KUALA LUMPUR (June 10, 2012): The duty of a voter is not confined to just choosing a leader or leaders for a five-year electoral term but encompasses critical thinking and evaluation which will enable him or her to make that all-important decision of where to put the cross on the ballot paper.

Voters should be taught to know and understand their electoral candidates and the issues that need to be addressed, said Hasbeemasputra Abu Bakar, project coordinator for the Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok (PRLB).

The PRLB is a community centre run by the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR), which was established on March 19 last year.

The centre would be providing a conducive and safe space for youths to engage constructively, and discuss and educate themselves about civil, political, economic, social and cultural issues.

“Many of them don’t even know who their member of parliament (MP) is, based on a survey done in Hulu Langat,” Hasbeemasputra told Bernama here.

He said the survey was done in Hulu Langat as it has the closest reflection of the national demographic breakdown of voters – 52.7 per cent Malays, 36.2 per cent Chinese and 10.6 per cent Indians.

“We chose the area because it has been said that there were few swing votes during the general election in 2008 and, based on our observation, some of the voters were also disillusioned as a number of election promises were not delivered,” he said.

Therefore, he said, people need to be educated on how to set up a network and decide on the matters that could bring change into their lives.

“It should not be the other way round, where elected representatives would advise you what to do. You should know your own leaders before listening to their advice.

“This was because democracy is more than voting, it is about citizens having to engage themselves in knowing about the ‘prior to’ and ‘after’ of the voting process.

“We need voter education for citizens just because an educated ‘rakyat’ is not in favour of voting blindly,” he explained.

Taking the recent Bersih 3.0 rally as an example, he said many of the supporters did not even know the real issues being debated and protested against.

“Sad to say, we (Malaysians) have become so polarised. Like in football, where we are diehard supporters of, say, Manchester United or Arsenal.

“No one cares about the thousands of people who died in detention a long time ago and now people are making noise about Bersih. You never made noise before but now, because you want to go shopping, you are angry with other people,” he said.

Hasbeemasputra said the centre would conduct talks and games every weekend pertaining to current issues, such as civil and political rights, socio-economic rights and understanding of elections campaigns and MPs.

Talking about democracy, Hasbeemasputra suggested that direct democracy needed to be implemented at the local level through city councils so that trust can be cultivated from the lower level.

For instance, he said, the municipal council should display tender requests of all waste-management companies so that residents could evaluate the best for themselves.

“That is how they should work because we are residents there and we have the right to decide what is best for us … we are paying for the trash (collection),” he said. – Bernama

This article was reproduced from The Sun Daily and can be found here.

Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) is a non-profit based in Kuala Lumpur with the mission of promoting active democratic participation and human rights awareness.