The 2013 General Election concluded around a week ago and some people are still fuming about the results, papers are still reporting news of the outcome and my timeline is still filled with political posts. I must say it is quite an exciting time for Malaysia. There were so many things happening all at once. As much as I’d have loved to vote, being barely 21 this year, I could only observe the elections as an “almost” voter.
What did I observe? Firstly, the flags. You know it’s election time when you are surrounded by a sea of fabric, the ever popular flag war between the supporters of the political parties. This ‘flag pride’ caused some constituencies to be extravagantly decorated, as if this election is won by the number of flags you have. Well, I guess this is a good time to be flag printers. But I was a little disappointed that I could rarely see the Malaysian flag, if at all.
Yes, and I noticed we have a lot of money. A lot. I can’t stress this enough. Some political parties printed tons of shirts to be given out for free to the public and I remember in one gathering in Shah Alam the students were treated with fried chicken from a major fast food franchise. There were also reports of people being given money to go and vote. I can’t help but wonder, is our society driven by a culture that simply takes and takes? I myself am guilty of this: I have two of the free shirts (but I took them for the design!).
Online, the flag war is substituted with flame wars. It’s nothing new, really. You can’t scroll through your timeline without seeing anybody poking fun at political parties by making memes or just simply flaming others. I thought I’d try to enjoy it since it’s in season but somehow I feel it’s just a bit too much with all the rumours and insults going around. Maybe I’m a bit old fashioned but I would rather listen to ideas and rational, sane arguments on how we should spearhead this country by the young people.
I find myself missing activism that is not just politically motivated. I don’t remember how it was in 2008, but I’m sure that Facebook and Twitter play an even bigger part in how we think about politics now. I think we are too engrossed in this at times, so we think that it would suddenly solve all our problems once our political party of choice becomes elected. One election will not change the attitude of a country, my dear youths.
A good friend of mine, who has always been involved with the plight of the aborigines in Malaysia and volunteers to help the blind, said this to me after a burger yesterday: “I am still waiting for that one politician who says look, it’s good that you are all here to support me. I appreciate that, but I think here are some causes that I think would make Malaysia better. You can help the blind, for example, or teach math to rural children. I’ll support that politician.” We need more people like my friend.
This might sound clichéd, but change does start with us and especially with the young. I for one will not settle for a society that thinks the authorities are our saviours and destroyers. Another of my friends told me, “Malaysians take politics too seriously until it becomes the main thing in solving our problems. It’s not. When your drain is clogged, for example, how many would actually band the community together and organise a clean-up? How many of us will only hope that the local council arrive as soon as possible to clean it up? How many of us will even address our complaints outside of Facebook and Twitter?”
From my point of view, I think the young are still too chilled when it comes to understanding how the system works here. It does not complement the spirit of rebelliousness that we have. I tried to ask my friends what they thought of the election and among the responses I got were outcries like, “it was terrible!”, “it was a sham!”, “democracy is dead!” But when I asked why, nobody could give me a clear answer. Still, there is hope. At least even my most passive friends did not reply with an apathetic “I don’t know” when I ask them about the elections.
Of course, there are also those among my peers who have thought about the elections very deeply, and that is encouraging. Aiza Mohamad, a dear friend of mine and also an almost voter, had this to say: “I was extremely relieved that the public reaction transpired to be more peaceful than my expectations had allowed – and also very fascinated by it. Now is the time for everyone to move on. The people’s main priority should be to ensure unity amongst ourselves, because if we do not have unity we cannot change anything for the better, regardless of what ‘better’ is.”
It seems like there is a surge of renewed empowerment in the youths with what is happening in this country and that gives me hope for a more engaging and participative culture in this country. I just hope it doesn’t just end with talking and rallying. There is so much work to do before the next general election. I love this country with all my heart and then some.
For GE14, I suppose what I want to see from my peers is a little more participation even before the elections. I’m probably a bit biased because as a law student it is expected for us to know these issues but for all others, democracy shouldn’t be confined to an election that happens once every five years. I think people around my age just need to read more and not confine themselves to clustered and compartmentalised political ideas propagated by people with agendas.
Getting a bigger picture is much more useful. We’re young; our horizon shouldn’t stop at the end of a cave. I fear that should we become the future, which we will eventually, then we might stick to this dangerous culture of merely scratching the surface. That is not the Malaysia I would want to live in.
Next time around, I also hope there will be a lot less immaturity in how we handle expression, even if it is dissent. I’ve always proposed that democracy is messy and Malaysia is a good example of that. But we must show the world too that as messy as it can get, we can still chill at a mamak eating roti telur while drinking chinese tea and watching the Malaysia Super League at the end of the day. Who’s with me?
Abdul Qayyum Jumadi is a law student. In his free time he struggles to finish tutorials and prepare for exams. Most other time he just gets lost, writes short stories, and eats. He is a former Poskod.my Writer in Progress. Follow him @qayzr.