No, don’t be neutral

It is rightly said that we get the government we deserve. I say people who do not vote should not gripe about “the wrong people running the country”. You had your chance to decide but blew it. No one is to be blamed except … you know who.

Mohsin Abdullah,
With all this talk on the next general election, I can’t help but recall a conversation I had with a close Indonesian friend way back in 2009. It was one month or so after Indonesia had held its election, or as it is called, pemilu, short for pemilihan umum.
This friend, who is also a very experienced journalist, told me that out of the 174 million registered voters then, only 70 million cast their votes. The rest stayed away from polling. Reason? They either were fed-up or simply did not believe in politicians and the many political parties which offered themselves at the polls. Well, that was according to my friend. 
And these folks who did not vote called themselves “golput”, short for “golongan putih” (how Indonesians love to creatively come up with short forms). In English “golput” is the white group — white being “neutral”. Hence they did not take sides. Hence they did not vote.
And this friend admitted he too was a “golput”. Obviously he did not believe in politicians but I did not ask him why. Neither did I ask him to provide evidence or cite examples of politicians’ antics which turned him into a “golput”. After all it was just a casual talk between good friends.
As most of us know, under the Indonesian political system, general elections are first held to elect 400-odd members of parliament, representing the many political parties of the republic. Then a second election follows suit a few months later to elect the president and vice-president. Election dates are fixed and announced much earlier, unlike in Malaysia.
In 2009, for example, the election of the 400 representatives for parliament was held in April with the presidential election in July. My journalist friend from Jakarta told me that presidential elections “are what many or most Indonesians care about”. They took these polls very seriously, especially the one in 2009. Political analysts then were expecting a big voter turnout. They were proven right.
Put simply, Indonesians want to have a say on who becomes president and vice-president, despite their reservations or misgivings for politicians. Rightly so. To get the right man for the job is a big deal, especially in a big country with a population of more than 200 million.
So folks who did not vote in the earlier general election turned up at polling stations to decide who runs the republic.
In Malaysia the party with the biggest number of seats in parliament rules the nation and its leader becomes prime minister. That’s in simple terms. We do not have a “prime ministerial” election, so to speak.
But do we have our own “golput”? There’s no denying there are among us who are simply turned off by politicians. But is the dislike for politicians at a level which can make Malaysians not want to vote? Or even refusing to register as voters?
Is waiving your right to vote the right thing to do? In the past I’ve come across folks who did not vote because they were fed-up with politics. They were complaining before elections. And they continued to complain after the elections. I can’t tell for sure if they ever regretted for not voting. If they did, they certainly did not say it out loud. Not to me anyway.
It is rightly said that we get the government we deserve. I say people who do not vote should not gripe about “the wrong people running the country”. You had your chance to decide but blew it. No one is to be blamed except … you know who.
However, nowadays all indications are that many would want to exercise their right to vote. People who have not voted before are said to be eager to vote, particularly young Malaysians who have just registered as voters. But before going to the polls, there’s only one thing on their minds. In fact, this thing is on the minds of all Malaysians — the elections must be clean and fair. Enough said lest I be accused of all sorts of things.
Back to Indonesia and what my Jakarta friend was telling me when we were having that small chit chat over teh tarik some three years ago. He said Indonesia has election rules that, among others, make it mandatory for presidential candidates to go for a medical test. Failing the test would mean they cannot stand for election. Only the healthy (and fittest?) can contest.
And the Indonesian election commission also conducts tests to ensure that candidates have a very high IQ. Not any Hartono, Kartini, Hermanto can offer themselves as candidates. There are lessons to be learnt, don’t you agree?