Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Why A Third of Eligible Voters Won't Vote

Written by johnleemk on 2:56:33 pm Aug 27, 2007.

A fact commonly publicised as of late has been that as many as five million Malaysian citizens eligible to vote have yet to register for this right. This is as much as one-third of the voting-age population altogether.

This is naturally a fact that has been bemoaned by everyone. After all, this is hardly healthy for a democracy, which emphasises the participation of everyone in governance.

I do wonder, though, how much of this hand-wringing is sincere and how much of it is for the sake of appearances. After all, depressed turnouts do tend to benefit the establishment in most elections.

The reason is simple: those who do not like the present situation will likely do one of two things: vote for an opposition candidate, or not vote at all.

Some establishment institutions, including companies linked to the government (directly or indirectly) have been trying to get people to register to vote.

Having seen one of the advertisements meant to get people to the polls, I have my doubts. And it's not just because the narrator of the ad had one of the most awkwardly strange accents I've seen on television.

The fact is, all the establishment can come up with to drum up the vote is to argue that "It's your right". We all know how effective this sort of argument is — we theoretically have the right to point out errors in government policy (this is actually explicitly stated in the Sedition Act — which shows just how ridiculously broad the law is, since it needs an exemption to point out that corrections do not constitute an offense). How many of us exercise this right?

People will not exercise a right unless they feel that the benefits outweigh the costs. And what are the benefits of voting? So far, nobody from the establishment who has called for people to register to vote has pointed out something more than "It's your democratic right."

I think Malaysians are smarter than we're given credit for sometimes. We may not consciously realise it, but I suspect that at least subconsciously, we are all aware that this is not a real democracy. (If you argue otherwise, I think you'll find that even the establishment subtly concedes we are not a true democracy.)

After all, what is the point of an election where the constituencies are so horribly gerrymandered that one voter in Putrajaya has twenty times the power of a voter in Kapar, simply because one constituency is twenty times larger than the other?

What is the point of an election where we don't know anything about the choices presented to us, thanks to the ruling regime's control of the media and rallies? Why should we make a choice when we have no point of comparison? We might as well stick with the same old crap — and thus, might as well not vote at all.

The unregistered voters have no reason to register to vote, because ultimately, many of them have given up on democracy in this country. Of those who still believe in democracy, giving the ruling regime an even more solid majority is hardly an inspiring reason to vote. (How can anybody top 90% of the seats in Parliament?) Only those who support the opposition have a reason to vote, but most of these people are already registered.

Thus, the only way to drum up voter registration numbers is to inspire people to vote for a change. That change can either be effected through a radical change in the ruling regime's policies, or through the opposition. But unless people have a hope of effecting change at the ballot box, they will not be interested in voting. And that is why our campaigns to increase the number of registered voters, as well as voter turnout, will in all probability fail.

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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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