This is from an old write up of Mervyn’s: “A Boy’s View of Democracy“. It has been edited and parts omitted to reflect changes in Mervyn’s mindset from then and today, but the underlying message is the same. If you are allergic to a little rhetoric, do close this window now and go read a newspaper.


Years ago I found myself sitting across the table from an opponent’s client. The man, I was told, had been declared a bankrupt. There was something unpleasant about him I couldn’t put a finger on. He had one of those fat-cat faces, with the remarkable skill of sublimely inserting brags into a humble-hum. You know the sort; a sigh there about how important he was. But one of his sentences stuck: “Oh well, you know, Anwar wanted me to run for a seat, but I had to decline…” You don’t have to trust my judgement of character. I’m not asking you to. He may have been lying. But is it really so hard to rule out the possibility that he wasn’t, that it was not beyond the Pakatan Rakyat parties to take in cunning, connected people over those with merely good intentions?

The politician is not a vessel of good or evil. She, or he, is a person. Just like yourself. There have clearly been days in which you have helped, and days in which you have been cruel to another. It is a sham if we believe that humans are capable of only good or evil in every moment of their lives. And like the rest of the world, politics is not a fairytale. The actors are not clearly separated into groups of protagonists versus antagonists. Politicians, it must be said, are representatives of various factions with possibly conflicting interests.

To understand why the politician has risen to the occasion, we must examine the cycle of ends and means. By ends, I mean his or her political objective. And by means, I mean the power needed to achieve it.  We need power to achieve objectives, but the pursuit of objectives also leads us ultimately to positions of power. And how do we achieve this governmental power? By winning elections.

I do not know when it all began, but political drama and good-evil distinction seems to have invaded Malaysian politics, instead of agreements to disagree while at the same time acknowledging that both sides had the best interest of the country (or at least their voters) in mind. Perhaps this is similar in every democratic state. If this is effective in stimulating the voters, then there is no reason why either side should openly acknowledge the possible ‘good’ in each other. They have a reason to exaggerate.

The end justifies the method of obtaining the means, even if the method is a miniature version of the wrong in which the end tries to correct. We are led to believe that the government is all evil. We are led to believe that the opposition is all evil.

And while voters cater to drama and lap up this delicious spice to Malaysian news, we are only providing an incentive for, say, the ‘good’ guys to act in ways that are not virtuous, possibly hypocritical. But to merely see this side is to ignore that there will be those who are in politics mostly for selfish gain. We must acknowledge, again, that all are human. Those with good intentions are capable of succumbing to corruption, while those who are corrupt, may very well have done some form of good in their careers. As long as he or she has power.

So how do we know who to give this power to? We can never be sure. The cycle of ends and means creates the realistic possibility of achieving even more ends than originally intended once power has been achieved. Is it not human to take a small slice of that large ‘ends’ cake for ourselves? But to stop here is very dangerous. It is perhaps better for someone to live in the dream of distinct good and evil and be motivated to cast his vote, than be someone who has realized a half-truth, finding elections pointless and a sham. Taking this realistic view of politicians can be demotivating, as much as it is to accept the frailness of virtue within each of us.

But this is what true democratic elections lead to: accountability.

What has changed since the 2008 elections is the arrival of a tide. But this is not a tide of colour. It is neutral. Slightly after the elections, many people who actually sat down to think were possibly pro-opposition without question. But down the line their facade of rigid virtue began to crack, and we have seen that the opposition, too, is prone to bad habits. We are beginning to question the opposition as well, and this is a good thing when we have in mind the true nature of politicians. They are not heroes and warlocks. They are people who want to achieve an end, requiring a means; means in which we hold.

March 2008 was not a beginning of just possible Pakatan rule, but a possibility of true democracy. True democracy does not distinguish good and evil, but promotes check and balance.

Why I want the Opposition to win this election

The following will be met with raised eyebrows, but I’m not asking you to vote for any party as this is my own view: An honest government requires a real fear of check and balance. While the opposition is stronger than ever, we have never had the privilege of a precedent where power has shifted — and one would wish — peacefully. There is a genuine doubt in many of our hearts whether Malaysia will ever achieve something as important as this.

To achieve a cementing of the two-party system in Malaysia’s mindsets, we must show that the position of government is a shaky tower built on a foundation that belongs to the people. This is why I feel a change in power is needed if Malaysia is ever to move forward. The doubt in our minds that Malaysia will ever achieve such a state still stands, and must be broken. Old habits die hard, and a shock is needed to teach those comfortable in power a lesson. We do not owe you thanks. We do not owe you anything. When you no longer prove yourself capable of governing, we will vote you out. That is democracy and that is the point of elections.

There are so many things wrong with the way our country is being governed that I feel it is too simplified to be talking about particular policies in the context of this election. Certain politicians, pundits and ego-stroking-government-apologist-faux-intellectuals may say “Focus on the policies, don’t vote for the opposition for the sake of voting for the opposition, you blind fools. I have a degree in politics.”

But to me, the underlying theme of the upcoming elections isn’t policy. It is about democracy.

Everything else flows from there.

Mervyn Lai is currently a pupil in a litigation firm. He enjoys reading and writing about political/legal matters, and one day hopes to be involved in major policy planning. He eats chicken rice, drinks...