18 May 2013

We gave every party just enough; not enough to make anybody ecstatic but enough that they can console themselves that they did partly well.

FOR the last year, it was almost imaginable that we would get to this day, after the general election.
Everything was put on suspended animation first because we did not know when the elections would be, then because we did not know what would happen afterwards.
Now we know and in many ways, it was a very Malaysian result.
We gave every party just enough; not enough to make anybody ecstatic but enough that they can console themselves that they did partly well.
It may not be good enough for the people who want all or nothing but the one thing about democracy is its unpredictability.
As Plato said: “Democracy ... is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.”
This general election, Malaysians turned out in record numbers, which speaks well for our growing awareness of the importance of voting.
Yet we have kept our cards close to our hearts.
I went to several ceramah from both sides in the run-up to polling day and it was difficult to tell who would come out on top.
If you stay just within those you agree with, then it was possible to get a distorted view of things. But if you cross over to the other side, you get an idea that nothing is certain.
Unlike the cheerleaders, the most circumspect people were also the most cautious and refused to predict a definite outcome.
Perhaps there were a few heightened characteristics of the election campaign this time.
First is the incredible amount of advertising being thrown at voters from every possible direction.
You can’t drive anywhere without seeing banners and posters, some of which should have been taken down by JPJ for obstructing the view of drivers.
Social media talks about nothing else and even the most innocuous update gets connected to politics.
You can’t even play games online without having to first endure a political video.
To be sure, the campaign advertising war was hugely one-sided to the point of overkill.
Besides banners, posters, billboards and T-shirts, there was the free merchandise.
I once counted 12 types of merchandise in one markas.
I’m still wondering how wing mirror covers win elections. The money could have been better used to provide information on what candidates stood for and where you could meet them.
In the last days of campaigning, three human traits became obvious – fear, paranoia and mistrust.
All sides used fear to create paranoia and mistrust and unfortunately many allowed themselves to be used by politicians in that way. It made some Malaysians turn against other Malaysians as well as foreigners and tolerance, understanding and respect went out of the window.
This is not the future that we expected where all humans would enjoy equal rights. Instead, we fell to making distinctions between one human and another, based on suspicion and conjecture.
We should really reflect on how easily this ugly side of us came out when provoked.
No doubt we can blame various parties for creating an atmosphere in which this was possible. But we fell for it.
In the name of democracy, we be­­came undemocratic.
But this is the day after and we have to move on.
Again, do we rely on our leaders of whatever stripe to lead us in moving on or do we do it ourselves?
As the ever-cynical writer Gore Vidal said: “Democracy is supposed to give you the feeling of choice, like Painkiller X and Painkiller Y. But they’re both just aspirin.”
My feeling is that we will learn from this and we will focus on the next elections where we will insist that all sides have to earn our trust and therefore, our votes.
I don’t think we will succumb to manipulation any more.
I also think that the most crucial reform needed is in the media that truly needs to redeem itself from its outrageous behaviour during the campaign, dispensing with any semblance of objectivity or balance.
We need to demand from the media an accounting of how much it thinks it contributes to national unity and healing.
The people voted out the worst proponents of disunity and the media should take heed of that.
Meanwhile, we have to watch as a new government takes shape.
I would really advise the Prime Minister to stop thinking of Cabinet posts as a form of reward but rather as assigning tasks of huge responsibility.
For that he should not choose the same old faces.
To really show he is sincere about change, his criteria for his ministers should be talent, youth and gender, three things that were wholly absent before.
Only then will we believe this is a fresh new beginning.