COMMENT | The mother of all elections is upon us. Those who want to see our nation change for the better must gear up with fortitude and determination for the last mile.
The government likes to boast about our democracy. In fact, our democracy has been almost entirely hollowed out. The playing field is now so heavily tilted in favour of the government that it is an uphill battle to dislodge them. What we have is a system of political privilege for Umno-BN and institutional bias against their opponents.
It’s not just the hastily enacted redelineation bill or even the fake news bill; it’s the full weight of the government that we are now up against. Aided and abetted by dishonourable officials, the entire machinery of government has been pressed into the service of Umno-BN. It’s government of the party, by the party and for the party!
The actions of the Registrar of Societies (ROS) and the Election Commission (EC), in particular, have been shamefully biased and unfair. The choice of a weekday (Wednesday) for polling is only the latest stab in the back by the EC, while the selection of such ‘great icons of democracy’ like Thailand, Maldives, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan to observe the elections shows how low they have to go to seek legitimacy.
Despite their caretaker status, the government also continues to use the resources of the state in the election campaign contrary to convention. In effect, they are using our money to thwart our right to elect our representatives freely and fairly.
In addition, Umno-BN has complete access to major channels of communication – television, radio, print media – to get their message out as well as unfettered access to engage key constituencies like the civil service, the armed forces, the police and other groups but not so the opposition. How democratic is that?
And then, of course, there is the issue of campaign financing or more appropriately, vote buying. Some have all the money in the world from mysterious sources to splash around; others have to depend on small donations from working people to fight a bare-bones campaign.
No time to despair
But this is what we are up against – the entire might and machinery of the government. Only the combined effort of the people, working together with unity of purpose, can help even the odds and prevent these elections from being over before they even begin.
This is no time then to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, sit on the fence or quibble about whether Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the right man for the job. The die is already cast, the battle lines drawn. It’s time to choose a side, time to take a stand.
We’ve complained and grumbled long enough. We have ‘WhatsApped’ our frustrations, tweeted our disdain for no-good politicians and emailed our anger over the abuse of power for years. Now it’s time for action. Those who are unwilling to act have no business complaining.
And neither is this the time to despair or be discouraged by those who want us to think that our votes will not make a difference. It’s a time to believe, to hope, to walk by faith. It may be an uphill battle but it is by no means a lost cause.
If someone had told me years ago that despots like Ceausescu (Romania), Hoxha (Albania), Honecker (East Germany) or Suharto or Marcos would someday fall, I would have found it hard to believe.
They gathered to themselves all the power of the state and controlled almost every facet of their society, and yet they fell. Sooner or later, the yearning of the people for freedom, for justice, for a better life breaks through.
Who is to say that such a moment has not finally come for us?
Signs of change
Each and every person who longs for a better nation must, therefore, do their duty at this pivotal moment in our history by rallying around the candidates that share our hopes for change, raising the necessary funds they need, canvassing for support, and volunteering their time and service. They need our help. They can’t do it on their own. Every little bit helps.
Let’s use social media to spread the word. Let’s remind the doubters and the fence-sitters of the corruption, the racism and the abuse of power that has hobbled our nation for too long. Let’s ‘viralise’ the speeches and messages of those who stand for change. Let’s knock on every door, appeal to friend and foe alike. Let’s enlist as polling agents/counting agents to ensure no one steals this election.
And above all, let’s vote and vote massively – vote for change, vote for our future, vote for the dream of the Malaysia we have carried in our hearts for so long.
Hundreds of thousands of registered voters didn’t bother to vote the last time around and the result was yet more corruption, anti-democratic legislation, racism and the abuse of power. We can’t afford another five years of this rot. Let the millions who didn’t vote the last time join the battle this time and send a mighty roar from every corner of our nation that enough is enough.
In the end, it is not Mahathir or Wan Azizah Wan Ismail or Lim Kit Siang or Mat Sabu who is going to win or lose these elections but we the people.
The ground is already shifting. The signs of it are everywhere. The resounding response to recent attempts to demonise Mahathir shows that people everywhere are simply fed up with the corruption, cronyism and heavy-handedness of Umno-BN and are desperate for change.
It’s the last mile now; the future of our nation is in our hands. What will you do?
DENNIS IGNATIUS is a former ambassador. He blogs here.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.