A hallmark of a democracy is universal suffrage, that means the right to vote in political elections, one person one vote. Of course there are pre-requisites before a person is eligible to vote. Citizenship is one thing. And achieving a minimum age, presupposing that independent thought would mature at a certain age. Not to forget registration. One has to express interest in voting, and hence having a say in the affair of the country, or at least under the illusion, by taking the first step to register as a voter.
This year, I have been following the developments leading up to three political elections in three countries, albeit from afar. Actually only two out of the three are sovereign nations while the third seems to be aspiring, but against great odds. And two of them would take place this month while the third is at the party nomination stage, but is a political election nonetheless.
The first is the General Election in Malaysia, which took place today (March 8 Malaysian Time). Following the British tradition where Malaysia (or rather Malaya then) was once a colony of the British Crown, this is a parliamentary election involving the entire country, which is divided into individual parliament areas. An elected representative from a parliament area would then sit in the federal parliament to represent his/her constituency. A smaller version exists for the states whose representatives then sit in the State Legislative Assembly to deliberate on matters within the state purview.
But unlike the British Government that is ruled by either the Labor or the Conservative Party, the government of the day in Malaysia has always been formed by a coalition of parties, used to be called the Alliance but is now called the National Front. Other than the three major race-based parties (Malay, Chinese, and Indian), the National Front also features several smaller parties that are more multi-racial in outlook. On the other hand, the opposition side tends to be individual parties that may form a loose compact during election dictated by expediency more than ideological congruence.
The head of the government is not elected publicly, but rather the premiership is assumed by the leader of the dominant party in the National Front, which has yet to be humbled in any general election since independence (1957), and who is assented to by the Ceremonial Head of State, the Supreme King, in accordance with the Constitution (but some would argue this as a perfunctory role of His Royal Highness).
Right now I'm following the election results online. This election marks the first time that several well-known local bloggers are on the ticket, notably Jeff Ooi and Tony Pua, as opposition against the ruling party. While they do not enjoy the huge election machinery (mass media, financial incentives of government allocations, etc.) that the ruling incumbents wield, they have the entire cyberspace, touted as the proverbial leveling field, to roam, to canvass, to expose and sharpen their criticisms of the perceived wrongs besetting the country. This is evident from the many politically motivated emails, electronic articles, sound and video bytes that are in circulation. Strangely enough this digital propaganda is all decidedly pro-opposition. But they do face seemingly insurmountable disadvantage in making themselves, or rather their lucid blueprint to lift the country out of the doldrums, both economically and socially, heard by the rural populace. Therefore, their performance could be used as a barometer to gage whether political activism, the digital way, has come of age in Malaysia.
A friend emailed me urging me to cast a postal vote, thereby fulfilling the basic duty of a citizen and exercising a right granted under the Constitution. But I found out that the eligibility to do so is not a blanket one applicable to all Malaysians domiciled overseas. Only those who are overseas in the government employ such as in the diplomatic missions and peace keeping forces and full-time students are given the privilege. Others who are outside the country for any other reason, including employment related, have to return to vote. When told of the restriction, the same friend commented wryly that perhaps these people drawn overseas by the allure of the greener pastures are by default a disenfranchised lot and thus considered good riddance by the government of the day. But these are my own words, suitably embellished to transmit his cynicism.
Next off is Taiwan, this time the presidential election slated for March 22. Now Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, and has only diplomatic relations with a few countries, notably from the Third World. However, Taiwan has been an economic phenomenon and maintains trade links with most countries, including Malaysia.
Personally, I have no interest in Taiwanese politics, save for the fact that I'm ethnic Chinese and thus may feel some kinship with the folks there. Rather, I'm intrigued by the style of politics waged in this island between the so-called in-province and out-of-province people, the former being reserved for those who are actually born and bred in Taiwan itself, and more recently, the emergence of the call for independence as a political platform.
A secondary reason is perhaps our circle of friends here are of Taiwanese origin coupled with the plethora of local newspapers that cover all things Taiwanese. Inevitably, sometimes a conversation gets steered, either consciously or otherwise, to the presidential election in Taiwan. However, I must admit that my experience with the Taiwanese brand of politics, which has earned some notoriety for featuring scuffles in the august hall of the parliament and unabashed abuse of power (then again the latter is rife elsewhere too), is vicarious. As with most things, any opinion formed on third person anecdotes and accounts likely remains uncritical and is never a sound basis for informed discourse. Thus my views on Taiwanese politics would seem bordering on the naivete, propped by self righteousness, and hence shall remain private.
While intrigue is the word as far as the case of Taiwan is concerned, intricacy would be the most germane for the US election, the last in the trio. But this is not the presidential election or the Primary, which is slated for November. What is ongoing now is electoral contest for the party nomination. Like Britain, US has a two-party system, the Republicans (GOP) and the Democrats. Each has held the helm in various times, the present one belonging to the Republicans.
In the runup to the Primary, each party is to elect its own candidate for the ultimate face-off. And the nomination contest is by states, each being assigned certain number of electoral votes based on size, and the winner takes all. Nor is the state election concurrent and the whole exercise could stretch over several months. This is the system of the electoral college and the candidate with the highest number of electoral votes wins the nomination. So it's not uncommon for some candidates to test the water who then fizzle out later as they learn of their flimsy political support as polling results continue to roll out. Such is the case for the Republican party, which nows has a nominee by the name of John McCain.
On the other hand, a protracted tussle that may extend to the very end is not a rarity either. And the Democrat nomination contest is shaping up to be just that, no clear winner at this point in time. The two front runners, in fact the last two standing, are a woman and a black man. Whoever wins is going to be the first in US history.
Each day, newspapers and TV news are full of analysis of the candidates' views, plans, and just about any audacious hope that would right the country's litany of woes. Every other day would also witness the outpouring of support from celebrities, each buttressed by his/her personal take why he or she is the deserving one.
So three elections, each generating its own fever among the concerned. Such is the human drama unfolding on the world stage, or country stage as the case may be.