Opinion

Cowed no more

Kapil Sethi

Kapil is an advertising strategist based in KL, who likes nothing better than to figure out why people behave the way they do. Naturally this forces him to spend most of his time lounging in coffeeshops and bars. He can be reached at kapilanski@yahoo.com

MARCH 27 — Till maybe a decade ago, the average Malaysian adult, when confronted with a political topic in a public place would shuffle uneasily, take a quick peek over his shoulder and either change the topic or restrict his response to a quick whispered sentence or two. Very Orwellian, but understandable in the context of realities such as the ISA, Ops Lalang, Special Branch and the Anwar black eye incident.

In the context of all the deeply intellectual prognoses by hordes of political analysts on the outcome of the next general election, it seems strange that there has been no acknowledgement of the profound impact of this loss of fear among the electorate.

From rumours of serial numbers on ballot numbers being used to identify and harass those who voted a particular way, to civil servants’ jobs and promotions being in jeopardy if they didn’t toe the line, to the full might of the law being used to finish careers of those who openly supported the other side, it seems everyone in Malaysia had a instructive story to tell of those who chose oppositional politics.

The advent of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration and his commitment to keep the Internet free of censorship set the stage for a large number of people to see the actual realities of Malaysia without the rose tinted lens of the Barisan-controlled mainstream media.  The 2008 tsunami further helped the process along and fast forward to today, of the Arab Spring and closer home, Bersih 2.0.

This shift is much more than a passing fad and it may have changed the way Malaysians view their political system in a fundamental way. The idea that their participation in the political process has a real impact on outcomes that affect their individual lives is here to stay.

The proposed roll back of the ISA and UUCA, the formation of a Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reform and the Lynas rare earths project, the scrapping of the civil servants’ new pay scheme (SBPA), the rethink on the AirAsia-MAS share swap or even the resignation of Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil are direct reminders of the newfound power of the people to effect political change in matters that concern them.

Election predictions to date generally take the view that there is an even split between BN and PR for roughly 70 per cent of the electorate. It is the undecided 30 per cent that will decide the outcome. That 30 per cent is the youth vote, the Malay vote or the non-Malay vote, depending on who you ask.

In my view, that 30 per cent is best defined as the post-fear voter. The voter who is not necessarily ideologically committed or even overtly political, who will not campaign for a political party or even participate in activism, but who knows the power of her vote. This person does not indulge in a lot of political debate, but is aware of the fact that he can, if he so chooses. This person may not have voted in the past or even registered to vote, but will do so this time, because for the first time he sees the point of it.

This voter may represent the true awakening of Malaysian democracy that makes participation attractive to almost every adult, even if only once in five years. In my view what matters to this voter is growth in economic terms, protection of traditional values in cultural terms, a level playing field and an end to corruption in opportunity terms and an opportunity to hold her head high as a Malaysian in global terms. Paraphrasing Rabindranath Tagore: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; where knowledge is free; into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake”.

So who is this person most likely to vote for? Sticking my neck out, my prediction is that in the current scenario, expect the DAP to win big with this segment as it champions a post-racial middle-Malaysia position built around the perceived success of Lim Guan Eng in Penang. Most notably his tom-tomming of the Freedom of Information Act, a level playing field in economic terms with open tenders that did not disadvantage Malay contractors and the CAT (Competence, Accountability and Transparency) mantra.

Let the games begin.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

 

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