Take a stand, cast your vote

By Kong Si Ying, The Star

Elections, essentially popularity contests, have the propensity to bow to irrational sentiment and does not always constitute mankind’s finest moments, but this is the way we choose our leaders – and our future.

THIS is not an essay on governance or politics.

I do not propose to promulgate the good or bad of democracy, representative government or any political party. It is merely an essay on our right and duty to vote.

This is an entreaty to each of us to understand and, more importantly, participate in the civilisation we exist in.

It is a bid for action and ownership over one’s future, rather than discontent compounded by indifference.

First, we seek to understand the form of civilised society we exist in.

Malaysia inherited its parliamentary system from the British.

Democracy, in all its varied forms, is perhaps the only form of government my generation will ever know.

We elect our class monitor, our student council, a company’s board of directors and our parliamentary representatives based on similar principles.

It is sometimes referred to as popular government. Elections are essentially popularity contests, which have the propensity to bow to irrational sentiment.

This, in turn, does not always constitute mankind’s finest moments.

It is, however, inevitable in the quest for equality by giving each citizen a voice.

If you wish to keep that voice, you must use it.

Whether by birth or some other process, we were granted citizenship, and with that came the right to vote for, and hopefully determine, the few among us who will steer our society and make decisions on behalf of all of us.

Our Government’s policies and decisions, although seemingly remote to our everyday lives, do have profound effects on you and me – how much we will earn, how happy our children will be, how safe our streets are, how long we can live.

We choose our leaders and, hence, our future, through the removed but necessary reach of the ballot.

That said, I do not seek to debate whether democracy is the ideal form of governance.

Representative government is what we have. For now, we play our cards based on the rules that exist.

In the very near future, all Malaysian citizens eligible to vote, and who have registered at least three or four months in advance as a voter, will be asked to choose their representatives, or perhaps, to decide whether they would even bother heading to the polling booth in the first place.

Whatever your vote, please participate in the choosing of your government and cast that vote.

Voting is a civic duty and one might ask to whom this duty is owed. It is owed, if not to fellow citizens, then at the least to yourself.

Freedom, egalitarianism and civilised society were not born from indifference.

In the absence of crisis, we take for granted our roles as civilians.

As an individual with hopes, wants and needs, one owes it to oneself to take ownership and control over one’s life, and a necessary extension of that is our government.

If you are discontented, consider the alternatives.

If you prefer the status quo, vote to defend the incumbent.

Whichever it is, vote. Those who do not vote waive the moral right to complain and be disgruntled about the past and future state of governance.

You may vote because of the individual or you may vote because of the party.

You may vote selfishly to keep yourself in business or you may seek altruism by voting with future generations in mind.

Whatever your motivation, there is no right or wrong. Your right to choose extends not only to which box you will cross, but also how you make that choice.

The evolution of modern government has made these choices your sacred right. Treasure it, use it.

You may listen to what others philosophise about these choices, but the ultimate decision is yours.

Likewise, you might choose to abstain from voting for whatever reason. Legally speaking, that is your choice, too. Your vote is ultimately your decision, as is your choice whether to vote.

If you feel that your abstention may not matter because your vote is just a drop in the ocean, you are not alone.

Many, if not almost all of us, share that view.

But if civic indifference is the death of civilised society, tell yourself this – it will not start with me.

Much has been said about the many political groups and individuals in our country, by the very same political groups and individuals as well as by those that would be governed by them.

Many of us are wary, some of us weary. There are populist agenda, healthy debates, personal attacks, political promises, and this sea of rhetoric can be overwhelming.

Sometimes, to shut out the noise, disappointment and disdain, it seems easier to just ignore the politics.

Politics. It has become a dirty word.

Yet inaction is not the way to live. Inaction stems from either indifference or fear.

To the indifferent, consider the duty you owe to yourself, your loved ones and your fellow countrymen to participate in the democracy you co-exist in, and to care enough about what will happen to yourself and to them.

To the fearful, I would say (at the risk of quoting a beat generation artist and a Disney film) that “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear”.

That something else, is your right to choose your leaders and to own your future as well as the legacy of your nation.

Not all of us will become the Nelson Mandelas or Aung San Suu Kyis of the world or participate in an Arab uprising, but we can be our own heroes and reclaim our dignity in our own small but profound way.

We may put our faith and trust in the wrong candidate, we may vote and yet be beaten by the majority, but we take a stand and cast that vote and hope for the best, so that although at the end of the day there may be disappointment, there will be no shame.