the day accountable.

We are well into 2018 now, and already it looks as if this is going to be crossroads year for the country.

With a general election that must be called this year, both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan are already involved in a war of words with each other.

The most interesting development now is the announcement by Pakatan Harapan that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad will lead the opposition alliance in the upcoming election (but with the understanding that he will step down as prime minister to make way for Anwar Ibrahim once he is released from prison if Pakatan wins).

Still, we should not lose sight of the larger issue rather than dwelling on personalities in the coming election. As voters, we must judge which side can do a better job in governing the country. Among the critical issues facing the people are the rising cost of living, the closing of space to voice differing opinions, gerrymandering in the electoral delineation exercise and the shenanigans in Felda.

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Already, some have expressed despair over the current state of affairs and pessimism over the possibility of change, and they have called for others to spoil their votes or not vote at all as a sign of protest.

We must not fall into such despair. Change will come. But it can only come if we take the first step towards making the government of the day accountable. This we can do by showing the incumbents our displeasure through our votes if they fail to deliver on their promises and tarnish the country with scandals.

Our duty does not end with elections. We must become active rakyat by taking an interest in public issues presented by credible media sources. If things are not right, we must be concerned enough to inform our elected representatives why we are unhappy with the state of affairs. Or we can support civil society groups involved in causes we care about so as to bring about change in the country.

Since its founding, Aliran has witnessed the country’s darkest episodes such as Ops Lalang and the emasculation of the judiciary. We have also seen moments of hope such as the birth of Bersih and its rallies as well as the outcome of the 2008 and 2013 general elections, which demonstrated that the rakyat have the power to bring about change.

Change can only happen if the rakyat do not fall into despair and withdraw from the political process. Change can only come about if we believe it is within our power to change the way things are. Change can only come about if we persist in doing our part as citizens. Change will not come if we give up and withdraw!

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To paraphrase Barack Obama, “Yes, the rakyat can!”

Chris Chong
Co-editors, Aliran newsletter
10 January 2018

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