Thursday, March 06, 2008

Malaysian Elections (8 Mar 2008)

Elections are big events. In societies where governments rule, sometimes with an iron rod and a heavy hand, the voting period is that one rare moment in time, when the ordinary citizen has some 'power' to influence the selection of the government. We see 'powerful' and influential candidates, canvassing for votes in many creative ways. Both carrots and sticks methods are used, often creatively. Candidates go to charity events or be seen in public places where the poor and underprivileged are honoured. They hug the elderly. They assure the middle class that life will be better when they are in charge. They kiss babies. They come to our houses, knock on our doors and personally deliver their political manifesto and statement of promises to us. Malaysia is no exception. Elections are very colourful, both literally in the streets as well as their political speeches. Facts are deemed 'truth' under the hands of witty politicians. Emotions can be easily raked up, to pander support for self, as well as to pour hot coals on the opposing parties.

Malaysia will be conducting its elections this coming 8 Mar 2008. There are a couple of serious issues we need to be prayerful about. I will list them down in no particular order of importance.

This year, the church (especially Roman Catholic), has stepped out to say something. It is a political taboo for the church to be involved in any way, no matter how small, in 'politics.' The problem actually lies in the definition of what politics is all about. In a universal way, every single human being in society is already in politics, whether we like it or not. The fact that ordinary citizens are given the heavy right to vote is already a political act. The main difference lies in the definition of what politics means. From the ruling powers, politics is essentially maintaining power and control. It is only during the election period, this power is at stake. The politicians ask: "What does it take for me to retain control?" There are generally two ways. Either I get positive counts in the voting numbers, or I try deny the opposition their numbers, either by putting the opposition in the negative light, and give themselves a positive image.

There are reasons why the church should not be involved in this way, no matter how small. I shall give three reasons.
  1. DISTRACTS: The move is distracting. Church members cannot concentrate on the main Christian message whenever their leaders are involved in political statements.
  2. EASILY MISINTERPRETED: Political topics can be easily misinterpreted from all corners. If one endorses opposition parties like DAP, PAS or Keadilan, the opposition claims you are 'pro-people', while the ruling government sees them as anti-government.
  3. IT AFFECTS PRAYER: Christians are asked to pray for those in power, our leaders that they will lead the country peacefully. When statements like these are made, people are forced to choose and it becomes hard for them to pray. Prayers must be for all persons elected to uphold the constitution, to rule fairly and justly no matter who is elected. In fact, the Church should lead the way not to give in to fear, but to pray for ALL politicians canvassing for votes to be fair and just. They may fight terribly. They may slander each other shamelessly. However, after all the euphoria, and when emotions are cooled down, whoever is elected must stand up to their responsibilities.

Since last year, racial tensions in Malaysia have risen considerably. The Indian minority, upset with racial discrimination, poverty and hardship in their ranks have protested and demonstrated with physical anger. It has propelled the racial problems in Malaysia to the forefront. The Chinese so far have not protested in such similar manner, but the underlying unhappiness can be felt all over the country. As long as they manage economically, they will simply sit back and let the government rule accordingly. What happens when their economic prowess gets curtailed? I dare not dream what will happen. Moreover, both Chinese and Indian communities have been angered by overzealous Muslim religious leaders who become body snatchers in the name of religion. They said that the Indian or the Chinese had converted to Islam prior to their death, and confiscated their body in order to conduct an Islamic burial. The evidence of their conversion has become a great point of contention. Whatever the case, the religious and the racial factor are two powerful forces that can disrupt peace and harmony. Pray for religious and racial tolerance throughout. Pray for mature leaders. Pray for wisdom among public speakers that they do not work up the wrong emotions.

Pray that the social fabric will be strong in terms of openness and continued efforts to build bridges. Pray that whoever the leaders are, they will be filled with wisdom from above to rule well. True power is always from above. Pray for the people to take their vote seriously, and not to throw away their votes foolishly. Recent developments have painted a glum outlook on the leadership of Malaysia.
  • Prime Minister continue to practice racial politics. See here.
  • Prominent Minister's Sex Scandal. See here.
  • Ethnic Tensions Rising. Check it here.
  • Continued Questions over the Prominent 'alternative' opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. See here.
  • Government is afraid that they may lose their two-thirds ruling majority for the first time in history. May have violent consequences. Check it out here.
Pray that the day will come where people will vote not based on their race or religion, but on a good leader. We pray. We discern. We vote. That is the Christian way.

For those who are not Malaysians, or who are neighbours of Malaysia, it is also in your interest to pray. Loving your neighbour as much as yourself should not be restricted to a person or persons. It should include nations.

(a) DISCERNMENT FOR VOTERS: Let voters make informed choices by discerning whatever information they can get about the candidates. They can discuss with friends and relatives, but their vote should remain secret.
(b) SELF-CONTROL BY POLITICIANS: That they do not stir up emotions that cause widespread harm. That they learn to look beyond ethnicity and religion. Every human being deserves fairness.
(c) PEACE: Thomas a Kempis mentioned four sources of peace which I feel, as Christians we need to learn from.
#1 - Strive to do another's will rather than our own
#2 - Choose always to have LESS rather than more.
#3 - Always reach for the lowest place, and take a lower rank than others
#4 - In all things, let the will of God be one's highest desire.

"The man who does all this crosses the frontier of the land of peace and inward rest."
[Thomas a Kempis's Imitation of Christ, Book III, Ch 23.3, (IN: Greenlawn Press, 1990), p118-9]

May the Malaysian voter, regardless of race, language or religion, choose wisely.


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