By Renuka T Balasubramaniam
Independent candidates are a diversion
On April 23, 2013, veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang urged voters to reject all Independent candidates, regardless of whether they were former Pakatan Rakyat or Barisan Nasional members, in the 13th general election (GE13).
What in fact did he mean when he said that there was no room for a third candidate? That it would only undermine the possibility of political change and that everything must be subordinated to this possibility of political change between Pakatan and BN ?
For the benefit of the new voters out there, history has proven that Independent candidates have never made an impact at the general elections. Of course they haven’t. How could they possibly? They haven’t the resources to have been “working on the ground” in the past term.
What this means is, whereas a political party with a candidate that won or lost in the last election has the means to set up a branch office and respond to questions form residents, raise issues on behalf of them with government and disseminate information concerning the development or impediments to the development of the constituency, the Independent usually is a Johnny/Janey-Come-lately who voters first hear of, shortly before nomination day.
Independent candidates provide alternatives for those who don’t favour the candidate supplied by political parties.
To those who feel political parties are too obese and rigid, the Independent offers a lightness and accountability that seems palatable. They don’t bring the baggage surrounding political parties with them. Independents may appear to have their advantages in that they may be “issue”-based, eg environment, women’s issues, persons with disability, etc, or they may just be of the ethnic group most favoured by the voter.
What drove the political tsunami in the 12th general election was the fact that three-cornered fights were minimised as much as possible. There were three-cornered fights in only two Selangor Parliamentary seats as opposed to this election with 13 three or more cornered seats. There is reason to believe many Independents are funded by the government merely to dilute opposition votes.
The union of three parties PAS, PKR and DAP enabled them to share out seats so that no two of the three parties were contesting against BN. This is simple maths. If 60 people are opposed to BN but 30 votes go to PAS and 30 go to DAP, BN still wins in a 100 vote constituency. This, even though 60 percent oppose them.
However, this is avoided if DAP agrees with PAS not to contest thereby enabling all 60 votes to go to the opposition. But the introduction of an Independent who creates clever intellectual distractions can scuttle the opposition’s best-laid plans, so long as voters are not aware of how the game goes.
In short, regardless of our personal views, we might try exercising just a little humility by yielding to the superior judgment, wisdom and experience of people who have been playing the game all their lives and focus on immediate priorities.
In the 2012 film by Steven Spielberg, Abraham Lincoln says, “A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it'll...it'll point you True North from where you're standing, but it's got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you'll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what's the use of knowing True North?”
Nothing is going to change unless a two-party system comes into being. This means an opposition as strong and as capable of forming a government and making significant changes succeeds the present government.
Thus far the opposition hasn’t been able to do this due to their limited powers as only state (not federal) governments. No changes to environmental protection, to women’s or children’s issues, to the education or medical care system can even begin to be discussed. Corruption is not going to end until laws are amended, the media and judiciary are democratised and cronyism is destroyed.
What Uncle Lim means is, “First things first”. Let's get someone, anyone, with enough support - and thereby a fighting chance- to tip the balance for us before we talk about details. Keep the focus on priorities. If we succeed in throwing BN out, we should be able to throw anyone else out come the next elections.