In a democracy, an election offers citizens the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote for their preferred candidates.
Voters must therefore use this statutory right and discharge their duty to the country. It is a moral obligation for every citizen to vote. No matter what we believe in and who we support, it is critical for us to express our convictions through the ballot box.
We should not look at voting as a civic duty but as a sacred duty. Casting our votes in an election is important because it gives us the chance to select candidates and a government that represents our beliefs and views on a broad spectrum of issues.
Personally, I believe citizens who do not vote – except for those with compelling reasons – are not being patriotic. In some countries like Australia, it is mandatory for every citizen to vote, other than those with extenuating circumstances. Penalties will be imposed on Australian citizens who do not vote, if they do not furnish good reasons.
Some people frequently complaining about a host of issues., but when I ask them if they have voted, many reveal they have not even registered as voters. Some even have the audacity to say that a single vote does not matter much, not realising that every vote counts.
Perhaps, many are unaware that in the 1964 general election, the late Dr Tan Chee Khoon, popularly known as “Mr Opposition”, won the Batu parliamentary seat by only two votes after six recounts.
Remember the US presidential election in November 2000. Former Vice President, Al Gore lost by a whisker in the Electoral College vote to former Texas Governor George W Bush Jr.
The crux of this election centred on a recount in Florida, where Bush had won the popular vote by a tiny margin, which automatically triggered a recount. The election outcome led to a Supreme Court judgment in favour of Bush Jr, who was declared the winner. In the final count, Bush won Florida by a wafer-thin 0.009% of the votes cast in the state or by 537 votes.
If Gore had received slightly more votes in Florida, then the former US vice-president would have been the 43rd President of the US in 2000.
Hopefully, our government devices a new procedure to draw new voters now that the voting age is 18.
The present registration process is too cumbersome for many people. Why can’t the government make it easier by allowing citizens to sign up as voters at more convenient locations like city hall, district offices and designated government agencies?
Election Commission officers should actively register citizens as voters throughout the year. These officers should come in vans to designated areas like housing estates and community halls for this purpose. The commission should also set up their registration booths in places like shopping malls.
Senior civil servants and justices of the peace should also be empowered to register voters in housing areas where they live.
Many of the younger generation these days are IT savvy, so why not allow online registration. With IT, a person should be allowed to vote even one day after registration.
Voting in elections is one of the basic rights in a democracy. This is the fundamental difference distinguishing a democratic nation from totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships. People in many other countries do not have the privilege of voting – something which we in Malaysia have enjoyed since independence six decades ago.
But we need to tackle the flaws in our electoral system. Malaysia can still improve on its present first-past-the-post system by opting for proportional representation. In many of our past elections, the political parties’ share of seats in Parliament and the state assemblies did not reflect the proportion of votes they had actually received.
A proportional representation (PR) system will be able to resolve this defect in our electoral system. It will also embellish Malaysia’s democratic credentials, as it will reduce the incentive to gerrymander parliamentary and state constituencies. In this respect, Malaysia should emulate countries like Sweden and Germany which are using PR.
The results of the recent Malacca state election underscore the pressing need for PR in Malaysia. Under this system, the Malacca state assembly would have seen a fairer representation of assembly members from all the contesting parties.
Only through PR will the voices of people from diverse standpoints of society be heard and debated in our august houses. When this happens, the debates in Parliament and the various state assemblies will more closely reflect the genuine expressions and aspirations of the people of Malaysia.