What we want are free and fair elections, debates over important issues, independent media – and a change of government from time to time, says Francis Loh.
The United Kingdom is now in election mode.
Parliament was dissolved on 30 March. Almost immediately, campaigning started and will continue for almost five weeks until election on 7 May 2015. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, and unlike current practice in Malaysia, the dates for the dissolution of Parliament and for polling are nowadays fixed in the UK.
Nomination day had also been fixed for 9 April. Those wishing to vote must be over 18 years old. If they are not registered as voters, they must do so by 20 April.
Registration or updating one’s previous registration (change of name or address) can be done either online or by post. In the latter case, simply send the completed form to the Local Election Registration Office.
Incidentally, registration, or updating one’s registration to vote can be done anytime during the year. However, if one wishes to vote in the upcoming election, one has to complete registration by 20 April.
The electoral process seems so straightforward and unbiased.
In Malaysia, the ruling government has the right to call for elections at a date it deems favourable to itself. The last time around, the Malaysian prime minister waited and waited for that suitable date until he almost ran out of time.
Being aware of when the election might be called favours the incumbent and allows it to prepare ahead, even stymie the Opposition. For instance, the incumbent can print its pamphlets and posters earlier, smoothen out differences among its lieutenants who might be an loggerheads, make early bookings for the most suitable halls and open grounds for holding ceramahs, stock up on petrol to drive fast boats and four-wheel drive vehicles into the interior of Sarawak, and pay deposits for the use of helicopters, ahead of the Opposition.
Registering one’s self to vote is so much more complicated in Malaysia. As well, the UK does not seem to have a problem with pengundi hantu, usually resulting from the role played by political parties as intermediaries in the registration process. Just download the form and click, click! Or fill up the form and post it, which usually gets to its destination the next day (unlike here via Pos Malaysia).
Not unrelated to the above, the real battle for votes occurs not by recruiting hantus nor by holding the election during a bad time for the Opposition, but by conducting open debates among the contesting leaders in the mainstream media. The BBC and Sky News, both of which we can access via Astro, appears to be giving much media time to these debates.
And incidentally, they also give air time to the incumbent as well as the Opposition. The media have followed the politicians from all parties on their different campaign trails.
A few days ago, the media scrutinised the manifestos of all the parties. All the time, they seem to be asking where the money to fund all these promises is going to come from.
For example, both the Conservatives and Labour have promised a revamp of the National Health System. While Labour has promised to employ another 1,000 midwives, the Conservatives promise to inject several additional billion sterling into the NHS over the next five years, largely to improve health care initiatives at the local level.
Another two areas of debate have focused on the creation of jobs, and the upgrading of the public education system, from pre-schools to the universities.
Whichever the British rakyat’s preference, it is encouraging that serious issues are being discussed publicly and during prime time too. And the different polling results are reported on meticulously.
In the run-up to GE13 over here, the mainstream media were monopolised by Umno-BN. They highlighted the development projects that had been conducted for the past years by conducting ‘opening ceremonies’ of the bridges, schools, hospitals, markets, etc built. No TV or radio station, no mainstream newspaper subjected the incumbent to accounting for all the billions that they had spent.
Instead, they carried pages and pages of political advertisements extolling the ‘achievements’ of the incumbent and warning of the pending disasters should the Opposition come to power.
Not surprising therefore, with the biased electoral process, the hantus, and the control of the 3 Ms (media, money and government machinery), we have not seen a change of government taking place in Putrajaya.
Not so in the UK. Changes in government do occur ever so often. In the 2010 election, Labour was the incumbent. A hung parliament resulted – which was finally resolved when the Conservatives, led by David Cameron formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. And, of course, changes of government have also occurred regularly in Australia, the United States and other western democracies.
It is important to clarify that witnessing a change in government is not a ‘western thing’. In late 2014, India, too, saw a change in government: from a Congress-led one to a BJP one. Incidentally, there occurred much public debate of important issues too in the Indian mass media in the run-up to that election.
The LDP is back in power in Japan. But not so long ago, it lost power to a coalition of smaller parties led by a breakaway faction of the LDP.
Why, we have also seen important change in governments in South Korea and Taiwan, two of the so-called East Asian Dragon countries, once characterised by authoritarian rule.
What we are wishing for is ‘a normal democracy’ – characterised by free and fair elections, debates over important issues and policy differences by the parties in the run-up to the elections, mass media that serve the public interest rather than their political masters’ – and a change of government from time to time.
Of course, we must work towards achieving this ‘normal democracy’ too