GE13: Malaysians who choose not to vote

Lai Voon Loong refuses to vote because he is cheesed off with politicians. He will vote ‘only if someone like Mahatma Gandhi’ is contesting. 

(The Star) – Even with most of the country gripped by election fever, some people still have various reasons – or perhaps excuses – for not voting.

PROBABLY all of us have friends or relatives who choose not to exercise their right to vote, for what they think are very good reasons.

Voting is often seen as a responsibility, and sometimes lauded as a privilege, for it allows citizens to have a say in the future of their country.

All Malaysian citizens above the age of 21 have the right to vote under Article 119 of the Federal Constitution. Yet well over two million people have neglected or refused to register as voters.

Election Commission (EC) chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof was quoted as saying there are a total of 16 million eligible voters in the country, yet there were only 13.34 million registered voters as of December, as reported recently by Bernama.

If voting means having a (small) say in how the country will turn out, does it follow that those who decline to exercise their right, should have little or no right to complain about things? Despite such logic, there are still many who have all kinds of reasons not to vote.

A 2008 study on voters’ attitudes by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, available on the EC website, found that the main reasons for eligible voters not to register include “not wanting to queue and wait to register”, and also, “not having time away from work”. However, all the respondents in that study did not believe that they “did not care”. Is that a self-contradiction?

Not MY concern – yet

Musician Izal Azlee, 28, says even though he does care about what’s happening in the country, he feels disillusioned by what he has been seeing. He believes that no matter who he votes for, things will never change.

“For example, piracy is so blatant, and even though every state has its own state government, you can still get pirated goods everywhere,” says Izal.

Law professor Dr Azmi Sharom says the fear that one’s vote can be ‘traced’ and ‘punished’ is not realistic because an ‘astronomical’ amount of time, money and effort would be needed to do that.Law professor Dr Azmi Sharom says the fear that one’s vote can be ‘traced’ and ‘punished’ is not realistic because an ‘astronomical’ amount of time, money and effort would be needed to do that.

“So to me, if they can’t even overcome such small matters, then how can they overcome other bigger issues like corruption? Whatever they implement, even though there are laws, people will still do whatever they want to do.”

Izal is one example that shatters the prevailing stereotype of people who do not vote because they are apathetic or apolitical. He asserts that he does follow current issues and keeps himself updated on the goings-on in the country.

But he also says that as long as these issues do not affect him personally in his daily life, he is fine with them.

“But of course, I’m married now, and when I have a child, I would fight for free education which I think everyone deserves,” says Izal.

“As I get older, I’m becoming more aware of these things. I do want change, but to me, it’s more about my everyday life.”

He also cites one more example of why he remains disillusioned.

“Whenever elections are near, you will get all kinds of goodies,” says Izal. “Suddenly you find that there are no more potholes in the roads. But after the elections, things will go back to the way they were for another four years.”

‘Politics is bad’

Photographer Lai Voon Loong does not care about politics or politicians. But isn’t politics important to decide on the future of the nation?

“Yes, I am definitely concerned about my future, and even more for my kid’s future,” he says. “But I haven’t seen anything useful coming out of politicians’ mouths except empty rhetoric.”

He believes politicians are “power hungry, money grabbing and untrustworthy megalomaniacs” (plus some other unprintable adjectives) who “don’t give two hoots about what’s going to happen to my kid.”

Lai used to work as a press photographer and has attended many political events on the Barisan as well as the Pakatan side.

“I have attended enough political events to see for myself the rhetoric that they spew. It’s always us versus them, and who gets caught in between? The rakyat!”

On the Barisan side, he hears about how leaders always say, “I did this and did that and the rakyat should be thankful”. Whereas, on the Paktan side, he hears, “It’s always BN’s fault, never their fault.”

Yet, shouldn’t responsible citizens try to evaluate what both sides are saying and then decide which is a better choice among imperfect politicians? Or is Lai expecting politicians to be saints?

Lai replies, “I wish there were more Mahatma Gandhis in this world. He is someone I will definitely vote for.”

But at present, he feels that he has no real choice.

“I am plain disgusted with both sides.”

Fear and faith

There are other reasons for not voting too. When one of us asked our friends on Facebook why people were not voting, the answers were:

> My friend’s place only got bulan vs keris (PAS vs Umno) … so recently she (a Chinese) told us she might draw X on both sides… sigh…

> My place (in Petaling Jaya) sure win one … my vote will not make any difference, just adding another vote… places that will need those votes are Johor, Pahang, Terengganu, Malacca and Negri Sembilan.

> Find the REAL politicians with integrity, who put their COUNTRY before their own pockets, their own egos and their own race and religion, whatever their political affiliations, and vote for them. There must be some who are not crooks …

> I think I might want to reserve my vote due to my job as a political journalist.

>Personally, I don’t get the sense that my political party is working for me; perhaps they’re more active in the rural areas or their presence is felt more by the poor. As such, the middle to upper classes don’t feel the love and therefore don’t feel the obligation to love them back.

> I don’t feel very patriotic. I am tired of the way religious fundamentalism seems to be increasing on both sides. I am dreaming of freedom, of migrating overseas.

Kamala N, a Malaysian based in the Middle East, wants to vote but has doubts about the system.

“The government said that those overseas can vote by registering at the embassies. But the announcement to register was apparently sent out on Jan 2 only, when most people were away, and the closing date was on Jan 4!

“Many Malaysians here were unhappy, and they decided against voting because (the) system does not seem transparent. The word is that the votes will be flown back to Malaysia and used at certain areas rather than an individual’s registered voting area.”

Another reason that people don’t want to vote is that they fear their votes can be “traced”, resulting in some kind of punishment. However, law professor Azmi Sharom (who has a column in The Star) says that such fear is not a good excuse for not voting.

“People have to get real,” he says. “The amount of time, money and effort needed to trace who each person voted for would be astronomical. Truly, the fear is all in the mind,” says Azmi, who believes it is all just a case of apathy.

“We have had the same Federal Government for over 50 years and they look immovable, so some people may say ‘Why bother?’,” he says.

“But if we look at the 2008 elections, the jubilation that came after it was not so much because there was a new Federal Government – there wasn’t – but because people felt that their votes counted (in making a difference).”

Azmi adds that this is why a fair and clean election process is of absolute importance, to ensure that every vote counts. People will be able to accept the results if they believe the process is fair.

“If you lose faith in the election process, it will lead to apathy and worse, the eventual downfall of a peaceful democratic system,” he says.