Thursday, 19 April 2007

Vote for Change?

My post on Why Malaysia Needs More Governance and Less Corruption attracted two very interesting comments. Thank you Cantab and Elegent Lily.

A quick recap – I ended the said post by saying:

Vote for change. As Fukuyama said, the road to modernisation requires a society that desires democracy.

To that, Cantab responded:

Vote for a change? Democracy only works if there are viable alternatives. At the moment, the opposition are a motley crew of political personalities (not even parties, me thinks), clambering to oppose for opposing's sake.

What happens then? Do we put these people in power anyways, just for the sake of change? Or do we tolerate the status quo, until something better comes along?

We cannot win.

I will vote and I will vote for the opposition.

The reason for me to do so however, is not because I believe that the opposition can do a better job in running the country. For the current situation, I do not think that the issue is a matter of the ruling party versus the opposition; on choosing between the lesser of two evils. Many people I know use this line of reasoning to justify apathy, inaction and defeatism.

Democracy is a process. And democracy works when elected representatives are made accountable to the public. For this to happen, political competition is crucial for elected representatives to have the needed incentive to perform and be made responsible. Without competition, democracy is only a name – the system will be no different from a dictatorial regime. Without leaders accountable to serving the public, complacency, inefficiency and corruption will follow and leading us to government banditry and widespread waste* that will rob the nation of its wealth and the population of their future.

Much akin to monopolistic firms exploiting the welfare of consumers, a democracy requires political competition for the welfare of its people to be protected and the progress of its society to be secured.

As Elegant Lily commented:

Given the state of things, where is the country headed? …And how to foster strong institutions in the presence of little political competition?

We need political competition for the system to work. Make our elected representative be accountable to us Malaysians.

Vote for change.

* Highly recommended reading: Tim Harford’s Why Poor Countries Are Poor: The clues lie on a bumpy road leading to the world's worst library.


Anonymous said...

Tim Harford had a whole chapter on that and more in his book, the Undercover Economist


Anonymous said...

btw Elanor... your one vote isn't marginal for change... so why bother?

I mean, there hasn't been an election where the results are determined by one vote (closest was in Buffalo, NY year 18xx) - Check Mulligan and Hunter, 2000.

Not worth my time and effort to go to a polling station under the hot sun, is there?

(In bangladesh, your vote actually counts, because you can vote an infinite number of times - there are no checks in place for the number of votes a person can make)

Anonymous said...

same guy as above :D

X (what's with the bunny, btw?)

Anonymous said...

Powerful one-sided play with pre-set unfair rules on different levels playing field and constant unfair tactics and morally not correct election practices used by politicians / political parties in power help them stay in office very easily.. so the general public view it not rational to waste time and effort to find out more information about what's being corrected / offered by other candidates / non government parties ..furthermore, they also reckon a single vote has negligible weight.

This is one big hurdle as how to change the mindset of the citizens


zcer said...

Yeah, votes are a target for the politicians, their incentive, and it is the voters job that these targets reflect their objectives, which is to have better governance.

We need to vote yes, to foster competition, but first we need to make sure what we are voting for. If we are more swayed by propaganda than by the policies the politicians propose, then the target of votes would reflect effectiveness of propaganda, rather than governance.

So i think i'll put it this way. We need to vote for policies, not politicians. Voting the opposition as a punishment for the current party not implementing proper policies. Not voting for the current administration, to allow the opposition a chance to do better.

Unfortunately, like evolution, which operates over eons, we don't get to vote often enough, and revolutions notwithstanding, change happens painfully slow. And the focus about election time is only on recent superficial policy changes and equally empty promises. This makes in entirely possible for the status quo to persist indefinitely. It's a failure of our psychology really.

But i'm just a pessimist.

Cantab said...

Well argued, Elanor. But I have to beg to differ.

Your view of the democratic process is as an ongoing selection process. Give the incumbent enough stick or turn them over at a fast enough rate, they will get the idea that the public means business. Eventually, the desired outcome will be selected for (hopefully) when the politicians become savvy to our needs.

That, in my opinion, is a risky strategy to take. We assume that every 'transition' would be better than the previous one. Which might not always be the case; we could end up with a bigger problem then when we started with.

Having been educated in the musty halls of the Downing site, I feel compelled to draw a parallel between voting and evolution.

The process of voting can be seen as the selection pressure acting on a particular phenotype/genotype, in this case, the government. Selection pressures can only act against an unfavourable trait, or act to preserve a favourable one. Selection has no sense of anticipation, it cannot act for/against a quality which MIGHT confer benefit in the future.

And that is how I think the electoral process should work. We can only decide for/against a quality that we can judge. Putting in 'false' selection pressures just for the sake of change is dangerous, we do not know where that change might lead us.

It is akin to wildebeest refusing to browse on the ground hoping that they will evolve long necks in the future if they try hard enough, so they can get fresher shoots in the trees.

Bottom line: if we want change, WE have got to make it. Not cross ballot papers while hoping real hard someone else does the dirty work.

Are you ready for change?

Anonymous said...

Zcer: Voting for policy is equally useless. You need some central figure to enforce what's right. Someone like a Darth Chewxy or something.


zcer said...

cantab, you are taking the analogy too far. Although selection pressures act on contemporary generations, evolution is a cumulative process. But voting is not quite like that. Selecting for the opposition doesn't lead us down an evolutionary path which we cant turn back from. There can very well be a huge improvement over the previous government if a good one is elected. Coz the elected government is a NEW one, not merely a slight improvement of the previous. And thus independent. Pretty much like successive flipping of coins. Also, although in both evolution and voting, selection acts on contemporary generations. Evolution is blind, while we are, pretty much what intelligent design advocates say, like God. We know what kind of future we want. The blind watchmaker doesnt.

That's why i think voting the current govt off, is to send a message that we won't tolerate mediocrity and crap in governance. And giving the opposition a chance to do better. And don't forget too that there are other complementary ways to send the message of the people to those vying for power.

But evolution analogies are irresistible. So here's one.

Voting based on how the politicians manage to stir up your emotions is like a case of artificial selection. In a lab, if we select for skinny and unhealthy individuals by killing off the healthy ones, then the population will evolve to be skinny and unhealthy!!! (this does not apply to human females)

So you see, HOW we choose to vote is crucial. WHAT are we selecting for? (and X, this was what i meant by voting for policy: selecting for policy)

elegant lily/Hui Hon Chung said...

'Voting for opposition is important because of the need to create political competition that could compel elected representatives to be accountable.'

Beautiful idea.

Except for one problem:

Accountability is a Malaysian concern that cuts across all communities. It is not ethnic-specific. One can start being interested in accountability, transparency etc. if one is able to transcend communal politics.

Unfortunately, in Malaysia, communal politics is still takes precedence over accountability issues. No hard data to defend this claim but the voting patterns in past elections bear out this hypothesis. One reason why BN always win by majority voting is because of the believe that only BN can secure communal interests and that parties like DAP still sound 'hollow' in trying to be Malaysian. Most Malays would not trust Keadilan completely because the party has not vowed to defend Malay special rights. Anyway, you get the drift. Race first. Other issues are of secondary importance.

This is the political culture in Malaysia.

Simply said, the opposition is out of sync with local political culture. It's like doing marketing withot knowing your market. DAP can shout for greater transparency and win sympathy votes, but most Malays will never be convinced...nor would Chinese voters vote for Keadilan because they are afraid that they would lose the right to open more Chinese schools in future. If the opposition want to win, they have to package accountability, transparency etc. with packets of goodies pandering to communal interests. In other words, if only there was a more egalitarian and accountable twin to UMNO/MCA/MIC that can form an opposition front, then chances of creating political competition will be higher.

Otherwise, voting for the opposition can never sound convincing, try as hard as you may in stating the obvious.

zcer said...

How about Condorcet voting?
You can see here the argument for it.
And IMHO quite effectively put to effect at