Thursday, April 14, 2011


Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 14 April 2011

The year 2011 is gearing up to be an election year for a number of countries I am familiar with. Canada, Malaysia and Singapore are all gearing up for elections. Canadians are free to vote, as well as not to vote. Malaysians can vote only if they are registered on time. In fact for Malaysians, any three consecutive failures to vote can mean the forfeiture of future voting rights. In Singapore, it is compulsory to vote, only if there are no walkovers. In this note, I will argue that a stable democratic society is one that voters can freely choose, and freely agree to live with its consequences.

In Canada, you have the ruling minority government helmed by the Conservatives having to deal with often-disgruntled Opposition parties like the Liberals, the (New Democratic Party) NDP, and the rest. The interesting thing is that most Canadians do not think very highly of their political leaders as well. After all, every party is fighting for a majority government. For the past seven years, the government can only be formed with some kind of an alliance. With no clear majority, the party with the most votes needs the backing of at least one other opposition parties in order to form the government. That has cost Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars to conduct four elections in 7 years.

From my interactions with Canadian voters, the attitude is more of nonchalance and disinterest. For many, it is a plain waste of money. What I can sense is that, the typical voter will not be too worried as to who is the government. After all, the people can vote anyone in, and vote anyone out without worrying that the whole country will collapse. I think this is what a stable society resembles. Yes, government is important. However, the moment we have a structure that is solely dependent on the government, it will be like putting all our eggs in one basket. Canadians like choices. Canadians do not like to be coerced to only one selection. They want a little of everything, more than the best of one thing. They prefer snippets of brilliance and creativity from various parties instead of waiting for one single source to milk. That is why for the past 7 years, there is no clear majority government, with votes sparsely distributed among parties.

Is a majority government the way to go? For those who is arguing that a majority government solution is preferred, let’s look at two other countries that have a majority government in place.


In Singapore, since the formation of the island state in 1965, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has always been the ruling party. For the most part, they have done well. The history of how dominant and effective they have been are easily perused through the books of the Former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Within a short span of 40 years, under wise and often iron fisted leadership style, the country has progressed from third world to first world status. It is a commendable feat, and has triggered much admiration from other countries, especially North Asia, like Taiwan and parts of China. Unfortunately, there is rising discontent with the status quo. There is a growing dissent among the young, with regards to the way the PAP is trying to solidify its stranglehold on power primarily through a lack of choice. By painting itself as the only viable choice, and making anyone who are against them look as bad as possible, voters who are forced to vote can only do no other.

Personally, the most troubling aspect of Singapore politics is the lack of choice. This is quite symptomatic of societies that call themselves democratic. I have heard of PAP leaders who claim that Singapore will be in trouble if the PAP is voted out of power. To that, I will gently remind them: “Who created such a structure in the first place?

A political structure that depends on the rule of only one party is not only self-centered, but will do little to help the country overall. The most stable form of government is one that is not dependent on any one party per se. The most stable society in general is one that the people are willing to live with the consequences of its choice. For all its achievements and progress in its infrastructure, I feel that the very important political arena in Singapore is not first world, but very much third world, in the sense that it is overly reliant on a one-party rule, where people do not really have a choice. Just thinking about a country that can collapse overnight if its ruling party collapse is scary enough.

What Singapore needs is not a climate of fear on the basis of survival. It needs courage in spite of fear. The courage to be Singaporeans; the courage to vote according to its conscience; the courage to create a society that is not ashamed to live with the consequences of its choices. For that matter, I believe that voters should not vote on the basis of pro-party. It should be pro-country. I think the PAP has done well on many fronts. Yet, just to be told that only it alone has the ability to rule is a scary thought. That is something that is to be feared. It has been said that power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely. Surely, no party on earth is immune from such a temptation.


In Malaysia, things are a little more disturbing as it is a complex potpourri of racial politics, religious tensions, and much injustice for minorities. A writer I respect, Tan Soo Inn, has highlighted three reasons why the current ruling coalition has to change. Firstly, he argues that the race-based politics under the ruling Barisan National (aka National Front) is due for a change. The Malay UMNO (United Malays National Organization) party, the Chinese-based MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), and the Indian MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) have been forming the coalition government called BN since the birth of Malaysia in 1963. We all know that the power is welded by UMNO. As champions of the Malay race, many policies and preferences have been unashamedly given to the Malays or Bumiputras. The non-Malays have to fend for themselves. Such a race-based political structure has led to the whole society growing from bad to worse. Even the quality of leadership is not helped. Just think of the brain drain. Just think of the growing discontent even among the Bumiputras.

The second argument is about corruption and mismanagement. Come to think of it, if there is proper management, everyone can benefit, not just any one party. There is no need to distinguish one based on skin colour or ethnic background. Society can then focus on helping the poor and needy regardless of language, race or religion. With the current race-based structure, such a thought remains a distant dream. Without change, it may even turn out to be a future nightmare.

The third argument is something that is most troubling. Religious injustice. Globally we can see how religious fervour has become such a big concern. The 9/11 terrorists attacks are done in the name of religion. The current controversy in France about banning full veils in public is creating lots of tension among both Muslim and non-Muslim relationships. In the West, there is a growing militaristic atheist movement that wants to do away with religion altogether, blaming religion for the cause of violence and the world’s problems. In Malaysia, the recent banning of Bibles, and the subsequent release goes to show how immature the implementation of policies are with regards to freedom of religious practice. My concern is that, are the religious authorities making it more difficult for the rest of the world to understand their religion? Are they carelessly mixing politics with their brand of religion?

All these three arguments go to show how fragile the entire political structure in Malaysia is. Of all the three countries, I think Malaysia will fare the worst if there is a political fallout, or a political change. I suspect any change of policies and government toward something that is more equitable to all, will experience fierce and violent protests. This is because the existing structure by themselves are not only fragile per se, they are maintained by people and organizations who are by themselves insecure.


Change is the single biggest reason why Obama won. His laserlike focus on change for the better manages to convince a huge majority of Americans to give him the vote. It even excites some Canadians so much that they also become part of the movement to campaign for him. This shows how much change means not only to Americans but also to Canadians. It is not about country. It is about a common principle.

The need for change must always be for something better. I believe this need for change applies to both Singapore as well as Malaysia. For Singapore, I think it is not so much a change of the political parties that is needed. It is a change in terms of the voter mindset. No doubt there is a big sense of fear about rocking the boat, voters need to remind themselves that for any future returns, there needs to be an investment. The success of today is largely due to the sacrifices of yesterday. Forefathers work hard. They give up simple pleasures for self, so that they can save enough for their children for the future. I know that some parents then will rather skip meals so that they can save money to buy their children better shoes. Some will even work multiple jobs to ensure the children get the education they need. Such sacrifice needs to be maintained. For voters everywhere, perhaps they need to remember the adage: “No pain no gain.

Forget about the fear of instability. Forget about the threats any one party unleash onto the public. Change needs to be embraced with open arms and open eyes. We cannot simply expect to have the cake and eat it as well. As a voter, our responsibility is to vote without fear, and to be courageous to live with the consequences with our votes.

Change is important. For Malaysia, change may be even more painful. We have seen how violence has been inflicted on some quarters when there is a regime change. Mudslinging turns into gunshots. Complaints turn into conflict.

Any political change in Singapore may be inconvenient at most. However, in Malaysia, the risks are larger. For that matter, I pray for wisdom to prevail. In Canada, may people have the wisdom to vote or not to vote. In Singapore, may there be courage for Singaporeans to vote according to their conscience. In Malaysia, may there be courage vote for change, and for the children’s children.

Above all, I pray that voters from all countries will vote in such a way, as to be willing to live with the consequences of their choices. Not only that, along with their vote, they will also play their part to support the leader, responsibly. After all, the country does not belong only to the political parties or leaders. It belongs to all. Whether we vote or not does not change the fact that all citizens have a responsibility to be a part of their country. Do the right thing. Be future focused. If there is no future, the present is not worth living. If there is a future, the present becomes a gift to be cherished. May societies in Canada, Malaysia, and Singapore grow in such a way that voters become mature, and responsible, whether they vote or not vote.

I believe it was Aldous Huxley who once said: "A country gets the leader she deserves." Perhaps, once the elections are over, and the leaders are elected, the majority people who have or have NOT voted, will get the leader(s) they have voted in. When that is done, they should not be complaining. Neither should they be whining. The way forward after the election is to support the leaders they have voted for. No more mudslinging. No more attacking of the integrity of the leaders concerned. At least until the next election.

Some people may grumble and say: "What if I have no choice? What if there are no elections, and the leaders are elected on the basis of a walkover?"

To that, I will ask another question: "If you really want change, then why are you not running, or encouraging someone else to run?"

Part of being a responsible voter is to have a balanced view of past performance of existing leaders. Appreciate the positives, but constructively criticize the negatives. Have a vigilant appraisal of the present manifesto issued by the leaders campaigning to be elected. Consider their policies, not just their promises. Consider the practicality of their 'carrots,' not just the feel-good element of their words. Consider the integrity of the leaders to be, not just on the basis of a past good deeds. Above all, consider the fit, on how the leader is able to bring the country together, not further apart. A country is most blessed if there are more responsible leaders as well as voters.

May there be courage among citizens to vote. May there be courage among voters to embrace and to support whoever gets elected in. May there too be courage among all residents of each country to willingly bear the consequences of the choices we all make. Perhaps, the most important change is not leadership, but the level of political and inner maturity in all of us. That I believe is the true essence of the courage to change: not merely changing other people, but to change ourselves.


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