Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy under the Westminster parliamentary system and is categorised as a representative democracy, therefore it practices a system of government elected by all the eligible members of the population, through elected representatives. Therefore it practices a system of government elected by all the eligible members of the population, through elected representatives.
It is important for all citizens to understand how valuable this is. We were lucky we didn’t have bloodshed to attain independence and democracy, but many a country had bloodshed just to get the right to an independent democratic nation. We take things for granted and even consider our votes unimportant.
There is also apathy among the younger generation when it comes to voting. Watan, a non-partisan NGO motivated to inspire youths to be voting Malaysians claims that the under 30s form two-thirds of the 3.7 million who are not registered but eligible voters in the country. Of this, 2.43 million are aged between 21 and 30, according to pollster Merdeka Centre.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said also recently said 1.97 million new voters were registered between 2013 and June this year, 2017, while Minister for Youth and Sports Khairy Jamaluddin has estimated that there would be six million young voters in GE14.
Ensuring that this group understands the importance of their vote cannot be underestimated.
The Right to Vote
The right to vote in this system is one of the fundamental cornerstones, it therefore also allows for the right to protest. Presently, a section of Malaysian youths who are an important part of the equation as they would make up to a large number of voters for the upcoming GE 14, are not happy with the way things are and they want to show their displeasure.
Entry of #UndiRosak
The recent entry of #UndiRosak, a movement which emerged on social media and Twitter created a channel for mainly youths who feel disillusioned with the current political climate to show their displeasure that stems from the notion that major political parties in the country do not offer viable alternatives to bring about systemic changes in the country. The campaign encourages youth to spoil their votes and exercise their rights.
According to Maryam Lee, one of the leaders of the #UndiRosak campaign, spoiling one’s vote is a legitimate form of protest, “Although there are many avenues for youth to protest the current political situation in our country, one of the best ways to do it is through the ballot box. This is not the first time that Malaysian youth have protested. We have protested many times before in the past. However, due to the failure of institutions to effect real political and legitimate change, youths feel that they have no choice but to radicalise.”
Maryam Lee is quick to point out that being radical is not the same as being a terrorist or an anarchist. She mentions that she grew up being apolitical and that it was only in university that she decided to radicalise after realising what being institutionalised really meant. Maryam Lee believes that being radical means “to go to the root of the problem.”
Should We Spoil Our Votes?
The question then arises, is the spoiling of one’s vote, the best way to get to the root of the problem? Not quite according to Law Professor Azmi Sharom of the University of Malaya. “Is #UndiRosak an effective way for youth to show their unhappiness? That’s a bit complex. Ultimately, what does spoiling your vote really prove? If you’re unhappy with both sides, one side will still win. The ruling party is more likely to be the biggest beneficiary of this movement.”
“I think that spoiling your vote as a form of protest would probably be more useful if we have an equally vibrant two-party political system therefore, if people are unhappy with both sides, it would make a difference.
The voting process is the best way to change things in this country. But the fact of the matter is despite the issues that we have, we must try to use the system in order to make the very first change this country has ever had and if we don’t what is the alternative?”
Professor Azmi Sharom further adds that, “Elections are not the be-all and end-all. Elections are only one part of the democratic process.” “#UndiRosak does not invalidate those who vote. It should be accepted as part and parcel of the democratic process. Nobody said democracy is pretty.” The current ruling coalition has ruled since independence in 1957, and despite massive street protests and scandals, its political leaders have prevailed over the toughest periods in four decades owing to a divided opposition and support from rural voters. “Malaysia has a long fight ahead, and it is something that can’t be solved in one election. Any government that comes to power must be observed and held accountable. It is important to have a system that allows people to keep an eye on the government. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” says Professor Azmi Sharom.
At the moment #UndiRosak is seen as a campaign geared towards urban youths who are more likely to be fence sitters. “#UndiRosak is not meant to be a long-term thing. It is not meant to deter people from voting. It is simply to put out the option to people who feel that they don’t have a choice,” clarifies Maryam Lee.
Voters on the street are divided
Mong 37, a dentist believes that regardless of the failures of the Opposition it is important to break the grip of power that the federal government has had for 60 years.
Prem 30, feels that #UndiRosak may be a game changer in the political scene because it presents an alternative view on voting rights.Aznir, 36 sympathises with the cause of #UndiRosak but ultimately feels that one has to do their duty to make their vote count and not ruin it.
Muzzammil, 24 year old lawyer. “I say #Undirosak is as much an exercise of democracy as voting. The right to vote any person of your liking must include the right to abstain. So by abstaining, or by going to the polls, stand there for 40 minutes under the hot sun, only to draw moustaches on the candidates is also the exercise of democratic right. I doubt it will change anything, but it is part and parcel of democracy so just let them be.”
As we approach Election Day, who do we want to win the elections? A ruling coalition mired in corruption and who indirectly buys vote via promise of billions in infrastructure development to the rural population? Or for the Opposition who is fighting a cause greater than themselves. The Opposition despite its shortcomings is for the people by the people. We cannot say the same for the ruling coalition with their opulent lifestyles and out of touch leaders.
While #UndiRosak may work in a vibrant and mature democracy, our country is a young democracy that has yet to see the effects of a mature political scene due to sixty years of rule by the same political party. It is time our youth stand up and be counted. It is time we give our country a shot at a mature democracy and do what is right for the greater good. As John F. Kennedy aptly said “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”— Inauguration address, January 1961.