Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Analysing Politics in Malaysia: Good-For-Nothing Grassroots

Written by johnleemk on 10:41:53 pm Apr 3, 2007.
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This is part of a series analysing the political situation on the ground in Malaysia. For an overview of the series, and a list of all its parts, please refer to the introduction. To comment on this series, a discussion thread on the forum has been opened.

Politics in Malaysia, despite the talk of our politicians, is not really grassrooots-driven. There is a constant reference to the "grassroots" in the statements of our politicians, but in reality, the grassroots are good for nothing.

Of course, that is a bit of an exaggeration in the sense that the grassroots are good for something. They're good for photo ops to show off to the press and make people think that the parties actually have some support. They're also a good political tool — people don't like what you're doing? Just make some reference to the grassroots, and you'll win the moral high ground.

But is that what the grassroots should be doing in a "developed" country, as our politicians would often have us benchmarked by? Is that what the grassroots should be doing in a democracy, as a politicians often claim we are? Are the grassroots meant as mere decor to be showed off, or are they meant to be an actual part of the political process?

In a democracy, what are the grassroots good for? A lot more than mere decoration. A democracy is all about the grassroots, because a democracy is about the people, rather than the leaders, being sovereign. The leaders are accountable to the people. They serve the grassroots, rather than the grassroots serving them.

What role do the grassroots have to play in the Malaysian political process? Almost nothing. If you are the member of a political party, you don't really have anything to do except show up for party meetings, maybe attend the odd illegal rally or two, and buy the party organ.

You have no actual role to play in the political process. You can't select your leaders — you can elect branch and division heads, but you can't elect your party president. You can't even choose who your party will nominate for your constituency, so you end up being forced to vote for whoever the party's elite decide is best for you — the exact opposite of what a true democracy is.

In any developed country, even independent voters have more rights than the typical rank and file of a Malaysian political party. In many American states, independent voters can vote in primary elections for the candidates they would like to see in the general election. In almost any developed country, and many undeveloped countries, voters can choose who they want to represent them in their local council — party members in this country have zero say over any such thing.

Even many policy decisions are open to voters. In several American states, there is a specific education board which is elected by the voters, so they have a near-direct say over their education policy. Many democracies allow voters to initiate policies through a petition for a referendum, and many major decisions, such as a constitutional amendment, must be approved by a referendum.

Our leaders talk a lot about making Malaysia a developed country. Sometimes they even go further and talk about having a developed mindset as well as developed infrastructure. All well and good.

But if we want to truly call ourselves a developed state, we must have a developed political process. The grassroots should not be good for nothing. Every man and woman must have a role to play in the political process. The voters, the grassroots, are not something to be shoved under the carpet during the intervening period between elections, and brought out for show every four or five years.

In a democracy, power is derived from the people. Our leaders would do well to remember that, for they have a mandate to make this country a developed one. If they want us to be a developed country, they had better get to work on developing our political process.

This is part of a series analysing the political situation on the ground in Malaysia. For an overview of the series, and a list of all its parts, please refer to the introduction. To comment on this series, a discussion thread on the forum has been opened.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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