A new Malaysia – post GE13

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Politicians should realise from GE 13 that real power now lies in the hands of the Rakyat, says Henry Loh.

Nothing is going to stop or reverse this dynamic democratic transformation
Nothing is going to stop or reverse this dynamic democratic transformation

GE 13 has produced some very interesting statistics.

The voter turnout saw a new record: 84.61 per cent of voters cast their ballots votes out of 13.2m registered voters. Of the valid votes cast (i.e. excluding spoilt votes), the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) received 5.6m (50.87 per cent) compared to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 5.2m (47.38 per cent).

Hence PR had beaten BN in terms of the popular votes received. However, due to the malapportionment of voters in the constituencies, the BN was able to win 133 seats in Parliament compared to the PR’s 89 seats, thereby earning the right to form the Federal government.

The major impact of malapportionment is that the single vote has a very different value depending on the number of voters in a particular constituency. To elaborate, P125 the Putrajaya constituency has 15798 constituents , whilst P62 – Sungei Siput Parliament seat has 51709 constituents and P122 – Seputeh has 86114 constituents.

In each of the three parliamentary seats quoted above (under the first-past-the-post system) the eventual winning Member of Parliament (MP) is required to obtain significantly different quantitative majorities in order to secure victory. Some analysis must be done to see how many constituents were involved in PR’s 89 seats won versus the number of constituents in BN’s 133 seats won.

The series of Blackout 505 rallies held throughout the country post GE-13 was essentially the PR’s way of staging protests to highlight that the elections was filled with irregularities and allegations of electoral fraud. The pet peeves of PR were vote buying, phantom voters and “indelible ink” that was easily washed off.

There was also much concern about the lack of “neutrality”/“non-partisanship” displayed by the Electoral Commission (EC). In relation to malapportionment, for instance, the complaint was that in the numerous delineation exercises carried out by the EC over the years, the end result was to favour the ruling BN.

The first Blackout 505 rally held on 9 May 2013 was at the Kelana Jaya stadium and the attendance was estimated at about 120000 people. The next rally was held at the Batu Kawan stadium in Penang where the turnout was estimated to be over 60000 people.

Indeed, the post-election mood was strong and the 505 rallies drew large crowds in every town/city where they were held. In organising these rallies, Pakatan leaders insist that they are not sore losers but that they believe that they had been cheated of outright victory due to electoral fraud and other irregularities.

The strong support that the PR received at its numerous 505 rallies is a significant development, reflective of how politically charged the general population has become. The rakyat made special effort to attend these rallies with some having to walk for kilometres to get to the venues. They displayed the determination and commitment of a people who believed that they were fighting for a worthwhile cause.

What is most interesting is that the large multi-ethnic crowds that attended the rallies were predominantly young people, those within the 21-35 age group. The record voter turnout at GE13 followed by the strong interest to participate in the post-election rallies is indicative of a new wave of political awakening amongst our 29.7m strong population.

Malaysia’s demographics

For the record the Malaysia demographic profile is as follows:

Age structure as at July 2012:

0-14 years : 29.4% = 8.565 million
15-24 years: 17.2% = 5.013 million
25-54 years: 41.2% = 12.031 million
55-64 years: 7.1% = 2.077 million
65 years and above: 5.1% = 1.493 million
(Source: CIA World Factbook)

Just considering those below 25, we already have 46.6 per cent of the total population. If we were to bring in those in the 25-54 years age group, it will be a further 41.2 per cent of the total population. Clearly young adults make up the majority of Malaysia’s total population even after we eliminate the category of those aged from 45 to 54 years of age.

With the above statistics in mind and noting that it is the younger electorate that is showing the keenest interest in Malaysian politics it is important to examine and explore the following questions:

  1. What are the influences and causes that led to this increased politicisation among our young population?
  2. How can we nurture and help develop this raw and potent political force for the betterment of Malaysia?
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How Malaysia’s growing young population grew more politicised

Advanced internet technology in the world of media communications has in the past two decades brought about greater connectivity and speed in the dissemination of information.

Mobile phones have built-in cameras, video and audio recorders. Programs and applications like WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube allow for almost instantaneous sharing of photos and videos that can easily become viral if there is sufficient interest in that particular topic.

These social media tools are the arsenal of the young and any person or organisation that seeks to to connect and stay in touch with Generation Y (also referred to as the Net Generation) needs to be fully adept and competent in operating these tools.

Thanks to the above tools, several significant happenings in other parts of the world have strongly influenced the young adults of Malaysia. In the recent past, two specific events that happened elsewhere – the “Arab Spring” and the “Occupy Wall Street” movements – have had significant impact on the psyche of our young adults.

Role of “Arab Spring” and “Occupy Wall Street”

Wikipedia defines “Arab Spring” as the media term to refer to the revolutionary wave of demonstrations, protests, riots and civil wars that took place in the Arab world starting in December 2010.

Countries that have been affected by the Arab Spring in the Arab world, where leaders were forced out of power, include Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Civil uprisings and protests have also taken place in countries such as Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Jordan and Kuwait. There is little wonder then that the ruling elite should be wary and petrified of the term “Arab Spring” and would rush to stamp out any hint of such a ‘spring’ ever developing in Malaysia.

Another significant event that has captured the imagination of people worldwide and in particular the young was “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS). OWS was a protest movement that began on 17 September 2011. The protesters occupied Zucotti Park in New York City’s Wall Street financial district.

The main issues raised by OWS were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of business corporations on government. The famous OWS slogan, “We are the 99 per cent”, refers to income inequality and wealth distribution in the United States between the wealthiest 1 per cent and the rest of the population.

The OWS movement caught on very quickly in many American cities and subsequently other countries. Within a short space of time, OWS took on a global nature as the central issues it raised such as the unfair distribution of income and the over-concentration of wealth in the top 1 per cent of the population was not only true of America but of many other countries in the world. Hence it struck a chord with many who were seeking greater social and economic equality and justice.

Role of Bersih and Himpunan Hijau

Back in Malaysia, on 23 November 2006, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Gabungan Pilihanraya Bersih dan Adil) or Bersih for short was officially formed. The coalition comprised leaders of political parties, civil society groups and NGOs.

As its name clearly indicates, the coalition wanted the Election Commission (EC) to clean up its act and tackle issues such as phantom voters, gerrymandering, malapportionment and alleged postal votes fraud. On 10 November 2007, Bersih organised its first public protest rally at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. The public turnout was estimated to be 10000-40000 people.

In April 2010, Bersih was relaunched as an entirely civil society movement unaffiliated to any political party, a move that added significant credibility to the movement. Two prominent civil society leaders agreed to be co-chair persons of Bersih: former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan and former national aureate Samad Said.

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On 9 July 2011, the Bersih 2.0 rally was held at Stadium Merdeka and attendance was estimated to be 10000-50000. The police deployed tear gas and water cannons to break up the protest and more than 1600 protesters were arrested including Ambiga and several opposition figures.

On 28 April 2012, the Bersih 3.0 rally was held and supporters were asked to gather in front of Dataran Merdeka as the square itself was sealed off by KL City Council. The crowd that gathered was estimated to be around 250,000.

Bersih 3.0 was different from the earlier rallies as this time rallies were simultaneously organised in other towns and cities in Malaysia as well as  other cities around the world. In Penang for example Aliran organised the Bersih rally at the Esplanade attended by at least 10000 people.

The Bersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur was also backed by the environmental movement – Himpunan Hijau (Green Coalition), which was championing a burning issue: to get Lynas Corporation, an Australian-owned rare earth company, to move its processing plant out of Gebeng, Pahang.

The anti-Lynas movement called on Malaysians to put pressure on the government not to allow the rare earth processing plant to operate as there were serious concerns over health and safety issues, in particular how the radioactive and toxic waste generated was to be stored or disposed.

Over the last few years both Bersih and Himpunan Hijau had organised and carried out direct action activities such as rallies, marches and other forms of protests. Their cause was aided tremendously by social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, which disseminated vital information at viral speed.

One should also note that alternative media sources such as Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today, Malaysian Insider, Malaysian Chronicle and others provided valuable information that one would be hard pressed to obtain form the mainstream newspapers. Once the news was released by the online media through their web portals, this information could then be shared via Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other internet tools.

Hence events and activities associated with the Arab Spring, OWS, Bersih and Himpunan Hijau served as inspiring catalysts for our young adults to get up and do something for their own future. There is no doubt that the issues raised and the values upon which they are based would have been meaningful, important and relevant for those who were then willing to stand up and be counted.

How to tap potential and potent raw political power

Political and civil society will need to stay relevant by continuing to take up causes that tug at the heartstrings of the young adults. The call for electoral reform championed by Bersih is popular as the people appreciate the fact that the demands made were reasonable and fair. It is a simple logic of “why should anyone oppose free and fair elections?” unless they want to have an advantage over others.

Of course the EC may well argue that there is nothing to change as elections have all along been free and fair and this is where the EC, when confronted with facts, is unable to provide rational and reasonable explanations. For instance, controversies have erupted over the presence of phantom voters on the rolls, how voters can have their names removed or moved to another constituency or how a person can be registered as a voter even if he or she has not personally initiated the registration and so on.

Thus, the EC has a major trust deficit with a large section of the population.

Judging by the large crowds at the post GE13 rallies, civil society should continue to push for real and lasting electoral reform. Malaysians may be sceptical about politicians but civil society leaders, if they are able to maintain their non-partisan position, can be very influential in shaping public opinion. Environmental concerns are yet another area which the young and educated can relate to. Again civil society leaders should continue to champion environmental issues.

To engage the young and tap their raw and potent force, civil society leaders have a very important role to play. They must be the conscience of the people and speak up and raise issues without fear or favour. For purposes of connectivity, the social media must be fully utilised to disseminate important information.

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Opposition politicians may gain support and influence if they speak out against corrupt practices, extravagance and outright abuse of power BUT they must themselves be prepared to come under the microscope in their own personal dealings. This is all the more so as there are now three state governments, Kelantan, Penang and Selangor, that are led by Pakatan Rakyat.

In so much as the federal opposition are wont to criticise the BN government, the respective Pakatan-led state governments must be prepared to show “leadership by example” in their own policies and practices. Penang for instance wants to be guided by the principles of CAT – competency, accountability and transparency. It will need to go out of the way to convince the rakyat that they in fact live and work by these principles.

The fact that the governments of Penang and Selangor were returned to power with an higher majority than 2008 could reasonably be seen as a public endorsement and support of their past performance . However the PR governments should be extra cautious and conscious not to let power get to their heads. They must never forget that the real power lies in the hands of the Rakyat.

Meanwhile we should be on the lookout for activities that are designed to douse the enthusiasm and spirit of the young. Old Politics will try to exploit the issue of race and religion to try and cause division and misunderstanding among Malaysians. We will need to resist these moves diligently and be extra conscious of their potentially damaging effects.

All programmes and activities that promote better understanding and appreciation among people of various ethnic groups and religions must be fully encouraged and supported. One may well argue that the concept of 1Malaysia has been usurped by the BN when in fact the majority of Malaysians do indeed have mutual respect and care for one another regardless of race and religion. We must then continue to tap into this goodwill, which is well established and thriving, and not allow the politicians to dictate how 1Malaysia should be interpreted or understood.

Finally, as we have noted in recent days, the powers that be will attempt to use the rule by law to cow and intimidate legal dissent and freedom of speech. Charging activists and opposition politicians with sedition is merely an easy way out chosen by the ruling elite to get rid of irritants. Such arbitrary and uncalled for abuse of power is likely to backfire and further incur the wrath of the politically conscious and concerned Rakyat.

Conclusion

Instead of being disappointed or sad that there was no new federal government after GE13 we should in fact be very encouraged as there is now a real possibility for a new Malaysia to emerge.

For starters, the two-party system is now very much in existence and should Pakatan work hard over the next four to five years, they may have a very real chance to form the next government. More importantly it has emerged that a very large section of our population is taking politics very seriously and this is a vast pool of resources of raw and potent power that is there to be tapped.

Politicians from both sides of the divide must try to convince us why they deserve our support. It cannot be mere promises or words but concrete action. Hence if we speak out against corruption, we must ourselves be indeed free of corruption. Similarly if we want abuse of power to stop, we must indeed use our own power judiciously.

If nothing else is learned, politicians should at the very least realise from GE13 that, in a genuine and lasting democracy, real power lies in the hands of the Rakyat – and rightly so.

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