Free and fair election a pie in the sky!

Josh Hong | Dec 21, 07

Voice of the People, a global survey conducted by TNS and Gallup International, recently found that as much as 74 percent of the Malaysian informants (rather than Malaysians) believed our elections were “free and fair”, while 69 percent of them felt that the people were well represented by the government.

More interestingly, Malaysia scored the highest in Asia on the public perception of democratic practice, trumping other Asian democracies by wide margins. (The same survey showed that 55 percent of the Indians, 58 percent of the Indonesians, 50 percent of the Japanese, 55 percent of the Koreans and 22 percent of the Filipinos had confidence in their elections.)
To what extent is this survey representative and reliable is questionable, for only informants from the urban areas in the Peninsula were selected, while there is no information on their backgrounds and profiles, which are vitally important if one is sincere and serious enough to gather an outcome that can best reflect the realities and sentiments on the ground.
After all, Umno and Pas supporters may have very different views on the same question, while seeking opinion from a depoliticised Chinese Malaysian could be a futile exercise.
Moreover, the 1,250 Malaysian respondents were interviewed face-to-face, and here lies the problem: in this country, the people are not encouraged to air their political views without fear and favour, the mainstream press and media are increasingly sounding the same old tune as the government, the Ministry of Information does nothing but feed the public with disinformation and misinformation, while mutual trust between races is in short supply thanks to the decades of racist indoctrination by the state.
Given these facts, would you still take the findings on the “sensitive issue” to be honest and final?
Whether or not there is free flow of information is vital to making democracy work. Instead of seeing the Indians, the Indonesians, the Japanese, the Koreans and the Filipinos as wary and vacuous voters, I would say the findings mirror voters maturity in these countries, where competitive party politics, vibrant media industry, and flourishing civil society are the norm. These are the voters who clearly understand elections cannot be free and fair when the electoral system and the re-delineation exercise are deeply flawed.
The ‘real’ truth
In other words, the negative attitude only reflects the high level of political awareness of the informants in those countries. To me, scepticism towards government is always a virtue, especially in the context of Malaysia.
When up to 40,000 took to the streets to demand for clean and fair elections, the mainstream media chose to highlight the “massive jams” around Kuala Lumpur. In a city where the streets are perpetually clogged with heavy traffic, why should congestion deserve to be made headline news?
When the authorities are bent on portraying the peaceful protesters as troublemakers and even thugs, while refusing to allow rational discussion on the defects in our electoral law and system, how “well informed” can the Malaysian reader be to form his/her own opinion on whether our elections are free and fair?
Again, Joseph Goebbels is worth quoting here: repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth. In Malaysia, the BN and its media cohorts keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous. Perhaps we should remind them that the Nazi propaganda chief eventually paid dearly for his “truth”.
In the early 1980s, Erich Honecker, head of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany, instructed the Ministry of State Security to carry out a public survey for internal study, which found that the majority of the people agreed the ruling party had ensured basic freedoms in the country, while the standards of living and quality of life in West Germany were not neccesarily better. Such positive results were too good to be true. Honecker indeed felt rather embarrased knowing that how much “freedom” he actually permitted the public to have with all the draconian law hanging over them like a Damocle’s Sword.
Anyway, the party went on to celebrate its achievements as the “most successful party” in German history, having established a “politically stable and economically efficient socialist state”. A few years later, the Berlin Wall came down, and East Germans rushed to the west in droves, where they were made to realise they had been living in a great deception dextrously and meticulously manufactured by the communist regime.
The most tragic end was reserved for Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian president who was reelected as communisty party chief with resounding applause from the floor in November 1989. Sporadic protests against his authoritarian rule were already flarring up here and there, which were being met with state brutality. One month later, the tyrant fled Bucharest in haste, only to be summarily executed on Christmas Day by the generals who had betrayed him.

The habitual gerrymandering

Back in Malaysia, democracy at the ballot box is what the Barisan Nasional government really wants; anything more than that is deemed cumbersome and costly.
To a ruling coalition that has grown so used to power and abuse of power, greater transparency and accountability can only be detrimental to its survival.
Hence, whether or not the process leading to the ballot box is free and fair is no BN’s concern, which explains the habitual gerrymandering by the Election Commission (EC) and all the attempts to ensure that the media toe the government’s line.
But desperate Malaysians should not lose heart, as the EC is now in the process of distributing 50,000 transparent ballot boxes across the country ahead of the next general election just to demonstrate “greater transparency”.
Some solace there, maybe, before the big lie bursts.