The truth behind the power of the vote

The voters of Tanjung Piai in Johor have spoken loud and clear in voting for Wee Jeck Seng of the opposition Barisan Nasional (BN) and sending the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) reeling.

Wee, who was MP for Tanjung Piai for two terms before losing to a PH candidate in the last general election, secured 25,466 votes to trounce five candidates, including PH’s Karmaine Sardini, who received 10,380 votes in the by-election.

Certainly the voters will feel proud that they have sent a message to PH, a message that it will ignore at its own peril.

Certainly the voters will feel they have shown who is in charge, who has the ultimate power. Voters elsewhere in the country who have been unhappy with PH’s performance and its U-turns on some of its promises will agree that this is, again, a show of people power.

A few people told me after the Tanjung Piai by-election that “we” have shown PH who is boss. Those who said this are not Tanjung Piai voters, but they share in the jubilation – even those who voted for PH in the last general election.

In fact, Malaysian voters showed who is in charge when they threw out 60 years of Umno-led rule of the country – first as the Alliance and later as BN – on May 9, 2018. They had had enough of BN and its policies, including policies and actions that were suppressing personal freedom, dividing the nation and enriching certain members of the elite.

But is the voter really in charge? Does the voter decide the direction the nation takes?

Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. A parliamentary democracy means, theoretically, that the people get to choose who rules them by a free and responsible vote. In theory, they do this after considering the performances and policies of the rival candidates and the parties they represent.

But in reality, do we get to rule ourselves?

It was not BN that ruled the country before and it is not PH that rules the country now. In the past, the leaders of BN ruled us; now the leaders of PH rule us. They decide the direction the country takes, not you or I; they decide what is good for you or me, not you or I or even the ordinary members of PH coalition partners.

What I am driving at is that a certain group of elites rules the nation.

There is some justification for this: you need some expertise, if not experience, in managing a country; more so in today’s challenging and complex world. There is a need for some sort of professionalism in administering the nation. Some people possess this, and we, the ordinary voters, willingly vote them in.

This in itself may not be bad, but problems arise when the elites begin to implement policies to enrich themselves or members of the elite, their families and friends.

Note how Umno started off with strong ideals and later deteriorated as more and more members spent millions of ringgit scrambling for positions so as to become part of the ruling elite to reap the benefits of power and pelf.

Note how partner parties of the PH coalition came to power by saying they wanted to save the country but are now fighting among themselves to save their positions so as to enjoy power and, who knows, enrich themselves, their relatives and friends.

Every political party has leadership problems because one or more people want to take control so that they can decide the direction of the party, and, hopefully, the direction of the nation; in addition, they get to enjoy the perks of power and retire rich.

Let’s consider this: Would you or I, the ordinary citizen, have decided on pumping money into a third national car? Would you or I keep, or even introduce, laws that suppress our freedom?

The truth is, while we have the right to vote in the candidate or party of our choice, we have no effective say after we do so. It is entirely up to the leadership – the elites in power – whether they want to heed our voices.

It is the elites who effectively decide who should be the prime minister, not you or I. Did you decide that Dr Mahathir Mohamad should be prime minister or that Anwar Ibrahim should be the next prime minister? No, they – the elites in control of political power – decided among themselves. Then, they informed us of it.

It was the same when BN ruled. Nobody voted directly for Najib Razak to be prime minister; the actions of former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and the Umno elite gave him the post. And then they shared the fruits.

The truth is that although we have the power to change governments at the ballot box, we don’t have power after that is done. You and I, the ordinary voter, simply provide power to a certain party or coalition – or more correctly, elites in these parties – that come to us saying they have our interests at heart, and then later break our heart.

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