I went about voting on Sunday, and it was a pretty pleasant experience. It was the first time I had voted, too; the previous election had seen me away just before the election itself with little means of making my way back, while all the ones before that were conducted without me creeping over the age criterium required, so it was a fairly interesting experience for me (and my sister, who also voted for the first time).
There was a difference, though. Previously, I had concerned myself deeply with all things political in Malaysia, which basically means looking under every nook and crany for all sorts of information and analysis. While I still keep tabs with all this, I am fairly happy to report that as of recently, my approach has been of a more hands-off nature.
This basically meant that I cared a little less about how things work. I understand them, but the frustrations brought about by caring more than just a little was the kind of aggravation I could do without. Now that life has advanced to a bigger stage, cutting out the things that disappoints makes things more pleasant for me generally.
It is within this context that you have to understand why a) I am not as disappointed as others might have been, and b) why so many of my friends are.
Living within the many different Malaysias as we do, we tend to be fed certain spectrums as the prisms through which truth prevails. Simply put, a certain narrative holds stronger and truer above all else: ours. What we believe in is right and real, and what disagrees with us are less so.
I could not hold myself as separate from this as I want to be, but here’s another ‘truth’ to be considered. The fact that the Barisan Nasional coalition has officially won the elections has led many to raise their arms up in despair, and proclaim that democracy is dead. Some talk of moving to other countries, others discuss the failure of certain sects within the country lacking the balls to follow through for change to occur.
Such extreme reactions are not uncommon, for it is not necessarily limited to Malaysia, and is very easy to understand. Many things are questionable with regards to this particular elections, ranging from the conspiracy theories about strategic blackouts to indellible inks that were…well, not quite so indellible after all. Looking at all that, there is a certain sense of injustice that prevailed, and so talk of democracy dying and such can be viewed with a certain understanding, if not allegiance.
However, going beyond that, the cold hard facts of the day reveals that in comparison to the previous election, Pakatan Rakyat performed measurably better. They maintained their hold on key states such as Penang and Selangor, and took over twenty seats from Barisan Nasional. Minor points, such as the monochromatic Ibrahim Ali no longer being in parliament, should also be considered a plus.
Some friends mentioned that if this is meant to be a consolation, then it is not one that they can accept. I’m sorry my friends, for my apology indicates that some facts are less challengeable than others; in pure numbers, Pakatan Rakyat performed better in the previous elections. Here’s another statistic for all of us: 80 percent of those eligible to vote did so on Sunday. Those were the highest numbers…ever. Whatever we may say of the allegations of money politics and corruption that apparently reigns…it took all of that and more, and still the winning coalition won with a shrinking majority.
Of course, that is not to say that the system we have here in Malaysia is perfect. If anything, there are many obvious things that could and should be fixed. I believe in change coming a lot sooner rather than later (a lot more people would be eligible for to vote in the coming years, and that could see an even bigger rise in some of the statistics I mentioned earlier). We should also consider the fact and possibility that maybe, just maybe, enough people do believe in the current coalition leading Malaysia. Some would disagree, but simply having a different narrative does not disqualify others to hold their respective points of view.
Ultimately, what I am trying to say is that while the result is disagreeable to many, democracy as I know may not be firing on all the kinds of cylinders we’ve been led to believe it can, but it is most certainly not dead.