Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Politics is in Our Self-Interest

Written by johnleemk on 3:10:12 pm May 29, 2007.

In many countries, issues which appeal to people are those of import to the community. People feel indignation when their taxes are wasted on corruption; they feel strongly about issues like national defence or the environment.

Now, obviously part of the reason people care about these issues is because how these issues pan out will affect individuals in the long run; what's good for all of us is good for each of us. But most people's attention spans are focused in the short run; Malaysia is a good example.

We tend to belittle others for being kiasu and individualistic, but in the end, ours is an individualistic society. We cut in lines, we drive recklessly, and in general, only care about ourselves.

For this reason, we tend to ignore politics. "What is the point?" we wonder. "After all, none of these things politicians are talking about matter to me."

The only time much interest can be drummed up in politics is when race rears its head. It seems the only time people will abandon their self-interest and think of the collective is when that collective has the same skin colour as them.

But in reality, politics is about more than marcoeconomic policy or the latest development project. Politics is about issues which matter to you and your family.

The problem is that our politicians have a habit of driving focus on issues towards things they care about, like "development projects" meant to funnel money in the direction of their cronies. Like citizens should in any democracy, the onus is on us to alter the priorities of our politicians by telling them what we expect from them, and voting them out if they don't improve.

There are a billion issues which matter to us as individuals, and yet have not been pursued by the government. Our rotten education system must matter to the millions of households with students in them, and yet our politicians have done virtually nothing about this problem.

Then there is the inefficient civil service which plagues thousands who have to wait in line everyday to get a few papers stamped. Or our poorly maintained roads, which can't even compete with the ones in Thailand.

There is the issue of crime, with more and more people buying houses in "gated communities". And there are the simple things, like persistently unreliable electricity service and broadband that can't compete with what's in Bosnia.

All these simple things matter — and yet nobody is trying to tackle them. The opposition politicians don't seem to realise what a gold mine this could be for them, because they are content with pandering to their base of people concerned about things like the Internal Security Act and corruption.

Most of us think oppressive laws and corrupt politicians are bad things. But only a few care enough about these issues to decide who to vote for based on them. The rest of us decide to vote based either on the performance of politicians by the goals they have set themselves, such as delivering more contracts to the rakyat cronies, or don't vote at all.

It's time to change these situation. In a democracy, the most important drivers of politics are the people. If we want our trains to run on time, if we want our pipes to stop leaking, if we don't want to live in fear of our homes being burgled, we have to show our politicians we want these things settled.

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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.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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