Posted on August 10, 2008


This is a considerably simpler game than chess but nonetheless also involves strategy. The object of the game is to be ahead of your opponent at least by one step and as soon as you have succeeded in occupying three consecutive spaces whether horizontally or vertically or diagonally, you may draw a line across and declare yourself triumphant.

In a sense, it is like most games a first across the line type of game. The winner is the first player to cross the line. Children are taught this concept in most games and adults have their own more sophisticated but nontheless similar versions of such games, whether in sports, business or politics.

In a Westminster parliamentary system, as has been adopted by Malaysia, the political party or a coalition of parties that wins a majority of seats contested is considered the first to cross the line. They form the government. Unlike the simple children’s game of noughts and crosses though, the parameters of their game is not permanently fixed. Once every eight years, the elections commission can initiate what is known as a delimitation exercise which among other things, is normally meant to favour the ruling party coalition. By virtue of being the majority in parliament, obviously the government members of parliament will vote for a redrawing or realignment of the parliamentary constituencies which will favour them, that is, improve their chances of retaining the seats they have won, or regaining the seats which they have lost, or winning over the seats which hitherto were out of their reach. In the glossary of politics, this is given the name gerrymander which is a combination of two names. The party of a governor of Massachusetts whose name was Gerry created an elections district in the shape of a salamander. Thus, gerrymandering is “To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections.”

Applied to the children’s game of Noughts & Crosses, if the game format is redrawn to favour one player over the other, then it will be skewed and distorted in such a way as to render it impossible for the other player to win. In effect, the game becomes a non-game and rendered meaningless. Try explaining this injustice to a child!

As far as I know, the next possible “gerrymandering” exercise in Malaysia can be completed before the next general elections. Which in practical terms means that it would be that much harder if not altogether impossible for the opposition coalition to wrest power.

A debate is going on in Malaysia about the morality of forming a government by accepting political cross-overs. Understandably, as in any argument, there are two sides to the story. One professes to be taking the moral high road. MP’s who stood for election and won their particular parliamentary seats under the banner of a particular party should, come wind come weather, stick to that party. Any cross-over is deemed immoral and dishonourable. The decent thing is that if any MP feels unable to remain in that party, s/he should resign her or his seat. (This will automatically mean a ban on recontesting that seat for five years which in effect means that an MP has no opportunity to go back to his or her constituency to seek re-election under a new banner.)

The other side of the argument questions the integrity of the elections process citing fraud in the conduct of the elections if not for which they would have won a parliamentary majority in the first place.

Accordingly, both sides cite the wishes of the voters as justification for their respective arguments.

Here I state my take on this issue. In an imperfect world where we are all morally imperfect beings, for either side to lay claim to pure morals is not possible and to insist that it is so will be an outright lie. I believe it is dishonest to label cross-overs in parliament as immoral without saying the same about abuse of power and corruption. This is so typical of the kind of thinking and speaking which we have been subjected to in today’s Malaysia. Morality by its very nature must be viewed in macro terms. You can’t pick and choose the area or issue to apply morality to. To hear it said or see it happen, certain sins are ranked much higher than others. So for example, sodomy is by far the most serious crime in the country compared to abuse of power, corruption and politicising race or religion. I am not even talking about guilt or innocence but in the taking of action to investigate and prosecute, sodomy has the overwhelming priority of the police’s and prosecutors’ time and singleminded focus. Nothing catches their attention or dedication as much as this.

I believe that there is a very serious flaw about how the current parliamentary system is made out to be the best or true way to reflect the people’s wishes. In a world where seemingly there is no purest of the pure way to choose my government, I say to each MP, vote your conscience. But how will any MP be able to do so if his or her respective party whip says you can’t vote your personal conscience- you must always vote along party lines?

This is the dilemma. Even where you have an honest MP, s/he is not permitted to vote her or his conscience. Many Malaysians will feel outraged by such a situation. In fact we heap scorn on MP’s who have no courage to vote their consciences. Yet many of us who readily agree to MP’s voting their conscience will not agree to their crossing-over to help effect a change in parliamentary control. This line of thinking means no Sabah or Sarawak MP should cross-over even if they believe with all their heart that the present powers that be are not serious about tackling the issues that critically matter to their constituents.

In effect, no MP can vote their conscience on any issue. So if I were an MP and I now believe that my seat in parliament is keeping the wrong people in power, I should just stay on because a cross-over is considered more immoral than abuse of power by those in power? If I were to resign my parliamentary seat as one MP has recently done, I would be branded as irresponsible and wasting the people’s money in making a by-elections necessary.

So if on the one hand the powers that be is saying you cannot cross-over and then on the other hand, in resigning and forcing a by-elections you are being irresponsible, what are they in effect saying? Can it be that the correct answer is that the only moral thing to do is to keep an immoral government in power?

The debate continues. The road goes ever on and on …

Posted in: Perspective