Is a ruling party that increasingly marginalises the more vulnerable and less fortunate in our society still worth our vote, asks Angeline Loh.
I realised, from talking to my father about voting in the last elections, that Malaysian society and our government have inadvertently disenfranchised and denied disabled and elderly adults in certain constituencies the fundamental constitutional right to vote.
The constituency my parents and I live in obliges us to go to a polling station in a school built halfway up a hill. Due to the uneven lie of the land, it has many slopes that have long flights of steep steps for access to wings of the school built on the hill. The trouble is that some of the classrooms used as polling stations are located in the ravine between the wings on the hill and the ones on level ground at the entrance of the school compound. So we have to make our way up a long flight of steep steps, then down again into the labyrinth where our polling stations are located.
My dad is an elderly gentleman who also has a disability due to an accident sustained in a Japanese labour camp in Thailand, during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the Second World War. He has to make a tremendous effort just to climb up those stairs and then down again simply to get to and from the polling station. At his age, even four years ago, it was a feat a person of lesser character would have been too daunted to undertake. He is now in his eighties and on reflection, feels too old and frail to take it on again. So he will not be voting in this general election.
He also lamented that the policeman standing around did not bother to lend a hand even when they saw he had difficulty getting to the polling station. I can vouch that this is true, as I have taken him to cast his vote in previous general elections, at the same place, and have seen the apathy of people around, including the police personnel.
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Reflecting on my father’s disenfranchisement, simply due to his disability, I thought about the thousands of other disabled voters, especially wheelchair users and the visually handicapped who may be similarly disenfranchised from exercising their constitutional right to vote because it is impossible for them to get to a polling station.
For all their big talk and sweet sounding, humane policies, our government has not spared a thought for the disabled nor the frail elderly who have the right to vote but are prevented by such circumstances from exercising it. The ruling party may send buses to bus people in from the ‘kampung’ and other outlying areas but have raised the pavements a foot above level ground creating stumbling blocks for less able-bodied people and the elderly.
Virtually, nothing has been made disabled friendly. I have seen ramps, with gradients so steep, even an able bodied person would avoid climbing up them.
As usual, no thought has been given, no study has been done or measures put into practice to provide proper safe facilities and safe access to essential public services for the disabled and elderly. The disabled and the elderly always seem to take backseats in almost every aspect of daily life.
They are denied ready access to buildings, are only an afterthought in public transport planning and are treated as second- or even third-class citizens who have no contribution to make to society.
Many of the disabled are young intelligent people who, given the chance, may turn out to be professionals in their own right and experts in their own fields, in whatever profession they may choose. Well-known intellectual and mathematical genius Professor Steven Hawkins, a quadriplegic, is proof of this possibility.
So why is the government so disabled unfriendly?
The government may point out that laws and regulations on making buildings accessible to the disabled and making more public service buildings disabled friendly have been passed and publicised. Yet, what is the use of so much paper printed with nice sounding words that only remain on the public wish list?
They seem to be nothing more than mere pieces of paper gathering dust in government archives, libraries and leaflet stands in the foyers of majilis perbandaran (town council) premises.
Everyday, more and more sidewalks are being raised higher and higher above road level. More public money is wasted and will continue to be wasted with the changing level of the sidewalks should the local council or government decide to observe regulations on making them disabled friendly in the near future.
Not only are our buildings disabled unfriendly, virtually all our roads which are perpetually widened to increase the number of traffic lanes are completely pedestrian unfriendly as well. Motorcyclists speed along pavements with impunity, pretending it is their right to be there. House-owners extend their gardens to the land outside their fences creating herbaceous borders and planting trees where there should be pedestrian walkways. Advertisement bill boards are sunk right in the middle of sidewalks forcing pedestrians on to busy roads. Local councils and governments say nothing and do nothing about this. The safety of the public, especially those disabled and on foot, are not a priority for the government.
There is no place on the government’s agenda for the disabled, elderly and poor. They are even denied their constitutional right to vote. Is a ruling party that increasingly marginalises the more vulnerable and less fortunate in our society still worth our vote?
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