The right to vote

By Tay Tian Yan, MySinChew

It was interesting when a MCA central committee member told the parliamentary select committee on electoral reform that Malaysians living abroad are not qualified to vote as they are “out of touch” with the current state of affairs in the country.

He was then greatly criticised and even MCA President Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said that he was not selected but volunteered to attend the first public hearing by the PSC on electoral reforms.

I have a little sympathy for him. There was nothing wrong to express his view but unfortunately, he lacked the understanding of democracy.

The principle of democracy is equal civil rights, meaning that everyone has the right to vote.

You can vote no matter whether you stay in Kuala Lumpur, London or the Seychelles, as long as there is a voting channel.

Regardless whether you drive a Mercedes or ride a bicycle, you have the right to vote.

Regardless whether your IQ is 180, 8 or 0, you have the right to vote.

Regardless whether you are a man, woman or an intersex person, you have the right to vote.

Regardless whether you want to make a “correct” or a “wrong” choice, you still have the right to vote.

No profound knowledge is involved here. It is just because you are a citizen, you enjoy the same right of other citizens.

However, it is not the first time people try to classify citizens and limit their suffrage.

A century ago, the United Kingdom did not allow women to vote, arguing that women did not understand politics and they would turn the parliament into a kitchen.

Similarly, 200 years ago, the Americans debated whether the Blacks should be allowed to vote. The Blacks were regarded as slaves at that time and how could they be allowed to vote?

Even earlier, the Greeks argued a thousand years ago that politics was not created for the fools. Therefore, uneducated people should be forbidden from participating in politics as it was only for wise men.

British women won the right to vote only after they had fought for half of a century. A woman named Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Franchise League to fight for the women’s suffrage. A a result, she was arrested almost every month.

Some women were allowed to vote after the World War I and women started to enjoy the same right to vote as men only in 1982.

African Americans started to enjoy the suffrage when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams ran for president and the US Congress relaxed the restrictions and allowed African Americans to vote.

However, every five African Americans were allowed to cast only three votes as the Congress believed that the Blacks’ contributions and responsibilities to the country were less than the Whites and thus, they should not enjoy the same voting right as the Whites.

Even so, not many African Americans could truly enjoy the right since many states still set up a variety of thresholds and limitations.

The situation was improved only after the black slaves were liberalised by Abraham Lincoln.

As for the Greek plebiscite, only “freemen” with honourable social status, like the nobles and philosophers, could vote.

The universal suffrage and the concept of equal civil rights was widely implemented only in the 20th century.

The concept of one man, one vote is of course more equal and fair, but it is not perfect. For example, if there are 99 fools and only one wise man in a constituency, most probably the person elected would also be a fool.

This is also why many democratic countries in the world are at the same time, nations of fools.

Democracy can be wise only when the civil standard is on the track.