#UndiRosak may fail in its intention to ‘send a message’

#Undirosak protesters will have their vote counted in the same pile as voters who accidentally spoiled their vote, diminishing the message they are trying to send.

I refer to the letter titled “#UndiRosak is about sending a message, not about ‘change’” (FMT Letters, April 15) by Hafidz Baharom, and hope that the author does not mean what he says.

Hafidz mentions in his last paragraph that he will wait for a party to “grow up”. This, surely, must be what Hafidz would like as “change” after all.

I certainly hope #UndiRosak is about change and not just sending idle messages that lead to nothing.

But the problem with #UndiRosak in GE14 is that it may well silence the very message it is trying to send.

Before I continue on why that is so, let me first say that Hafidz articulates his arguments very well. Every voter has the right to spoil his or her vote and this must be allowed.

And he lays out his economic arguments even better, in his previous letters to FMT. I personally agree with him on such unpopular stances as the need for the goods and services tax (GST) and not being too happy about the populist promises being thrown around.

I almost certainly agree with the need for structural reform in the economy to allow each individual to maximise the potential in the system.

Hafidz should be sympathetic then to structural reform of the electoral system as well to allow each voter to maximise the potential in the system?

The author contends that a spoilt vote is an equal protest at both BN and PH. The 2018 redelineation contradicts this. PH-leaning districts have been moved out of marginal seats to PH-safe seats, such as from Muar to Bakri.

There is no consistency in delineation: Kapar remains a huge semi-rural seat with 125,000 voters compared with Sabak Bernam’s 40,000. There is no transparency either: why are some urban seats smaller than others?

In short, with an electoral system that is gerrymandered to lean towards BN, a spoilt vote helps BN more than PH.

Hafidz further takes an example of Wangsa Maju Umno’s threat to withdraw their vote (for the MCA candidate). This is far different from the author himself, who is not threatening to withdraw his vote from any party, but does not support any party to begin with.

To take a commercial analogy, Wangsa Maju would be like a telco’s customers threatening to leave it. The telco would do anything it can not to lose the revenue. But Hafidz is not taking back his vote from anyone. It will be like someone who doesn’t have a phone in the first place: why would Maxis or Digi bother with that person?

This analogy only goes so far, however. Of course, Maxis and Digi will try to get the phone-less person, because they can earn more money.

But, unlike business, our electoral system is winner-takes-all. It’s like forcing everyone to buy a phone, then if Maxis has the most customers, they receive all the money.

This is the major reason why spoilt votes have achieved so little change all over the world. If Ali gets two votes and Salim gets one, even if there are 5,000 spoilt votes, Ali wins.

Ali does not need to defeat #UndiRosak, he just needs to get more votes than Salim. As long as #Undirosak does not threaten to vote for Salim, Ali is happy. Ali does not need to persuade #Undirosak about anything, as long as Salim plays Ali’s game.

And Salim does, because in real life, #UndiRosak is a minority, and Salim is trying to steal Ali’s voters instead of persuading the small sliver of spoilt votes.

As Hafidz has pointed out himself, there is no “none of the above” options. This means #UndiRosak protesters will have their vote counted in the same pile as voters who accidentally spoiled their vote, diminishing the message.

Then what? We can pray for better candidates. Many of the systems invented to try to ensure this are being practised in the United States.

Open primaries, for example, allow general voters to decide on candidates fielded by major parties. Yet these changes were not achieved by vote spoilers. On the contrary, active voting achieved it by electing leaders who promised them.

Between PH and BN, only PH has electoral reforms in its manifesto. I see Malaysia as a long-term project that I inherited at birth and will pass on at death.

I don’t expect each election to produce all the outcomes I want, but I think we can change slowly.

Electoral reforms will allow our votes to count more in future elections. To have more choices, we need the structural reforms in the system that allow us to make that choice.

You see, politicians are a product of the institutions that surround them. Institutionalised corruption breeds more corruption. Institutionalised gerrymandering breeds politicians who pander to the most powerful voters.

Without electoral reforms, we will be served up the same leaders over and over, and #UndiRosak campaigners may be cursed to repeat this cycle.

Put it another way: BN has a good long track record of gerrymandering, from abolishing laws that prevented it to appointing friendly individuals to head the Election Commision. The latest round of delineation favours it completely.

Add BN’s shrewd manoeuvring of PAS into vote-splitting tactics and you get a chance for BN to regain their two-thirds majority.

If they do, they’ll regain more powers to gerrymander further. Then, #UndiRosak being a viable form of protest will be nothing but a sweet, nostalgic indulgence.

Melvin Cheah is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

#UndiRosak is about sending a message, not about ‘change’