Lee Kok Hoong talks about Russell Brand and the phenomenon of NOT voting.

At the local grocery store yesterday, I watched a young staff tagging the price on packets of sugar. “It’s RM2.80 now”, he said. “Used to be RM2.50, but because of politics, the price has increased”, he added. Noticing that he appeared old enough, I casually asked him if he voted during the recent GE13. He just smiled, and kept quiet. I politely told him that one should not complain if one didn’t bother to vote. And I quickly walked away before I get whacked.

Somehow the young man reminded of the recent sparring that Jeremy Paxman had with Russell Brand. The video has since gone viral. Brand said during the BBC interview that he has never voted, and he never will. His reason, or rather excuse, was that the political system has created a “disenfranchised, disillusioned underclass”.

“Not that I am not voting out of apathy. I am not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations.”

Sometimes, I do get entertained by Brand’s wit, charm and comedic antics. But his views in this interview were by no means comical. If one is sick of the “political class”, and still refuse to vote, how would that ever change the “political class”? Comedic retorts won’t, and bitching about it certainly won’t either. Here is a man — a successful millionaire with nothing to lose if he didn’t vote. But who are the people whose livelihood is most affected by governmental policies? It is the struggling underclass as he mentioned — the marginalised, and those on minimum wages living on the fringes of society. If they all adopt Brand’s attitude and choose not to vote, they can only end up being more marginalised, not improved.

Perhaps Russell Brand could learn a thing or two from our 2013 national elections. The grouses of the rakyat against the ruling coalition, and against the government of the day, have for so long fallen on deaf ears. Many people through the years thought and behaved like Brand, making the assumption that casting a vote was a waste of time and would not lead to a change of government anyway. They skipped voting at many an election. But the people woke up during GE12 in 2008, and strove to deny the ruling coalition its traditional two-thirds majority. Five years later, the euphoria in the weeks leading up to polling day on May 5, 2013 was shocking, to say the least. It came as no surprise that GE13 registered a record 85% in voter turnout. And voters not only continued to deny the ruling coalition its two-thirds majority, they also gave the ruling coalition a mere 46.5% of the popular vote — certainly sending a powerful message to the ruling government that enough is enough. (How the ruling coalition still managed to cling onto power is another story for another time.) The popular vote is a warning message: If we cannot overthrow you this time, perhaps we will the next time around. Unless you buck up.

The coming Bar Council (BC) elections for the 2014/2015 term also caught my attention this week. Not surprising, considering that many layman like me are becoming increasingly sensitive to happenings in the legal circle following the number of controversial judgments handed down in recent years, the most recent being the Allah/Herald judgment by the Court of Appeal. And with the Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA) threatening the BC for voicing out support for the church to next appeal to the apex court, I watch with interest how the results of the coming BC elections will pan out.

It is a pity that of the 20 contenders pitching for the 12 openings of the BC, only eight are Muslim by faith. Where are the nomination papers from the other MLA members? And I wonder how many of the MLA members would actually return their ballots to the BC.  This is not meant to sound like a racist or religion-centric remark, but if the MLA is so unhappy with the stance of the BC, they really should use the opportunity to vote in the “right” people to represent them.

Perhaps many of BC members are also behaving like Russell Brand. And that brings me to two items on LoyarBurok exactly a year ago, pleading for its members to turn up to vote.

One young lawyer contesting for the first time tried, in his piece, to persuade his fellow lawyers to just cast their votes, irrespective of which candidates they vote for. He was not canvassing for support for himself; he merely expressed disappointment that voter turnout has not been forthcoming.  He was quoted as saying that of 13,957 ballots issued in the previous elections of 2012/2013, a total of 10,837 lawyers (77.6%) did not vote!!

(In a quick check on the BC’s website on the elections of 2013/2014, I found that the turnout marginally improved – 11,435 lawyers (76.7%) of the 14,902 did not vote. Perhaps, lawyers are very busy, especially at year’s end, and the BC should consider holding future elections during mid-year instead.)

What is most surprising to me is not those tell-tale numbers, but instead a comment to that posting by someone under the pseudonym of WS Choong who has “never voted in (bar) council elections before and do not intend to do so this time again”.

Claiming to be speaking on behalf of many others, Choong went on to berate the council hopefuls purportedly with personal agendas of their own: “For example, rubbing shoulders with the powerful and influential people whether in government or opposition to get business contacts. I challenge all council members to deny that this never occurred.”

That comment did not invite any further comments. That does not mean that others are conceding defeat; it could simply mean they are at peace with the world and have chosen to ignore the comment despite Choong’s reminder that ignoring him would be at their own peril.

Maybe Choong is right. In all elections, whether national, party, BC or others, there will be contenders with personal agendas. But it is for this very reason that voters should vote to weed out those hoping to ride on the privileges of being an elected representative. With more than 70% of members who generally do not vote, I am sure Choong could have similarly drawn on their support to make a difference, and if what he said about personal agendas is indeed true, we can expect overwhelming support for his cause. Choong has, however, not campaigned according to his beliefs — he has even chosen not to vote!  Instead he resorted to bitching about those who get successfully elected. That does sound very much like Russell Brand, doesn’t it?

Brand is a successful millionaire who has nothing to lose if he doesn’t vote.  Maybe the learned Choong is also a successful professional in his own right with nothing to lose if he doesn’t vote, so he chose not to. But the same cannot be said for other lawyers.

It doesn’t matter who we vote for in ANY elections. The BC elections. Our party elections. Our national elections. Check this out if it interests you.

Just do your part — don’t be another Russell Brand.

I am going back to the grocery store next week. I want a second take with the young man.


Unemployed by choice, Lee Kok Hoong spends his time watching the world go by, and entertaining himself with the antics of politicians and governmental officials. He occasionally tweets under @omgmalaysia