GETTING TO HEAR BOTH SIDES

Posted on September 26, 2012

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I have enjoyed following the recent live telecasts of the conventions of the two opposing political parties in the USA in a presidential election year, catching snippets of each. Not that I enjoyed hearing everything said by either side nor necesssarily agree with what either side have said. But I do enjoy the concept, the principle and the experience of getting to hear what BOTH SIDES had to say.

Since my secondary school years, I have followed US and other western politics. In the earlier years via shortwave radio, then books and news magazines, then much later on, TV. Till today. Not because I like the US or the West in particular but because there is so little, so much less to follow in my own country’s politics. Not because there isn’t much going on in my own country’s politics, nor that I don’t care or that our own local politics is in anyway less important…

On the contrary! The problem or fault lies not in me and the millions of concerned Malaysians. But because the press and media isn’t free, the reports have been so one-sided and only one side gets its views handily and comprehensively heard while the other side’s view is subjected to multi-layers of encumbrances and official scrutiny. And even creative options of the twenty-first century are ruthlessly hounded, bullied, sprayed, tear-gassed, hauled in, HAND-CUFFED, and seemingly nothing is left to chance by the powers that be to keep the other side in iron-clad check. One side is so intolerant of the other side’s views and message that whenever, however, wherever they can pull the rugs from under their feet, there is seemingly no restraint in what will be thrown at the other side by whatever means. Be it splashing red paint on their campaign bus or misquoting what they actually say. Even over a patch of grass, as someone I know has described it, there can be trouble for those who dared cross the line arbitrarily laid down. Not to mention the myopic interpretation and enforcement of existing laws, heavier on one side compared to the other.

So we are robbed of a two-party system and with that, a true democracy isn’t possible. One-sided anything is usually never a good thing.

What is there to read or see or learn in what is permitted! Nothing short of citizens personally trudging the ceramah trail of the other side will get concerned Malaysians a fairer and more balanced view. And that too, it is so hard for the other side to get government permits for bigger crowds.

For one thing, thanks to the Westminster parliamentary system handed down by our colonial masters, there is no direct elections for the nation’s leader. There is no fixed date for elections within the five year term of the sitting government. And courtesy of our own country’s powers that be, there is no debate between the two contestants for the leadership of the nation. There is no independent vetting of the electoral rolls. There is no international independent monitoring of the conduct of our elections. As though we will lose our national independence if we give in to independent monitoring. It is surely better for our independent country to be seen to be above board in the matter of a most important tenet of democracy, that is, the electoral process. I certainly do not want the vote I cast to be compromised by any suspicious goings-on. Malaysia has nothing to hide from international eyes, right?

Obviously, no matter how democratic the electoral systems and processes may be, the incumbent has the upperhand, the advantage of initiatives. But there is a whole range of essential components of the electoral process that are equal in the more mature democracies: polling date, adequate campaign period, TV and media exposure (both political conventions and campaigns are being comprehensively telecast), debates, free press, free speech to give credit or criticism without undue censorship. Which means voters are free to listen to the cases and platforms of the competing sides because both competing sides are free to air their respective cases.

For such freedoms, we need not even look at the so-called first world. We need not look further than our ASEAN neighbours like Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand.

In a real democratic electoral exercise, with its fundamental freedoms, we as voters will still have to think for ourselves before we cast our votes but we would have had the exposure we needed, the information as to vote the platforms and candidates we decide to bring into public office. For one thing, the best speakers are not necessarily the best candidates; the loudest applause does not necessarily clinch the issue. But we need to be able as a nation to claim when the votes are in that we were given our destiny in our own hands.

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Posted in: Elections