March 4, 2008


I caught an impressive ad on TV just a few moments ago. The tagline read something like 'we're on the right track'. Malaysia is moving on some kind of track alright, but whether it is right or not is a matter of debate. But then again, there isn't much public space to have real debates about these things. The ad turned out to be one from a political party in conjunction with the elections.

That is but one example of what a lot of money can do for a political campaign. According to a news article, no laws exist in Malaysia that requires candidates to disclose where their campaign funds come from or how they are spent. Also, the Election Offences Act 1958 governs only candidates' expenses but not the expenses of the parties as a whole. Are the funds coming from people who really support the candidate's ideals, or do they have something to gain later by funding a particular candidate or party? In this scenario, the one with the most money (or in a position to provide something in return), is likely to have the upper hand.

But there is only so much money, publicity, and 'branding' exercises can do, IF the people take it upon themselves to dig a little deeper on who and why they are voting for. The problem with glitzy and eye-catching ads is that while it attracts your attention, it distracts you from other things that are just as or even more fundamentally important. So, the more the media is controlled by a particular source, and the more the publicity stunts there are, the more work we have to do to sieve through the image and rhetoric to look at what his or her candidate really stand for, and if he/she is likely to put that into action.

A candidate in my area may have titles attached to his or her name, but has this person ever done anything to show that they will fight for a future that is more just and inclusive? For the sake of where the country is heading, I can forgo an MP who will ensure that the roads in my neighbourhood be tarred regularly, but did nothing to stop the irresponsible things that go on in parliament. Also, what is the point really, in voting for a candidate who does not want to vote for a bill he/she deems unjust, but voted for it anyway in parliament as he/she has too much at stake not to toe-the-party line?

Anyone can pretty much pay someone to write and do a massive branding exercise, but it takes someone with the right principles and will to put in place systems of accountability that will also make itself accountable to the public. We need MPs who can represent our voice in parliament, and not one who will vote to change our constitution at a whim for their own benefit. MPs who can fight for ordinary Malaysians the right to information needed to know if decisions made on their behalf are in their interest or not. Without these and similar mechanisms that promote a healthy democracy in place, any claims made about Malaysia's progress at this point will be just that – claims.

We already have very nice and tall buildings to show tourists. It's time we seriously look at the bigger picture of what is lacking in our country that will affect our children's future, and how they will relate to each other. Let us hope Malaysians will step up and vote for the right candidates into parliament who can help steer us towards a nation that's inclusive and just; not just speaking the right words, and giving reactionary half measures, but through sincere actions and fundamental changes towards it in our system.

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