Assess Leaders in Absolute Terms
A major problem when it comes to Malaysian leaders is that they are evaluated based not on absolute terms of reference, but assessed largely on relative grounds. We would rather compare politicians to one another rather than compare them to what an ideal wakil rakyat should be.
The clash between Abdullah Badawi and Mahathir Mohamad is a prime example which I have raised before. Why should we allow ourselves to be trapped in a false dichotomy, having to choose to support one man or another, when both were and are not good leaders?
Similarly, when it comes to other public servants, be they Ministers, Members of Parliament, or state legislators, we all give them leeway. We say, "Oh, they're not so bad compared with so-and-so", or, "Well, things could be worse."
Of course we should always be grateful for what we have. But if you count your blessings and find them to fall far short of the number you were expecting, the appropriate solution is not to "close one eye".
The fact is, our government is failing us on a daily basis. Everyday, another story of corruption, another story of a failed public works project comes out.
And these are just the stories which make the headlines! Any Malaysian can provide you with a long litany of what is wrong with our country and its government.
But ask the same Malaysian why he accepts this standard of service from the government which is supposed to serve him, and he has no reasonable answer. The typical attitude is often one of resignation to the status quo rather than a determination to do something about it.
Ironically, the same thing goes for our opposition. The attitude amongst opposition supporters is that anything would be better than our government, so we should vote for the opposition.
The fact is, all the opposition is running on is a platform of anti-BN hate, which won't get it very far. The opposition voters may be vehemently convinced that the opposition is better than Barisan Nasional, but the typical voter leans in favour of BN.
The only way the opposition can turn things around is if it presents a real plan to run the country. It has to show how it is better than BN by not just comparing BN negatively to itself, but by comparing itself positively to BN.
Of course, the typical voter isn't a member of either the government or opposition parties. So what should this Malaysian do? Spoil her vote? Boycott the elections?
No. Democracy is about bottom-up participation in the political process. We should not confine ourselves to choosing between two politicians or parties which cannot meet the standards we set — we should tell the politicians what we want from them, and see who can best deliver.
At the moment, the government is not delivering. But then again, neither is the opposition. So what should we do? Simple — tell your wakil rakyat, and his or her challenger what you expect from them (finding their contact details shouldn't be that hard; I believe MPs have their details listed on the Parliament website).
Then see which party, which candidate, is doing its best to give the people what they want (rather than telling the people what they should want). If one or both meet your standards, then great. If neither are up to mark, admonish both of them and either spoil your vote or vote for the one who has come closest to your expectations.
This sort of voter-candidate dialogue I am proposing is radical for Malaysians. But it is the hallmark of any true democracy. Our leaders, be they in the government or opposition, do not exist in their own little world to serve their own little wants.
They exist to serve us. It's time to step up and demand that they do so, rather than saying "Well, this guy better than that one what" or "Haiya, complain so much what for?" Things could always be worse, but they will never get better unless we demand that they be better.