Can we have an issues-based GE14?

general-electionYou know the general election is around the corner when the government starts handing out goodies. Call it a charm offensive or legal bribery if you will, but ruling governments – and not just in Malaysia – have been handing out voting incentives in the form of projects and allocations since elections were introduced in their countries.

Certainly, this will provoke the usual questions about whether it is morally or legally right to dangle carrots in front of people’s faces in such a manner, but such talk actually distracts from the real point of holding an election.

An election needs to be a referendum on the issues that truly matter, issues that affect our day to day life and that which will affect the lives of our children.

Malaysians are particularly vulnerable to the notion of the cult of personality. Many of us don’t vote with our heads. We follow Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Guan Eng, Najib Razak, et cetera, with little thought of what they represent. This has allowed politicians on both sides of the aisle to maintain large followings without putting forward substantial policy ideas. All one has to do to service this following is to occasionally be controversial, whether by pulling the PR stunts the opposition is known for or by making the macho grandstanding we have come to associate with the Najib regime.

The populist leanings of our leaders have produced a culture in which followers are ready for physical confrontation but are unable to articulate the finer points of their argument.

Malaysians are a rather dramatic people, and it seems like this quality has been taken advantage of by our politicians, particularly those in power. However, in an age where RM100 is barely enough to buy one a full tank of fuel, matters of literal bread and butter will soon become more important than the ideological bread and butter of politics to Malaysians.

The opposition must be held to a higher standard as well. We are too forgiving of an incompetent coalition that has spent the better part of its second term as the official opposition bickering over non-existent power. How can Malaysians continue to be told to give the opposition a chance while we still do not have a shadow cabinet to provide a counterpoint to the government?

The opposition parties should be reminded that support is not owed to them. As it is, GE14 will be an uphill battle for them, which is astonishing considering Najib’s government is caught up in what has been called the worst kleptocracy case ever seen by US authorities.

Perhaps a lesson can be taken from the state of politics worldwide. The right wingers are disorganised, but they are ruthless, cutthroat and willing to descend to any depths to attain or remain in power. To stave off the encroaching conservative darkness, the left wingers must break free of their wishy washiness.

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