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This article was originally published here.
THE idea of voters in a constituency assessing the performance of their elected representative had been around for some time. Even the federal and state governments had at one time or another suggested a report card for elected representatives, but nothing was really done. Indeed the idea of a People’s Report is a good one, and for the fact that it is finally taking off, Malaysians have the Centre for Public Policy Studies and UndiMsia to thank. The People’s Report would tell an MP or an assemblyman how he stands in the eyes of his constituents and to buck up if the half yearly or annual report show that his visits to his constituency are becoming less frequent.
There was a case of an Indian MP whose visits became so rare that his constituents finally made a missing person report. The press reported it and so embarrassed was he that he resigned his seat. In another case, villagers in one part of a constituency called a press conference appealing to their elected representative to come visit them as they had forgotten how he looked. The last they saw of him was when he came around begging for votes.
The proposed People’s Report would also tell constituents what their elected representative had done for them since his election. In this era of political transformation, voters can no longer be taken for granted, and even if they don’t say it, they want to be consulted on who will likely be their next elected representative. The days of the national leaders of a political party, with the connivance of local chieftains, foisting a candidate on constituents are or are nearly over.
In the People’s Report, constituents can voice objections to a new candidate or state their preference for the previous one who had served them well and to their satisfaction. Which party dares go against the wishes of its members and supporters in a constituency? Under a gradual political transformation, it is the closest constituents or voters will get to participatory democracy, at least for the time being. They get to say something about who is going to be the candidate of their party’s local ward and to conduct a periodic assessment of him after he is elected.
This is indeed empowerment, even though some may consider it nothing much. But it is something, after all, considering that since Merdeka, all we have been able to do by way of exercising our democratic right is to put a ballot paper in a box at a polling station once every four or five years. Thus the ability to assess the performance of elected representatives gives constituents the power to continue to exercise their democratic responsibility as voters long after they have cast their votes.