By Lim Yin Kuin
I am a Malaysian student in a U.S. university and would like to comment on something I found outrageous about the Sarawak state election.
How is it that Chinese people make up the majority in Sarawak (something the mainstream media is not keen on mentioning often), yet Chinese candidates were left to fight for around 20 or so seats out of 71 in the state assembly? While I’m not a fan of political parties chasing votes from specific communities (PBB vs. PKR for Malays/Melanaus, SUPP vs. DAP for Chinese), how is it that the battle between DAP and SUPP to win the Chinese vote became a sideshow while PBB and Taib retained their political dominance while representing a minority of Sarawak’s population?
Of course, those questions are rhetorical. We all know the reasons behind them and no one dares ask why. For a Chinese person to question his or her lack of political representation is the worst form of political incorrectness in Malaysia.
Yet, this isn’t an issue about one race versus another (like a zero sum game). It’s a question of fairness, and whether or not to allow those in power (with questionable legitimacy) to do whatever they wish, to subordinate whomever they want in their quest for more power and wealth at the expense of those who are subordinated.
This issue paints a relevant picture of the unfair rules that opposition parties have to play by during elections. Again, I would like to emphasize how it sickens me that racial politics dominate our elections, but it does and here’s my take on it: Chinese people are the majority of Sarawak’s population. They are more likely to not vote in favor of Barisan Nasional, hence the electoral boundaries are gerrymandered in a way that:
(1) in most of the constituencies, their power as a voting bloc becomes irrelevant (especially in rural seats, where the racial breakdowns are a far cry from mirroring the state’s demographics as a whole) – the DAP did not even bother contesting these seats; and
(2) even in urban seats where they are undeniably the majority, the constituency boundaries keep their proportion as low as possible, forcing opposition Chinese politicians to appeal more to other races (which is a great thing, except that BN creates double standards by exempting themselves from this requirement).
For rural seats with non-Chinese majorities, BN knows that they can bribe constituents who have had their livelihoods squeezed so badly by the state government’s policies that they would do anything (like vote BN) just to receive a one-off cash payment to make ends meet.
With these rules in place, even if the DAP won every Chinese vote, other opposition parties will gain nothing and Sarawak would still be in the hands of Taib and PBB. This begs the question for the opposition parties: How can you win if even the rules you agree to abide by to are designed to keep you from winning?
Forget about ballot stuffing, ballot dumping, phantom voters, postal votes and other documented dirty tricks in the bag. The opposition parties are screwed by the system long before the game has even began. And there’s nothing they can do about it unless ordinary voters become cognizant of this fact. They can’t push for an independent Election Commission (to ask for independent institutions in Malaysia is like wishing to see donkeys fly), but greater awareness among ordinary folk can lead to solid action, such as popular support for election monitoring by respected international observers.
While there are lots of undesirable aspects of Malaysian politics – personality attacks, race, pandering to religious ignorance, sex – let’s at least establish some fair ground rules when it comes to elections. And while personality attacks, race, pandering to religious ignorance and sex in public debate are the darker sides of democracy that we have to accept, unfree and unfair elections are not.
If elections are set up in a way that the outcome that matters most – the ruling party retaining power – will occur however the electorate votes, then why even bother voting anyway. If Malaysians think that BN’s majority in parliament will be chipped away election by election, and that somewhere down the line, the opposition will actually stand a chance of winning power, they are gravely mistaken. But they are not powerless to prevent it.
If people in the Middle East can bring down oppressive dictators through intelligent use of social media in a globally connected world, surely Malaysians can demand free and fair elections. (This is NOT a revolutionary message. It simply seeks fair rules under the system, not to overthrow the system.)
In the Ivory Coast, election monitors certified Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the 2010 presidential election, and the international community backed him persistently even as the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo rigged the official results and refused to leave office. Their patience paid off as Gbagbo was finally deposed in 2011. This demonstrates how if you put yourself in the court of the respected international election observers, you will never be able to run from the truth. This is why I believe free and fair elections should be a cause that every Malaysian citizen should take up and every opposition party should champion.
Thank you for your time.