Barisan Nasional chairman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Razak has urged Malaysians to vote wisely in the 14th general election today, May 9. So has Pakatan Harapan chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad. So has PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim. So has MCA president Liow Tiong Lai. So has PPBM president Muhyiddin Yassin.
So has Suhakam, the national human rights commission. And so has Dr Setev Shaaribuu, the father of murdered Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.
The curious and interesting thing about politicians saying “vote wisely” is that they all say the same thing but mean different things.
For instance, on May 7, Najib called on Malaysians to cast their votes wisely as this GE14 would decide the nation’s fate. “To me,” he said, “the election is not just about us fulfilling our responsibilities as voters but it’s more than that. This election will decide the destiny of our country.”
He added: “We know what Barisan can deliver for the people and the country.” If, however, Malaysians voted for Pakatan Harapan, Najib warned, the people should expect political uncertainty because the opposition leaders were not united.
So, “vote wisely” here means “vote for BN”.
In Langkawi, on April 29, Mahathir spoke about what PH could do and how the BN was ruining the nation, adding: “If we don’t choose wisely, we will suffer the consequences.”
So,”vote wisely” here means “vote for PH”.
On May 7, Anwar, who is serving a jail term for sodomy, wrote a letter from his hospital bed urging voters to support Mahathir in the polls so as to “fix the rot” caused by Najib’s administration. In the pre-election message, he said: “In 24 hours’ time, the country’s future and the fate of our people are in your hands. Vote wisely and responsibly.”
So, “vote wisely” here means “vote for PH”.
On April 27, MCA president Liow Tiong Lai, in a message published in The Star, spoke about how the opposition was sowing seeds of bitterness and hatred, how it practised nepotism, etc etc, and how the BN was doing so much good for the people etc etc. He added: “Think hard, vote wisely. Don’t be swayed by emotional rhetoric. It’s your future, your destiny. Our future will only be decided by you.”
So, “vote wisely” here means “vote for BN”.
Why do politicians go through this rigmarole every election? Why can’t they just say “vote for my party” without asking us to be wise. Perhaps, it is just a plain old habit. Perhaps it is a psychological tactic to make us feel we are wise if we vote for them or their party.
At least when non-politicians or those not actively participating in elections say “vote wisely”, it makes sense. For instance, on May 3, Royal Malaysian Navy chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin issued a message to those under his command to vote wisely.
He was quoted by the media as saying: “We are all free to make our own choices when we vote. Don’t be influenced by any incitement that can affect our decision. Use your wisdom based on facts, observations, achievements and our own experiences.”
Here “vote wisely” means use your experience, knowledge and good judgment, which is how the dictionary defines “wise”.
Ramon Navaratnam, the chairman of the Asli Centre for Public Policy Studies, gave some examples of what voting wisely would entail, in talking about what he called the “dilemma” of choosing between continuity and change, in a letter published in the media.
In it, he enumerated some of the good policies and actions of the BN over the years, and also some of the drawbacks of voting it in again. He also wrote about the pros and cons of casting the ballot for the PH, before giving some pointers on how to choose “wisely”.
Among his suggestions: choose only honest, able, service-oriented and dedicated candidates, preferably with a proven track record; reject candidates known to be extremists, racists and religious bigots who have run down other religions; vote for candidates who aspire to make Malaysia great, moderate, progressive, prosperous and, most importantly, united and not polarised.
Former minister Syed Hamid Albar also had a similar message for voters. In his May 6 open letter, Syed Hamid urged Malaysians to vote for people with integrity, honesty, transparency, accountability and those who were hardworking and trustworthy so that these qualities could be imbued in the government they would represent.
I may be wrong but I kept feeling there was a subtext in there due to his choice of words. For instance, he said: “Come May 9, let us all, my fellow Malaysians, vote with our conscience to make a positive change. Vote with your heart. Vote sincerely. Let good judgment prevail.” The use of the word “change” intrigues me, as do these sentences: “While we should respect those in power, we should not fear them. Think carefully about the future and know that any decision you make on May 9 will not only affect the next five years, it will set a precedent for years to come.”
Then, of course, we have Altantuya’s father Setev calling on Malaysians to vote wisely. In a message to Malaysians, he said: “Since her birthday (May 6) coincides with Malaysia’s campaign, I’d like to send a message to all good citizens in the country — please do not forget Altantuya, vote wisely.”
Suhakam, the National Human Rights Commission, also called on voters to vote wisely but, at the same time, it criticised the Election Commission (EC) for some of its actions which Suhakam deemed improper. Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail urged Malaysians, in a statement on May 8, to “exercise their civil and political rights by casting their vote wisely and judiciously, in the best interests of our beloved nation”.
However, he gave notice that Suhakam would, after GE14, demand that the EC be revamped as “the playing field for the elections has been marred by irregularities”. Razali noted that the EC’s job was to facilitate a fair and independent voting process, not take actions that could cause it to be accused of being partisan and selective.
After all this, what can I say, except: Vote wisely. By that I mean think carefully about what sort of future you want for yourself and your family and what sort of nation you want to live in.
A. Kathirasen is executive editor at FMT.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.