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True democracy not about good and evil

It was the eighth of March. The year, 2008. Three laptops were spread out in my study room, continuously refreshing political websites, and on the TV rolled the election results as it was released.

We were shocked by one piece of news in particular. The opposition had won a state. Not just any state like Kelantan or Terengganu as it had in the past, but the capital; Selangor.

Malaysia, it was said, would never be the same again.

But what changed, exactly? Take a trip to KL today. You'll encounter the same frustrations. A drive between Kuala Lumpur and Subang still takes ages during the rush hour if you're using the Federal. You could, of course, fork out for one of the psuedo-private express routes to some company.

But you'd still suffer a jam even then, just marginally shorter. Start selling your houses if you live on a hill, because I'd like to know what makes you think your developer was any better than whoever was involved with Bukit Antarabangsa.

The Selangor state government is still attacked by allegations of corruption by state opposition, same roles, but switched actors.

We, the people, also fondly known as the rakyat, were intoxicated. Change. Never had we seen a group of people as large as Hindraf or Bersih take to the streets.

Never had we seen the opposition so united in a common cause, Anwar a beacon for all who were not afraid to stand across the river in defiance. This must be the change then! We finally have heroes!

If only it was so.

Hindraf began creating impractical demands, US$2 million a head from the British government, then affiliated themselves with MIC, and have now turned into an antagonist in the eyes of the liberal public with its race-defined politics. Our faith in the opposition took a beating when Anwar Ibrahim's very own strategy of leapfrogging backfired and Perak fell.

I've done a few internships in law firms, and at one point I found myself sitting across the client of an opposing counsel. The man, I was told, had been declared a bankrupt. There was something unpleasant about him I couldn't put a finger on.

He had one of those stereotypical fat-cat faces, Plus the remarkable skill of sublimely inserting a brag into an apologetic humble-hum. But one of his sentences stuck: ‘Oh well, you know, Anwar wanted me to run for a seat, but I had to decline...'

You don't have to trust my judge of character. I'm not asking you to. But is it really so hard to believe that he wasn't exactly lying, that it was not beyond Anwar to take in cunning, connected people over those with merely good intentions? Look at the Perak crisis. The base of PKR comes from Umno.

Look at pre-March 2008 manifestos. Particularly the opposition's. A big issue to them, if I'm correct, was the country's dependency on Petronas.

From subsidised oil prices to revenue, we Malaysians were accused of being addicted to the benefits oil reserves had given the country.

Our very economy is driven largely by oil revenue. In the next few decades we are going to lose this stream, and BN is doing nothing to wind us off such a dependency. Malaysia's economy is a train, and nobody gave a thought as to where the next scoop of coal would come from.

And yet when the government cut subsidies in June 2008, the opposition sang a different tune. They protested. I'm not sure of the details, but it was somewhere along the line of being 'too harsh'. Anyone who was paying the slightest attention would raise an eyebrow. But hypocrisy is no stranger to the arena.

With the two examples I have given, I propose an approach on how we should view every politician, one we drastically need.

The politician is not a vessel of good or evil. She, or he, is a person. Just like yourself. There have clearly been days in which you have helped, and days in which you have been cruel to another. It is a sham if we believe that humans are capable of only good or evil in every moment of their lives. And like the rest of the world, politics is not a fairy-tale.

The actors are not clearly separated into groups of protagonists versus antagonists. Politicians, it must be said, are representatives of various factions with possibly conflicting interests. To understand why the politician has risen to the occasion, we must examine the cycle of ends and means.

By ends, I mean her or his political objective. And by means, I mean the power needed to achieve it. And as said above, this is a cycle. We need power to achieve objectives, but the pursuit of objectives also leads us ultimately to positions of power. And how do we achieve this governmental power? By winning elections.

I do not know when it all began, but political drama and good-evil distinction seems to have invaded Malaysian politics, instead of agreements to disagree while at the same time acknowledging that both sides had the best interest of the country (or at least their voters) in mind. Perhaps this is similar in every democratic state.

According to game theory, if this is effective in stimulating the voters, then there is no reason why either side should openly acknowledge the possible ‘good' in each other. They have a reason to exaggerate. The end justifies the method of obtaining the means, even if the method is a miniature version of the wrong in which the end tries to correct. We are led to believe that the government is all evil. We are led to believe that the opposition is all evil.

And while voters cater to drama and lap up this delicious spice to Malaysian news, we are only providing an incentive for, say, the ‘good' guys to act in ways that are not virtuous, possibly hypocritical.

But to merely see this side is to ignore that there will be those who are in politics mostly for selfish gain. We must acknowledge, again, that all are human. Those who are good are capable of bad, while those who are bad, are also very much capable of good. As long as he or she has power.

So how do we know who to give this power to? We can never be sure. The cycle of ends and means creates the realistic possibility of achieving even more ends than originally intended once power has been achieved. Is it not human to take a small slice of that large ‘ends' cake for ourselves?

But to stop here is very dangerous. It is perhaps better for someone to live in the dream of distinct good and evil and be motivated to cast his vote, than be someone who has realized a half-truth, finding elections pointless and a sham. Taking this realistic view of politicians can be de-motivating, as much as it is to accept the frailness of virtue within each of us. But this is what true democratic elections lead to; accountability.

What has changed since 2008, is the arrival of a tide. But this is not a tide of color. It is neutral. Slightly after the elections, many people who actually sat down to think were possibly pro- opposition without question. But down the line their façade of rigid virtue began to crack, and we have seen that the opposition, too, is prone to bad habits.

We are beginning to question the opposition, and this is a good thing when we have in mind the true nature of politicians. It is a tide of neutral thought.

They are not heroes and warlocks. They are people who want to achieve an end, requiring a means; means in which we hold. March 2008 was not a beginning of just possible Pakatan rule, but a possibility of true democracy. True democracy does not distinguish good and evil, but check and balance.

The motivations of 2008 may have been illusions or half-truths, but we are closer than ever before to a two-party system, though we are not there yet. The doubt in our mind that Malaysia will ever achieve such a state still stands, and must be broken.

To achieve the two-party system, we must show that the position of government is now a tower built on foundation that belongs to the voters. We give, and we take.

The reason I have written this is because of the looming 13th general elections. I am encouraging those who have realised the half-truths to register themselves now, and vote. It takes only five minutes at the nearest post office to register, but a month of waiting before you are actually eligible to cast a vote in any election, meaning if you were to register after the announcement of an election, it would probably be too late.

Your vote matters. At the very real possibility of sounding biased (and I may very well be. You have no reason to trust my reason for voting who I will), my logic suggests that we vote for the opposition. Put aside good and evil, and think what we want to achieve. A true two-party system. Break the illusion and doubt, and bring down the stable pillars that the concept of Malaysian governing stands on. The next elections shouldn't be about policies. It should be about democracy.

Everything else flows from there.