Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Applying the Paradox of Voting to Malaysia

Written by johnleemk on 1:58:14 pm Jun 20, 2007.

Malaysians are notoriously apathetic about voting. Even those of us who are well-informed about the atrocities and abuses of our wonderful government tend to be complacent when it comes to registering to vote, let alone actually casting a ballot. (Or ballots, if you are lucky enough to be a phantom voter.)

We all know the traditional excuse we are prone to give when prompted about this. "Haiya, the government sure win one! What for vote?"

This excuse exasperates those who care about the country, and those who believe in change. The reason is obvious — we cannot achieve change without turning out these apathetic anti-establishment voters.

But a more subtle reason, I think, for this annoyance is that we know it is true. Its logic is impeccable, and reflects the existing academic understanding of voting philosophy.

You might be shocked that Malaysians are capable of coming independently to an intellectual conclusion, considering how shackled our minds are, but it's true.

One economist (I believe it was Nobel Prize-winner Kenneth Arrow) noted that the only reason our vote matters is because it could be the deciding vote — the difference between victory and defeat for a candidate.

If the margin of victory is not 1, then our vote is useless — the outcome would have been exactly the same whether or not we voted.

Considering the extremely low probability of our vote being the deciding vote, Arrow concluded that there is no logical reason whatsoever for any human being to participate in a democratic election. (I am not kidding. The mathematics do suggest this is correct.)

So why does anyone vote at all? This is something that continues to befuddle economists and political theorists until today.

Regardless, it is easy to see how relevant this is to the Malaysian situation. Because we think Barisan Nasional will always win, we see no point in voting since the chance of our vote effecting change is almost nil.

My personal point of view regarding the voting theorem is that it might be true, but in such a case, the value of being the vote which decides everything is extremely high, possibly close to infinite. Anything, even a small probability, multiplied by infinity, is still infinity — and so the expected value would suggest that one would be stupid not to vote.

This is obviously an oversimplified idea which may not always hold true. But I think it may be the right hypothesis for Malaysia. As long as we keep this BN government in power, we will continue losing immense sums of money — our money.

Only recently, it was announced that the government would be building an oil pipeline in the north of peninsular Malaysia. The cost? RM23.9 billion.

The construction contract was tendered out to the Trans-Peninsula Petroleum company. Last year, this company had a paid-up capital of RM150,000 and had a net loss of over RM155,000 on its books.

And this is the company which will "construct" a pipeline worth dozens of billions of ringgit. Consider that this is just one of many scandalous projects. Add their values.

Is not the value of changing our government to the Malaysian people extremely high? Does it not matter to us that we will be saving billions of ringgit by holding our government accountable?

The very life of our nation is at stake. I am not fond of the opposition parties. But I lend them my support, not because I love them, but because I love the country (and my money...though not so much as to reach the point where it is the root of all evil, hehe).

You want to be reasonable and rational, Malaysians? Go out and vote, and vote for a party which won't squander money which belongs to you by right as a citizen of this country. The government belongs to us, and if it refuses to recognise this and allow us to hold it accountable, it's time to show it who's boss.

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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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